Penn State coaching search has different feel this time


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Dave Joyner, maybe more so than any Penn Stater, can feel how much the mood has changed in the two years since he was handed the task of hiring a successor to Joe Paterno.

In the unprecedented November of 2011, Joyner went from being an orthopedic doctor, a former Nittany Lions football player and member of the school's Board of Trustees to running the Penn State athletic department. His life changed in an instant, and, as the university and coach he loved were being torn down on an international scale, he had to organize the school's first search for a football coach in nearly a half-century.

Joyner was patient, had to be, under the circumstances. It took him nearly two months to land Bill O'Brien, then the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots. Now O'Brien is gone after two seasons, on his way to the NFL's Houston Texans, and Joyner is here again. Only, the situation Joyner found himself in Thursday as he addressed the media at Beaver Stadium hardly could be compared to the nonstop trauma of 2011.

"The atmosphere around this search is very much different than the last search," Joyner said. "We are going to be deliberate this time, but faster, and we were deliberate and slower on purpose last time because of all the extra things that were going on around us. It's probably the most difficult time, if not on any university campus, at least in any university athletic department, from all the extra noise that was out there, all of it understandable.

"But at this time, there's more and more that can be focused directly related to a coaching search, rather than trying to keep your finger in a dike, so to speak, at the same time that you're doing maybe the most significant head football coach search in history."

Joyner, giving Penn State's first public comments since O'Brien agreed Tuesday night to coach the Texans, made a few things clear: That this search likely will be completed in a "matter of days, rather than weeks," that a six-person committee already has been assembled and that there is no requirement for the next coach to have ties to Penn State.

Joyner knows that sentiment exists among many Penn State supporters -- Anthony Lubrano, a Penn State trustee, Wednesday told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "The coach we hire next is going to have Penn State ties in some form or fashion." -- and Joyner said it will be a part of the "thought process."

When asked about the notion that a vocal contingent of Paterno loyalists could be a detractor for potential candidates, Joyner said he viewed fan passion expressed in such a way as an overall positive.

"Our fans believe in Penn State," Joyner said. "And going forward, the new coach is going to understand that our fans are great and they're tremendous and they have energy, and perhaps that's why they express themselves. I think that's a great opportunity for a head coach, and that's what I'll talk to them about, to come here with a place that has a lot of life and a lot of interest."

One reason Joyner would like to move quickly is to provide swift assurance about the future to Penn State's current players and recruits. Erick Hackenberg, the father of true freshman starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Wednesday told the Post-Gazette: "Christian came here for the right reasons. Does it mean he stays here? We'll have to find out when we get all the answers."

Joyner said that Hackenberg, who would prefer to quarterback in a pro-style offense similar to O'Brien's, "is a tremendous asset at Penn State, first of all, as a human being. He's just a great person. He's a great student. His maturity is off the charts. We are very, very interested in Christian Hackenberg as a Penn Stater. Our job for Christian and all the student-athletes here is to get the best football coach possible, and we make our pledge to do that."

Helping Joyner in that cause will be the five other members of the selection committee, also announced Thursday: Dr. Linda Caldwell, a faculty athletics representative and distinguished professor; Charmelle Green, the associate athletic director and senior woman administrator; Dr. Tom Poole, vice president for administration; Wally Richardson, director of the Penn State Football Letterman's Club; and Bob Warming, Penn State's men's soccer coach.

J. Brady McCollough: bmccollough@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BradyMcCollough.


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