By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
For the first time since 1965, Joe Paterno will not roam the sidelines this Saturday at Penn State. Replacing a coach that won 409 games won’t be easy, and the coaching search is even more difficult with an interim athletic director.
Who will be Penn State's coach in 2012? Here's a look at some realistic candidates, as well as some longshots to watch in the search.
Tom Bradley, defensive coordinator, Penn State – Bradley played at Penn State from 1975-78 and has been a loyal assistant under Paterno since 1980. He was promoted to defensive coordinator after the 1999 season and is regarded as a good recruiter, especially in Pennsylvania. Bradley was in contention to be the head coach at Pittsburgh last season and has been rumored to be Paterno’s successor in the past. He will also have a chance to state his case for the job, as he will serve as the interim coach until the end of the 2011 season. Although Bradley has a solid resume, he does not have any head coaching experience, and Penn State may prefer to start fresh with someone from outside of the Paterno coaching tree.
Kirk Ferentz, head coach, Iowa – Ferentz has compiled a 95-63 record and has won two co-Big Ten titles in 12-plus seasons at Iowa. He doesn’t have any experience at Penn State, but is a proven winner at a school without a solid recruiting base in its home state. If Ferentz wants to win a national title, Penn State is a much easier place to accomplish that goal. He's not flashy, but Ferentz would be a solid hire.
Pat Fitzgerald, head coach, Northwestern – Considering Fitzgerald is an alum of Northwestern, it would be very difficult for him to leave for Penn State. However, there’s no question the better job is in Happy Valley, where the Nittany Lions have the potential to be a top 25 team every season. Fitzgerald has a 38-34 record through five-plus seasons as the Wildcats’ head coach, which is impressive considering this is one of the Big Ten’s most difficult places to win. Upgrading the facilities has been a big issue at Northwestern, which is something that has to be done to keep the current coaching staff in place. Fitzgerald can win big at the right program and would inject some youth and enthusiasm into Penn State. It’s a longshot he leaves Northwestern, but Fitzgerald is certainly someone the Nittany Lions want to talk to.
Al Golden, head coach, Miami – Golden seems to be the early favorite to be the next head coach at Penn State. He played under Paterno from 1987-91 and returned to Happy Valley to coach linebackers in 2000. Golden was the head coach at Temple from 2006-10, before taking the top spot at Miami. Considering the cloud of potential NCAA sanctions hanging over the Hurricanes, Golden could be looking to get out after this season. He has the reputation of running a clean program, as well as being a disciplinarian, which is certainly attractive for a school trying to clean up from a cycle of bad publicity. If he does want to leave Miami, Golden would be a terrific fit at Penn State and a home-run hire.
Chip Kelly, head coach, Oregon – Although Kelly has experienced tremendous success out West, he’s actually very familiar with the East Coast. He coached at Columbia, New Hampshire and Johns Hopkins, before jumping to Oregon in 2007. In two-plus seasons with the Ducks, Kelly has compiled a 30-5 record and led his team to a berth in the national title last year. Although Kelly has a strong resume, Oregon is under NCAA investigation, which could result in significant sanctions placed on the program. Also, Kelly would need a couple of years to recruit the talent he needs to run his spread attack at Penn State.
Urban Meyer, ESPN analyst – Even though Meyer left Florida due to health reasons at the end of the 2009 season, he is not expected to sit on the sidelines for long. Meyer led Florida to two national titles during his time in Gainesville and his record as a head coach is an impressive 104-23. Although Meyer may be ready to jump back into coaching, Penn State may not be his first choice. As an Ohio native, Meyer could be more interested in a potential opening at Ohio State. Meyer’s health is a concern, and his final year at Florida was a disappointing 8-5. Considering what could happen with the Buckeyes’ coaching situation, Meyer is expected to receive plenty of attention this offseason.
Dan Mullen, head coach, Mississippi State – It’s difficult to leave a job in the SEC, but Mullen is from Drexel Hill, Pa. and went to school at Ursinus in Collegeville, Pa. In two-plus seasons at Mississippi State, Mullen has a 19-15 record, and has built an impressive resume, with stops at Notre Dame, Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. He is a highly-regarded offensive coach, helping to mold Tim Tebow (Florida) and Alex Smith (Utah). Although his record at Mississippi State isn’t overwhelmingly impressive, the Bulldogs play in the toughest division in college football, and their record in the three seasons before his arrival was 15-22.
Greg Schiano, head coach, Rutgers – Schiano inherited a program that was 12-43 in the five years prior to his arrival. Since taking over, the Scarlet Knights are 65-66 in the last 10-plus seasons. And Rutgers has played in five bowl games during his tenure. Schiano coached at Penn State from 1990-95 and has built recruiting connections throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania during his time at Rutgers. Has Schiano taken the Scarlet Knights as far as they can go? What will happen to the Big East in realignment? Those questions definitely have to weigh on Schiano’s mind as he considers any job offer this offseason.
Tim Beckman, head coach, Toledo – Beckman has made a steady climb up the coaching ladder, serving as an assistant at Elon, Bowling Green, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, before accepting the head coaching position at Toledo. He has led the Rockets to a 19-16 record in two-plus seasons and is due for a shot at a BCS job in the near future.
Ron English, head coach Eastern Michigan – English’s record is only 7-26 in two-plus years in Ypsilanti. However, he has the Eagles (5-4) on the verge of their first winning season since 1995. Winning at Eastern Michigan has proven to be very difficult, but English has slowly turned this program around. He has Big Ten coaching experience, working under Lloyd Carr at Michigan from 2003-07.
Bud Foster, defensive coordinator, Virginia Tech – Foster has been a loyal assistant to Frank Beamer, working at Virginia Tech since 1987. His name has been mentioned in previous coaching searches, but has stayed remained in Blacksburg. Could Foster be waiting for Beamer to retire? Or is he content to be an assistant? Foster is regarded as one of the top defensive coordinators in college football, but a longshot to end up at Penn State.
James Franklin, head coach, Vanderbilt – Franklin has made a splash in his first season at Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores to a 4-5 record and in contention for its second bowl appearance since 1982. He is regarded as a dynamic recruiter and has a solid resume, including experience in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers. Also, Franklin grew up in Pennsylvania, along with playing at East Stroudsburg from 1991-94.
Jim Grobe, head coach, Wake Forest – Grobe ranks second in Wake Forest history with 67 victories and led the Demon Deacons to an ACC title in 2006. He has no ties to Penn State or the Big Ten, but he’s produced results at a difficult place to win.
K.C. Keeler, head coach, Delaware – It’s somewhat of a surprise Keeler hasn’t drawn more interest in FBS job searches, but he is reportedly very happy at Delaware, which is also his alma mater. Keeler is a Pennsylvania native and led the Blue Hens to the 2003 FCS Championship.
Mike London, head coach, Virginia – Most of London’s coaching experience has been in Virginia, but he’s produced at each stop. He led Richmond to the 2008 FCS title and has the Cavaliers poised to make their first bowl appearance since 2007 this year.
Mike Munchak, head coach, Tennessee Titans – Munchak is a Penn State alum, so he may draw some interest in the coaching search. However, he has only one year of head coaching experience and has never coached in college.
Gary Patterson, head coach, TCU – Just like Chris Petersen, Patterson’s name always comes up when top jobs are vacant. However, with the Horned Frogs moving to the Big 12, the chances of Patterson leaving are very slim.
Chris Petersen, head coach, Boise State – Petersen’s name always circulates with any job opening, but does not seem interested in leaving Boise State. He has spent most of his life on the West Coast, but coached at Pittsburgh in 1992. There’s no question Petersen is one of the top coaches in college football, but would be a longshot to leave Boise for Happy Valley.
Paul Rhoads, head coach, Iowa State – Rhoads has a difficult job at Iowa State, but has a 17-17 record in two-plus seasons. In his tenure, the Cyclones have scored some key victories, including road wins at Nebraska and Texas, along with an Insight Bowl victory against Minnesota. Rhoads was a successful defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh from 2000-07 and at Auburn in 2008. Don’t let the .500 record fool you: Rhoads is good coach and his blue-collar approach would work well at Penn State.
Rich Rodriguez, CBS Sports analyst – Rodriguez was a bad fit at Michigan, and it’s hard to see him being landing at Penn State. However, despite the struggles in Ann Arbor, Rodriguez is a good coach who will land a job at a BCS program very soon.
Mark Stoops, defensive coordinator, Florida State – Stoops will get a shot to be a head coach in the near future, but he may need another year or two as an assistant before he is ready. He inherited a Florida State defense that ranked 108th nationally in yards allowed, but brought immediate improvement, as the Seminoles finished 42nd nationally in total defense last year.
Charlie Strong, head coach, Louisville – Even though Strong recently signed an extension at Louisville, his name may appear in coaching searches at North Carolina, Penn State and Ole Miss. Most of Strong’s experience has been in the SEC, coordinating Florida’s defense from 2003-09. In one-plus season as Louisville’s head coach, Strong has a 12-10 record.
Kevin Sumlin, head coach, Houston – Sumlin is expected to draw interest from Ole Miss, North Carolina and Arizona in their coaching searches. He is no stranger to the Big Ten, coaching at Minnesota from 1993-97 and at Purdue from 1998-00. Although Sumlin has proven to be a good coach at Houston (41-16 in three-plus seasons), he is more likely to land at Arizona or Ole Miss.
Willie Taggart, head coach, Western Kentucky – Taggart is a rising star in the coaching ranks, leading the Hilltoppers to a 7-14 record in one-plus season. Although Western Kentucky has a losing record during his tenure, it won only two games from 2008-09 and is 5-4 and in the mix to win the conference title this year. It’s a big jump for Taggart, but he’s due for a shot at a BCS program in the near future.