A period of uncertainty begins

Unsettled coaches, players facing difficult decisions

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DALLAS -- Penn State's eight assistant coaches, who have a combined 147 years of experience, woke up early Tuesday morning at the Hyatt Regency wondering what lies ahead.

So did many of the players.

Knowing their lives and jobs are as uncertain as the future of the football program, they boarded various flights for home after finishing off a tumultuous two-month stretch Monday with a 30-14 loss to Houston in the TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl.

A six-person search committee, led by acting athletic director Dave Joyner, has been looking for a new coach since Joe Paterno was fired 57 days ago in the wake of a child sexual abuse scandal involving former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

"We understand this is a business," co-defensive coordinator Larry Johnson said. "When you bring in a new staff, that new guy brings in everybody he wants. You have to be prepared for that. That's the nature of the beast. No matter what I've done at Penn State, it's the preference of a new coach coming in."

Johnson just completed his 16th season on the coaching staff and was one of three assistants who interviewed for the Nittany Lions head coaching vacancy.

He is open to the idea of remaining on the staff once the new coach is named, but is sad to see the Paterno dynasty come to an end after 62 years.

"If I have to move on, that's what I have to do," Johnson said. "If it's the right situation, I'd love to stay. I'd want to make sure our kids are taken care of. Those guys deserve the best."

Johnson tutored seven first-team All-American defensive linemen in his 12 years as the defensive line coach. He was promoted to co-defensive coordinator, along with linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, by interim coach Tom Bradley, who replaced Paterno Nov. 9.

Johnson is expected to attract a lot of interest for other assistant coaching jobs around the country, along with Vanderlinden.

"What I've tried not to do is worry about where the next job is. I really haven't, to be honest with you," Johnson said. "Some people called, but I have tried to stay away from those kinds of things.

"I don't know, it could be two weeks, it could be two months before I start [looking]. I don't know what I'm going to do."

One of Johnson's pupils, junior defensive tackle Jordan Hill, isn't sure what his future holds, either.

The NFL draft advisory board has projected him as third- or fourth-round pick in April's draft. The deadline for underclassmen to declare is Jan. 15, so Hill plans to discuss the situation with his family and friends this week before making a final decision.

"You don't know what's going to happen," Hill said. "Hopefully, we'll find out [the new coach] sometime this week. I know a lot of guys have decisions to make. I have one to make.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do."

Sophomore quarterback Rob Bolden tried to transfer a year ago after the Outback Bowl loss to Florida, but his release was denied by Paterno.

After Monday's embarrassing performance against Houston in which he completed 7 of 26 passes for 137 yards, with one touchdown and three interceptions, Bolden said he was planning to return next season, but kept his options open.

"As far as I can say, I'm here," Bolden said. "We'll just see what happens. I don't know how Penn State's going to hold up, I don't know who my coach is going to be. ... I don't know what's going to happen."

Despite the uncertainty swirling around the program, Johnson, Bradley and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said they planned to visit Penn State recruits during a four-day window that runs from today through Saturday. The 16-day contact period reopens Jan. 13 and ends Jan. 28.

"It'll be hard, but we still got to continue to sell Penn State recruits on the great values, the great things that we have and hopefully the guys that committed to us understand that and we'll go forward," Johnson said.

Johnson insists the football program is in better shape than most people think. Penn State, 9-4 overall, finished 1-3 in the post-Paterno era and was outscored, 106-55.

"We have to move forward -- that's what we have to do," he said. "It's unfortunate that from the outside, it looks like it's falling apart, but we have some great kids in that locker room. Those kids will be back.

"Whoever gets the job is going to inherit some great young men. They want to win. That's why they came here."

Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com and Twitter @rmusselmanppg. First Published January 4, 2012 6:30 AM


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