Replacement for iconic coach likely to come from the outside


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UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Urban Meyer will go to work Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium as an analyst for ESPN, providing color commentary for the game against Nebraska. The question everyone seems to be asking today is whether Meyer will be going to work at Beaver Stadium next season as Penn State's new head football coach.

Meyer is on the short list of potential candidates to succeed legendary coach Joe Paterno, who was fired by the Penn State trustees Wednesday night. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will serve as interim coach.

Paterno had announced earlier in the day that he would retire effective at season's end.

Penn State has several highly qualified in-house candidates, but the new coach likely will have no previous ties to the football program. The university likely will desire a clean break in the wake of the child sexual abuse case that is unfolding after the arrest of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with 40 counts of sexual assault on eight young boys.

That would exclude longtime Paterno assistants Bradley and Larry Johnson from consideration.

"If you look at it from the outside, your first thought is that Penn State would have to hire someone from the outside," said ESPN college football analyst Bob Davie, a Moon Township native and former head coach at Notre Dame. "That being said, Penn State is a unique place. Continuity has always been important to them.

"But looking at it from a distance it would seem they would have to get someone from the outside. That's unfortunate for those coaches who have been there."

When most universities have a coaching change, the search for a replacement begins immediately, but that won't be the case for Penn State.

Athletic director Tim Curley has taken a leave of absence to deal with his legal issues and university president Graham Spanier was fired Wednesday night.

It is likely the person who will hire the new coach is not currently employed by the university.

It is debatable whether the person or committee charged with hiring the next coach would exclude former Lions players and assistant coaches. Miami head coach Al Golden played tight end for the Nittany Lions from 1989-91 and coached the linebackers under Paterno in 2000, one year after Sandusky retired.

Meyer won 65 games and two national championships in six seasons as the head coach at Florida. He also coached at Utah and Bowling Green. Meyer, a native of Toledo, Ohio, might have his eyes on the potential opening at Ohio State as well.

Golden turned around the football program at Temple before taking over at Miami this season. He was 27-34 in four seasons at Temple, but led the Owls to 9-4 and 8-4 records in his final two seasons there. Miami is 5-4 this season, and Golden could be looking for a safe landing after the NCAA came down hard on the football program in the wake of a player payment scandal earlier this year.

Another former Penn State assistant is Rutgers coach Greg Schiano, who coached the defensive backs from 1991-96.

His close association with Sandusky during that time could be a negative, though, much in the same way it is for Bradley and Johnson.

At one time, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was a strong candidate to replace Paterno. He is from Upper St. Clair and has some ties to Penn State. His brother-in-law, Kevin Hart, played football at Penn State and graduated in 1976. His father-in-law Gerry played with Paterno at Brooklyn Prep.

Ferentz, who is 55, always speaks fondly of the Penn State program, but he makes more than $3 million a year and is firmly entrenched at Iowa. He is in his 13th season as head coach of the Hawkeyes.

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, though not well-known, runs a clean program and has won consistently without top-grade talent.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald also runs a clean program and has had to recruit with challenging academic requirements.

If the university searches outside of the college football world, former Indianapolis Colts and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy is a possibility.

Dungy, who won a Super Bowl with the Colts, has ties to the area. He played for the Steelers, his wife is from Pittsburgh and still has family here.

Davie believes the next coach has to be a strong personality who can walk the fine line of respecting the tradition at Penn State, yet being confident enough in his own abilities to start a new era.

"Whoever they hire, whatever direction they go, they need to hire someone who respects the tradition of Penn State," Davie said. "But more importantly, they have to hire someone who is comfortable in his own skin, who will do what he thinks is best for the university."


Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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