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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Who will Replace Joe Paterno?


Good God, man. What's it going to take? Forget stepping down or being fired. Let's take this one misstep at a time. We now know that the next Penn State coach will not come from the current staff. That has to be the result after the four-letter, in a fine report Sunday, detailed the staggering number of legal problems involving Nittany Lions players in recent years.
Forty-six players, 163 criminal charges, since 2002. Coach Joe Paterno called the well-researched report a "witch hunt." Twice. He was a little off. Wrong gender, wrong profession and the reporting wasn't exactly as taxing as a hunt. More like shooting fish in a barrel.
In case you've been stranded on Mt. Nittany lately, JoePa's program passed out-of-control a long time ago. Shortly after the report aired, two players were kicked off the team. How's that for being proactive? The hiring of an outside coach is not official, mind you. Paterno is still running around telling recruits that the next coach will come from inside staff. Supposedly, he wasn't bold enough to say the hire will come from inside the family (heeeeere's Jay!).
There are some fine coaches on Joe's staff. You feel for a guy like defensive coordinator Tom Bradley who, under normal circumstances, would figure to get the job. But the perception has to be that the staff is part of the problem when it comes to finding a solution to the off-field madness. Call it guilt by loyalty.
President Graham Spanier has just about all the ammunition he needs to start the informal search process. A search because Paterno is coaching without a contract this season, making it easier for Spanier to pull the rip cord. Informal because whoever the school targets might have to wait five more years, if Penn State gets hot this season.
If the uniform were that of, say, Miami or Oklahoma, Penn State would be labeled a renegade. JoePa, though, has built up a lifetime of cred as a teacher and educator so we're not quite to the running-wild-in-the-streets stage just yet.
"I'm an egg head," he said. "I can take football and use this game to help some kids be better people."
Spanier is the one in charge and has his own opinion of Paterno's program -- lately. "Staggering," he called the numbers that came out of the investigation. "Very high, and they shouldn't be that way."
After watching years of presidential collegiate speak, I consider myself somewhat of a language expert. Let me translate: This is the last straw. Joe is out of here. It's just a matter of how he wants to go. He can make this easy or I can make it hard for him.
So let's get beyond the "when" and proceed to directly to "who". In descending order, these are some of the guys Paterno is trying to outlast, er, might get the job.

Bill Cowher, free agent: The Jaw could have the Penn State job the moment Joe steps down, if he wanted it. That's the rub. No one knows where Cowher's head is at on this issue. He can win (check the Super Bowl ring). He has western Pennsylvania roots. Given his history, Cowher would clean up the program in short order, on and off the field. His name surfaced in the latest North Carolina State search but Cowher wasn't ready to give up the good life just yet.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State: A Big Ten guy entering his 11th season in the league (as an assistant or head coach). Before that, Dantonio coached under Ohio State grad Glen Mason at Kansas. Many consider the Spartans to be the "it" team in the Big Ten this season. It doesn't hurt that Dantonio has a national championship ring under Jim Tressel either.

Brian Kelly, Cincinnati: Young enough, 46, and accomplished enough to make the next logical move to State College. Cincinnati just won 10 games for the first time in five decades. This guy is a quarterback-maker. The quarterback he left behind at Central Michigan, Dan LeFevour, has helped the Chips win consecutive MAC titles. Ben Mauk threw 31 touchdowns for the Bearcats last season. Kelly's name came up during the Michigan search but the word was that Michigan would never hire a former Central Michigan guy. Big mistake. Don't limit yourself, Penn State.

Greg Schiano, Rutgers: Rutgers' types get nervous every time I put Schiano on this list, but that's what comes with success. Like Wake's Jim Grobe (see below), Schiano is happy with where he is. There's also a new house and new facilities. Schiano continues to pull in recruits. Recruits aren't asking him how long he is going to be around because his contract goes until 2016.

Al Golden, Temple: It's going to take something better than 4-8 at Temple for this former Penn State assistant but that's the point. Golden went 4-8 at Temple. In his second season. This is freaking Temple! It's also a program on the rise in the winnable MAC.

Butch Davis, North Carolina: Maybe. Some day. It's still too early in the Carolina process to bolt.

Kirk Ferentz, Iowa: Probably lost his spot in line the past two years when the Hawkeyes went 6-7 and 6-6. Combine that with a run of off-field problems (sound familiar Joe?), you can probably remove Ferentz's name from the list for now.

Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: A courtesy mention because Grobe has proven he isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Michigan and Nebraska took a run at him last year and he turned them down. Grobe is just a guy happy in his own skin.

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