Potential Replacements for Bill O’Brien

Story posted January 6, 2014 in CommRadio, Sports by John McHugh

No matter your stance on Bill O’Brien’s sudden exit from Happy Valley, there’s one thing that no one can deny; Penn State Football is without a head coach right now (interim tag doesn’t count), and in order to avert total disaster, the university must find an impressive replacement...quickly.

Almost as soon as rumors of an O’Brien departure surfaced a few days ago, rumors of possible replacements for head coach came along as well. Here’s a look at some of those names, and others who could potentially roam the Beaver Stadium sidelines in the future.

James Franklin - Head Coach, Vanderbilt University

Franklin has been at the helm of Vanderbilt football for the past three years, and in that short time he has brought the program from a perennial cellar-dweller in the powerful SEC, to a respectable, bowl-caliber team.

His 23 wins at the school in his brief tenure are just two less than the team had in the previous six years before his arrival. In addition to this impressive turnaround, Franklin is an offensive mind, with most of his previous coaching positions centering on wideouts or quarterbacks (Franklin himself was a quarterback in college). This focus on offense could be vital in keeping skeptical recruits such as DeAndre Thompkins and Chris Godwin on board after the departure of receivers coach Stan Hixon.

Although Franklin doesn’t have direct ties to Penn State, he is a Pennsylvania native, attending Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, PA, and later playing his college ball at East Stroudsberg University. One thing that makes Franklin especially attractive is his apparent disinterest with coaching in the NFL, meaning he could be in for the long-term at Penn State. Pennlive.com’s David Jones has reported that Franklin is a front-runner for the job.

David Cutcliffe - Head Coach, Duke University

Cutcliffe is another coach who has brought a seemingly irrelevant program into the national spotlight. Despite his 31-43 record in his six seasons at Duke, he led the Blue Devils to their first ever 10-win season this year, and came within minutes of defeating Johnny Manizel and Texas A&M in the Chik-Fil-A Bowl.

Cutcliffe, like Franklin, has spent his career on the offensive side of the ball. In his time at Tennessee, he was quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for none other than Peyton Manning (that guy didn’t turn out too bad, did he?). He also served as head coach at Ole Miss during Eli Manning’s time at the school. In addition, his deep SEC ties from both of those jobs could come in handy in the Big Ten, just as Urban Meyer’s have at Ohio State.

Greg Schiano - Former Head Coach, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers University

Just like the previous two candidates, Schiano took a program from laughing-stock to respectability, in his time as Rutgers’ head coach. NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport has reported that Penn State athletic director David Joyner wants to make a strong push for Schiano. After an unsuccessful two-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it is unclear whether or not Schiano wants to return to the college ranks, but if he does, the Penn State job makes a lot of sense.

Primarily, a defensive coach, Schiano spent five years in Happy Valley from 1990-1995 as a graduate assistant and later defensive backs coach. While his Penn State ties certainly make him an attractive option, they could also serve as a distraction, as his years at the university were spent as a part of Jerry Sandusky’s defensive staff. Schiano has dodged questions about the scandal in the past, but would undoubtedly be unable to do so should he become the Nittany Lions’ head coach.

Mike Munchak - Head Coach, Tennessee Titans

Munchak is a Penn State alumni, who played offensive guard for four seasons from 1978-1981. After being named a second-team All-American in his senior season, he was drafted 8th overall by the then Houston Oilers in the 1982 NFL Draft, and has been with the team (now the Tennessee Titans) in some capacity ever since. After retiring in 1993, Munchak has served as offensive assistant, offensive line coach, and now head coach for the Titans.

This is not the first time Penn State has considered Munchak. He was reportedly offered the Head Coaching job back in December 2011, at which time ESPN’s Joe Schad reported that Munchak was “torn” between staying in Tennessee, and heading to Happy Valley.

Al Golden - Head Coach, University of Miami

Golden, like Munchak, is a Penn State alumni, and played tight end for the Nittany Lions from 1987-1991. He later coached linebackers at the university in 2000. He has compiled a wildly average record as a head coach. In his two stints as a head coach, (2006-2010 at Temple, and 2011-present at Miami) he has compiled a 49-49 record. Although he is signed on to a massive contract to coach the Hurricanes through 2020, if Penn State is interested, his Happy Valley background could cause him to consider the job.

Bobby Petrino - Head Coach, Western Kentucky University

For years, Petrino has been an incredibly polarizing figure in college football. His personality, along with this fiery coaching style make him abrasive to some, but lovable to others. Regardless of anyone’s personal opinion of him, Petrino has proven to be a successful offensive-minded coach.

Since his playing time as a quarterback at Carroll College in Montana, he has held numerous offensive-oriented coaching positions in college, as well as the NFL. Petrino, just like David Cutcliffe, has deep SEC roots, which could be effective in recruiting. 

However, one big negative to Petrino is that his tenure as the head coach of Arkansas ended in an adulterous scandal, but it seems that he has since made right with his family. Another negative relating to him, is that should he leave Western Kentucky before his four-year contract is up, he will have to personally pay the university $1.2 million over six months.

In order to secure many promising 2014 recruits, and maintain some very important players, Penn State needs to find a very good coach, very quickly. In a press conference on January 2nd, David Joyner said that the search committee would prefer to find a coach in a matter of “days, rather than weeks”. For the future of Penn State football, one can only hope that the committee’s expectation becomes a reality.

John McHugh is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email jym5764@psu.edu.