STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The new football coach at Penn State could be announced "in a matter of days rather than weeks" as a national search is underway, Nittany Lions athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday.
The university confirmed Thursday that Bill O'Brien will leave to become coach of the Houston Texans.
Joyner said a "number of prominent head coaches" have reached out to Penn State, although he declined to mention names or whether any interviews had been conducted. He also said past Penn State ties are not required of the next coach, but they will be considered.
"Our job is going to be to select the next great football coach at Penn State and to get the best football coach available," Joyner said. "We've begun a very robust search that will bring us a great next football coach."
I'm interested in your thoughts on the Big Ten's bowl season, Penn State's upcoming coach search and more. See you at noon.
Whoever takes over should have little trouble recruiting at Penn State now that O'Brien has navigated the Nittany Lions through the worst. He won't have to face the same questions from recruits and parents, which O'Brien handled with aplomb.
The 2012 class O'Brien inherited was decimated with departures. One of the country's best classes quickly dropped from the ranks and was left with just two four-star signees. O'Brien responded with a 2013 class that included No. 1 quarterback and star-in-the- making Christian Hackenberg and the top-ranked tight end in Adam Breneman. That class finished 24th in the country and the 2014 class is ranked the same with a little more than a month until signing day. If the new coach can keep the 2014 class together, he will already enter Penn State with talented freshman and sophomore classes to build Penn State into a contender in a few seasons.
So the pieces are in place for O'Brien's replacement on the field, which should translate to early wins and continued recruiting success. The facilities and the resources at Penn State are already among some of the country's best, and O'Brien fought to improve on them last year. That should be an easy sell for the next coach in Happy Valley.
The new coach will have a star quarterback to build around, and recent history dictates having the hot commodity at quarterback usually results in strong recruiting classes to follow. Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston are just a few quarterbacks whose stardom directly impacted the following recruiting classes. Hackenberg is working his way into that company.
With a 15-9 record over the last two seasons and with the most severe sanctions slated to end following the 2015 season -- if not earlier -- the worst is behind the Nittany Lions. O'Brien got through the toughest part with a winning record and double-digit Big Ten wins, which has recruits believing Penn State is only an NCAA ruling away from possibly playing in a conference championship.
The NCAA also ruled it would give PSU some of its scholarships back earlier than previously planned, which will allow for the future staff to recruit full classes the next few cycles.
What the new coach will not inherit is O'Brien's ability to connect with recruits and their families. Recruits were committing to O'Brien as much as they were committing to Penn State. He was the right person at the right time for the Penn State program, and while he has left the university in a position to continue progressing on the field, there is no guarantee his replacement will have his recruiting acumen.
The move is hoped to add at least some stability after news broke late Tuesday night about Bill O'Brien's decision to take the Houston Texans' head coaching job. Johnson Sr. is the last remaining assistant from Joe Paterno's tenure and is not expected to follow O'Brien.
The other assistants, however, were handpicked by O'Brien and it's not yet known who might be joining the Texans staff. PennLive.com already reported that wideouts coach Stan Hixon plans to join O'Brien, but the futures of the other assistants are still undetermined.
Other assistants that could potentially follow O'Brien include running backs coach Charles London, who spent time as a scout, offensive assistant and quality control coach with three NFL teams, and defensive coordinator John Butler.
Johnson Sr. will primarily be charged with keeping the recruiting class together, the source said, until a new head coach is found. Johnson Sr. could not be reached for comment.
The longtime assistant coach was hired by Paterno in 1996 and quickly earned a reputation as a hard-nosed recruiter. He developed seven first-team All-Americans and 14 first-team All-Big Ten selections.
He played a critical role in the commitment of several Penn State recruits in the current class, including ESPN 300 DT Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln).
Such is the life of a hot coaching name in a business full of constant turnover.
Vandy fans might not want to hear about it, but Franklin is a hot commodity in the coaching world, and there's no surprise that high-profile programs looking to rebound tomorrow are very interested in the Commodores' young coach.
Reports have surfaced that Franklin's name has come up for the vacancy at Texas, and he could be the top choice at Penn State since it appears as though Bill O'Brien has taken the Houston Texans job. There has even been some talk that NFL teams could be interested in Franklin.
Franklin deserves the attention he's getting. He deserves for bigger schools around the country to have serious interest in him. He deserves to have his name up there with the top coaching names during these searches. He's a hard-nosed coach, a dynamic recruiter, a true players' coach and an exceptional developer of talent. He sold a program used to losing on top of losing, so imagine what he could do at a proven winner.
People went from being shocked that Franklin lifted the Commodores out of the SEC's cellar so quickly to being shocked that he's still in Nashville. How long he'll be there is a mystery, but Franklin isn't touching rumors. Honestly, he never discusses subjects not pertaining to his team or his team's next opponent.
When asked earlier this month about his name being linked to the Texas job made open by the resignation of longtime coach Mack Brown, Franklin did an amazing job of dodging the subject all together by putting the attention on his team and Saturday's BBVA Compass Bowl matchup against Houston.
On Monday, he seemed very happy with everything Vandy related.
“I love the Vandy fans. I love the Vandy nation. I love everything we’re doing,” Franklin said.
“I’m extremely excited to play Houston on the 4th and continue to build our program. … Just very, very, very proud. Just going around Christmas and shoppingŁ and there’s excitement and a buzz, and you go to the airport and you see more black and gold and everything that’s going on.”
Vandy fans have to be happy to hear that. You know where your coach's focus is, despite all the potential distractions being thrown his way. But when Vandy's season ends on Jan. 4, get ready for more distractions … and no game to deflect them.
Speculation will only grow as vacancies go unfilled. Franklin has done an excellent job at Vanderbilt, but you have to wonder what he could do with more resources, a bigger recruiting market and a bigger program attached to his name.
It's likely coming one of these days, and we'll find out soon if that day is soon.
It isn't necessarily related to recruiting, although Penn State's 2014 class certainly could be impacted significantly by O'Brien's exit, barely a month before national signing day. It isn't necessarily related to the current players, although key ones such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg certainly must reassess their future with the program.
Athletic director Dave Joyner and university president Rodney Erickson both were hastily appointed to their posts in 2011 after the child sex abuse scandal broke. Joyner is no longer Penn State's acting AD, but he's only expected to serve until Erickson steps down June 30 (or potentially earlier). Penn State's presidential search has been rocky and unsuccessful so far, as the school's reported choice, David Smith, ended up resigning his post at SUNY-Upstate Medical University in November after it was found that he had been accepting unapproved money from outside companies linked to the school.
So Penn State must now begin a coaching search with a lame-duck AD and a lame-duck president. It might not matter, as the school hired O'Brien at a shaky time. The program still continues to operate under heavy NCAA sanctions, including two more years of a postseason ban, but O'Brien's impressive performance elevated its profile for potential candidates. There's also a chance the sanctions are further reduced before the 2014 season.
Still, coaches like to know who their bosses will be. They know what happens when new athletic directors come in and things go south on the field. ADs want to hire their own coaches, and typically keep inherited coaches on shorter leashes than ones they select. Regardless of the sentiment about Joyner and Erickson -- and for many Penn Staters, it's not favorable -- the fact that they'll soon be gone can't be overlooked by potential candidates. There will be more than two people involved in identifying and hiring Penn State's next coach, but every coach wants and needs to have an AD and a president firmly in his corner for the long term.
O'Brien's frustration with Penn State's leadership and the need to be a figurehead for the school -- as told to David Jones in this illuminating piece -- also must be noted. Few coaches will be interested in a job that requires them to not only win football games but unify a community.
Penn State's administrative flux might not matter to the right coach. Maybe it's someone with stronger ties to the school, who isn't worried about winning over his future bosses.
But after all Penn State has been through, it would be better to begin another football transition without one still going on with the administration.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- After days of speculation and weeks of unease among Nittany Nation, the Bill O’Brien carousel appears to have finally come to a stop. According to reports, he’s leaving Penn State for the Houston Texans.
Even the most naive Penn State fan knew Happy Valley wasn’t O’Brien’s final destination. O’Brien made no secret of his NFL hopes. But many assumed this moment wouldn’t arrive so soon -- that O’Brien would at least stay to see his prized recruit and freshman sensation, QB Christian Hackenberg, through his career.
But labeling O’Brien a traitor or slinging insults his way is a disservice to what he has accomplished. Penn State needed a coach to breathe life into what many thought would become a lifeless program. O’Brien needed a place where he could cut his teeth as a head coach and make a return to the NFL.
Neither party likely knew it would reach its goal so quickly.
Coaching relationships aren’t unconditional, and O’Brien knew that all too well. Fans questioned his play-calling, one even wondering aloud during his weekly radio show why Hackenberg didn’t operate more out of the shotgun. O’Brien found himself being forced to defend defensive coordinator John Butler from “Fire him” criticism, and the loss to Indiana resulted in a cacophony of cries that “JoePa never would’ve let that happen.”
O’Brien often joked on his show that fans love him now ... but what about when he lost? He’d always end the rhetorical question with a laugh, but he knew the answer was far more serious.
Fans want successful coaches like O’Brien to stay, and they can’t be blamed. But O’Brien wasn’t hired to stay for as long as everyone else wanted. He was hired to get Penn State past the darkest time in school history. He, in turn, took the job to advance to the NFL.
That dynamic hasn’t been a secret for at least a year now. Reporters peppered O’Brien with questions on Jan. 7, 2013, and asked whether coaching in the NFL remained one of his goals. He revealed as much as he could.
“You know,” O’Brien said, “it’s something that, like I said, it’s the highest -- in our profession, it’s the highest level of football. And it’s a league that I have a ton of respect for.”
If anything, O’Brien’s reputation will take at least a slight hit. He told members of the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes that he would greet them on the practice field throughout their careers. That’s likely not going to happen now. But he never promised anything to the fans, and he faced an impossible situation with recruits.
Show me a head coach who tells potential commits, “I’m not sure if I’ll be here next year because I’m looking at other jobs,” and I’ll show you a head coach whose team does not go 8-4 or 7-5 under the circumstances Penn State faced.
Yes, this all could’ve worked out better for Penn State. But both parties got what they wanted all along.
The Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday that O'Brien will sign a five-year deal and be introduced by the team Thursday. Penn State held a news conference Thursday in which it acknowledged O'Brien's departure.
Texans owner Bob McNair wanted a coach who had NFL and head-coaching experience.
O'Brien, 44, a protégé of Bill Belichick, was a New England Patriots assistant from 2007 to 2011. He eventually became the offensive coordinator for a team that lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI. He left the Patriots two years ago to take over at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal.
Despite a bowl ban and relaxed transfer rules that allowed players to leave Penn State without delay, the Nittany Lions went 15-9 under O'Brien, including 10-6 in the Big Ten. He was the conference coach of the year in 2012.
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Up today: Special teams
How they fared: Ficken started off hot, broke the school record for consecutive made field goals (15), and then promptly cooled off and returned to his inconsistency from the season before. Butterworth had a marginally better year.
If this unit improved from 2012, it wasn't by much. Poor special teams cost Penn State a win against Nebraska, as Ficken missed a field goal and an extra point and Kenny Bell returned a kickoff for a 99-yard touchdown. PSU lost in overtime, 23-20. It was another season to forget for special teams.
What we learned: Ficken remains inconsistent. After nailing 15 straight field goals, it was pretty easy to jump on the kicker's bandwagon. But he still finished the season by making just 15-of-23 field goals (65 percent). He shortened up his approach, spent a year fine-tuning his new technique, succeeded and then ... well ... it just seemed to fall apart. It'll be difficult for fans or coaches to trust Ficken again, even if he remains the starting kicker.
Grading the position: D-minus. Butterworth downed 17 of 51 punts inside the 20, and Jesse Della Valle averaged a respectable 8.7 yards on punt returns. But there's not a lot of good to say outside of that. PSU finished near the bottom in just about every other special-teams category, such as kick return average (19.14 yards -- 100th in nation). If it wasn't for minor improvements by those two, this position would've easily gotten a failing grade. Heck, the argument could be made that it still probably deserves one.
Key losses: Butterworth. He averaged 39.2 yards a punt, so it's not as if he's irreplaceable. Rising sophomore run-on Chris Gulla looks as if he'll take over punting duties since, well, there's just no one else. Gulla was groomed as Butterworth's replacement.
Position stock watch: On hold. Can special teams really fare much worse? Penn State added a kicker to its 2014 class in Troy Stivason and Gulla is more accustomed to field-goal kicking than punting anyway, so Penn State certainly has options there. It shouldn't be too difficult to match Butterworth's production; it just really comes down to the other areas like kickoff coverage, kickoff returns, etc. PSU will have more scholarships to work with in 2014, so it won't be forced to use players on special teams who just aren't ready -- or at least not as much as before. It's a wait-and-see approach with this unit as there's still plenty of question marks, but there should be some cautious optimism here.
Key to next season: Field-goal kicking. Penn State needs to put points on the scoreboard when it has the ability, so that's clearly the priority on all the special teams. Sure, it'll be breaking in a new punter ... but what's more costly -- a punter who averages 35 yards a kick or a kicker who makes 60 percent of his FGs? If Ficken picks up where he left off, the staff might not have much patience left over. Gulla has a year under his belt, and Stivason might be able to push as well. Ficken needs to improve, or someone else needs to step up.
- Quick Rose Bowl preview from the Associated Press.
- Mark Dantonio will get a raise and MSU is close to announcing that figure after Dantonio's discussion with AD Mark Hollis.
- Braxton Miller missed today's interviews due to the flu bug that has gone around the OSU team.
- With a depleted defense, Luke Fickell is working to fix the Buckeyes' issues before they face Clemson.
- Hawkmania.com's 10@10 gives you 10 quick facts on Iowa football for the day.
- Iowa is looking to push its tempo as it moves forward, plus other notes from Tampa.
- Graham Watson says the Nebraska-Georgia matchup isn't as exciting the second time around.
- The turnover margin has been an issue for the Cornhuskers, and Bo Pelini knows that can't be the case against Georgia.
- Wisconsin has a chance to make a national statement against an SEC team.
- South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker have a brats-and-barbecue wager on the Capital One Bowl.
- Audrey Snyder takes a look at what would happen to Penn State's 2014 recruiting class if Bill O'Brien leaves.
- The Daily Gopher also takes a look at what could happen to Minnesota's remaining spots in its 2014 recruiting class.
So here are some of the more memorable moments and stories to appear on this site in 2013:
- Nittany Lions all-time draft: Five people spent several hours drafting an entire team of Penn State greats. Historian Lou Prato took RB Lenny Moore as the first overall pick, while OT Lloyd Engle was our draft's Mr. Irrelevant. The participants included Prato, former WR O.J. McDuffie, former CB Stephon Morris, ESPN editor Bob McClellan and myself. (And, Bob, I'll still never forgive you for taking Lydell Mitchell ahead of me.)
- Nittany Lions understand future depends on walk-ons: D.J. Crook threw a Hail Mary when he emailed Penn State, and this story explained just how he got to Happy Valley -- and how Bill O'Brien emphasized the run-on program.
- Emotional win comes at key time for PSU: This column was written immediately following Penn State's 43-40 quadruple OT win over Michigan, which is sure to be a classic for years to come.
- Column by Andrew Nelson: Why I chose PSU: The four-star OT penned a column in February about why he decided to commit to the Nittany Lions. He redshirted this past season.
- Happy Valley not placated by reductions: The NCAA reduced Penn State's sanctions, but that didn't mean Happy Valley was thrilled. "It's just not enough yet," Matt McGloin said.
- NCAA trying to unring sanction bell: Ivan Maisel wrote that reduced sanctions were an acknowledgment that the NCAA overreached.
- Sam Ficken goes from goat to hero: OK, OK. He didn't fare well after he set the record for consecutive made field goals (15), but he still talked here about rising above the hate and death threats.
- Calm Hackenberg embracing starting role: It didn't take long to understand that Christian Hackenberg was something special. This was written after his first start.
- Retired No. 22 stressful for Heisman winner: John Cappelletti was pretty nervous about the fan reaction before his No. 22 became the first retired Penn State football number. Afterward, though, he said he was glad he did it.
- Penn State CB Lucas finding 'swagger': Jordan Lucas was a pleasant surprise in the secondary this season, and he reflected on the main reason why: Confidence.
As expected, Day 2 at the Under Armour All-America practices were smoother, more concise and much more productive. The players are now starting to think less and play more. Natural ability is starting to come to the forefront, which allows for them to be more productive. There have been fewer dropped passes, fewer misses by the QBs and the offensive lines are starting to jell quicker than expected. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this group is there have not been any true letdowns. They have stepped up and been as advertised almost top to bottom for both squads. Let’s hit the highlights of the day:
WR Cameron Sims (Monroe, La./Ouachita Parish): Sims might not wow anyone with his 40-yard dash time, but it may not matter. Sims is so similar to Mike Evans at Texas A&M. He just makes plays. He has extremely long arms and is outstanding when in contested matchups. The ball will look like it is uncatchable and then next thing you know he jumps out of nowhere, extends and makes a play and the defender is left scratching his head. When it comes down to it, the QBs for Team Highlight can trust that if they need to throw it up, Sims will make a play. The most basic thing about the position is catching the football and Sims has no problem doing that.
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Up today: Defensive backs.
With Adrian Amos' move to safety, many took that as a sign that defensive coordinator John Butler was confident with the new cornerbacks (Jordan Lucas and Trevor Williams) and that this group wouldn't be the liability it was in 2012. Penn State was forced to play more zone coverage than it wanted to in 2012, but 2013 appeared as if the secondary could at least earn the status of "average." It wouldn't be a defensive strength, but it wouldn't be a complete disaster either.
How they fared: Maybe it wasn't a total disaster ... but it was close. Amos' position switch to safety was a total bust, and he was moved back to cornerback later in the season. The safeties were once again the Achilles' heel on the team and, despite returning both starters from 2012 (Malcolm Willis and safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong), the position of safety somehow managed to take a step back.
Ryan Keiser caught the ire of fans quite a few times, and it wasn't unusual for a defensive back to be completely out of position. PSU didn't press often, the corners gave opposing receivers plenty of room and third-and-long wasn't an automatic prelude to a punt. This was the worst unit on the team -- by far. Again.
What we learned: Butler doesn't have a lot to work with here. CB Da'Quan Davis saw time early in 2012 but hasn't played much since. Wideout-turned-cornerback Williams was looked upon as the better option and, well, you know how Williams fared. He was pulled about six games into the season. Nearly all of the prime options in the secondary are underclassmen. Outside of Willis, PSU had to resort to former walk-ons at safety.
Grading the position: D. If this unit was average, Penn State might've been at least 9-3. But even teams like run-first Minnesota were able to pass on the Nittany Lions. Lucas was a nice surprise, but one nice surprise couldn't overcome missed expectations everywhere else. Amos admittedly didn't live up to expectations, the safeties were a mess, and there really wasn't a whole lot of good to say here.
Key losses: Willis. He wasn't a great player, but he still helped other players in the secondary adjust. He was the quarterback of the defense and a vocal leader who helped the underclassmen. PSU probably will be able to replace his production, however. Can Keiser or Jesse Della Valle really be that much worse?
Position stock watch: Trending upward. Penn State had to hit rock-bottom in 2013; it had to. It really has nowhere to go but up. The cornerbacks should actually be above-average in 2014, and this could finally be the breakout season everyone was waiting for from Amos. Safety is obviously a huge concern but, once again, it really can't get that much worse.
Key to next season: Getting average play from the safeties. They don't have to be great, or even all that good. Simply being average would be a big step up. That being said, it might be difficult for this unit to improve that much. Malik Golden could be the answer, as he saw some significant time toward the end of the season. And it's always possible that a freshman could contribute here. Lucas can also play safety ... but that'd likely cause some head-scratching after the failed experiment with Amos.
The Early Offer: March 5
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35