The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 6, 2014

Todd Hummel's college sports column: Penn State football coach situation is multi-faceted


Daily Item

---- — Sixteen days ago I was sitting around the house and, as I'm wont to do, I had my face buried in Twitter when something interesting came across the screen.

Reports claimed Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien had interviewed with the Houston Texans and was the favorite to replace interim head coach Wade Phillips.

By now, O'Brien's already taken the job and the powers to be at University Park have begun the search for his replacement in earnest.

Though to show how fluid the process is in this day-and-age of social media, I literally checked for an update after writing the above paragraph and recently fired Tennessee Titans head coach (and Scranton native) Mike Munchack was supposed to interview for the job Sunday.

However, I think the reaction to O'Brien's leaving has been quite interesting and some of the things that have been written show that maybe things aren't all that happy in Happy Valley.

Harrisburg Patriot or Pennlive.com -- whatever it's called now -- columnist David Jones wrote an interesting piece a few days ago about a conversation he had with O'Brien before Christmas. With the controversy surrounding the Penn State program when O'Brien took over, I think he expected to have a large role as coach and as the face of the university as the football coach in the wake of harsh sanctions.

But as the 2013 season rolled around, I think O'Brien wanted to go back to what he does best, which of course is coach the heck out of his offense. (Side note: Anybody who watched Matt McGloin in his freshman year and thought he would start six games in the his rookie season in the NFL as an undrafted free agent, well, that's all the proof one needs on O'Brien's coaching abilities).

Anyway, with a lame duck President and a retiring Athletic Director in Dave Joyner, plus O'Brien's desire to return to the NFL, I think he had little desire to be the face of the entire university until a more stable leadership structure could be found.

And say what you will about the Texans this season, but there is certainly enough talent -- not to mention the No. 1 draft pick -- to pull a Chiefs-like resurgence in 2014. With owner Bob McNair's desire to win a Super Bowl, O'Brien seems to have stepped into a pretty good situation.

Now the big question for the Nittany Lions is who will the next coach be. O'Brien did wonders in recruiting, using his restricted scholarships judiciously, and he did a great job scouring the high schools of Pennsylvania for overlooked players that were willing walk-ons to fill out the depth of the Lions roster.

It will be a must for the next coach to do the same, while re-recruiting current studs like Christian Hackenberg to continue to stick around the University Park campus.

Miami's Al Golden said Sunday he is not a candidate for any other job.

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, a former quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, has also been prominently mentioned in relation to the Penn State job. It will be interesting to see if Franklin, who has made the Commodores competitive in the Southeastern Conference, can be lured back to Pennsylvania for the Nittany Lions' job.

Munchak and Franklin certainly have the Pennsylvania ties to do the job, but will that be enough to keep either around for a significant length of time?

Another name mentioned early on in the search but not so much lately is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. His reputation took a hit with the Bucs and he's become a bit of punch line for some of the incidents that happened while in the NFL.

Schiano rebuilt Rutgers University into a Big East contender and his approach to football works much better on a collegiate level.

Joyner said in his press conference that the hiring would be made sooner rather than later, which seems to rule out any NFL-coordinators still in the playoffs.

n Correspondent Todd Hummel covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to sports@dailyitem.com.