Who will take the reins of Penn State's football program?

Posted: November 09, 2011

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Joe Paterno used to tell the story about when he was hired to replace Rip Engle as Penn State's head coach in 1966, agreeing quickly to a deal after the athletic director offered him a salary of $20,000.

Now, Penn State must hire a head coach for the first time since the Lyndon Johnson administration to replace Paterno, 84, who announced his retirement Wednesday in the wake of the child sexual-abuse scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

It's a safe bet that the new coach will be earning far more than $20,000. It's also likely he will not come from the Penn State staff given sentiment that the university must clean house as part of its recovery from the scandal.

Former Florida coach Urban Meyer appears to be the overwhelming favorite to become the new head coach. The list of successors appears to be a short one: Two head coaches – Miami's Al Golden (formerly of Temple) and Rutgers' Greg Schiano, with Penn State links – and a lot of guessing.

Golden played for Paterno from 1989 through 1991 and also served as an assistant coach. Schiano coached the defensive backs at Penn State in the early 1990s. Both men were on the staff at the same time as Sandusky, who retired after the 1999 season.

Meyer, whose last game as a head coach came in the 2011 Outback Bowl when his Gators defeated the Nittany Lions, has spent the college football season as an ESPN analyst. But he has been linked to potential openings at Penn State and Ohio State since the season began.

A report, denied by Meyer, surfaced last month that Penn State officials had talked to Meyer to gauge his interest in succeeding Paterno, whose contract expired after this season. Ohio State has an interim head coach in Luke Fickell and is the primary university in Meyer's native state.

An ESPN spokeswoman said Wednesday that Meyer would have no comment on Penn State but would be issuing a statement Thursday. Meyer is expected to be in the broadcast booth for Saturday's game between the Nittany Lions and Nebraska, Paterno's final home game as head coach.

In an Associated Press interview last week, Meyer said he missed coaching.

"I miss a lot of things about it," he said. "But I also am really enjoying another part, that I get to watch my kids play sports."

Meyer, 47, won two national championships at Florida and posted 65 victories in his six seasons there. He announced his retirement last Dec. 8.

Golden, a former Lions tight end and team captain in 1991, took over the Miami program after five seasons at Temple. However, he learned last summer that a booster had provided extra benefits to members of his team, resulting in suspensions of varying length for eight players.

The NCAA is investigating and some have suggested that Golden would jump at another coaching opportunity because of likely sanctions against the Miami program. However, speaking Wednesday following news of Paterno's retirement, Golden discounted that speculation.

"We're excited about what we're building here," he said. "I can't worry about what other people are saying. . . . I don't worry about the media."

Golden said he was "disheartened and sad" about the Penn State situation and Paterno's exit.

"Clearly thoughts and prayers go out for the young people, the victims in this case," he said. "And certainly my prayers go out to Coach, too. It's tough."

Schiano, speaking Wednesday at his weekly news conference, denied having interest in being Paterno's successor.

"I don't even get into it, I really don't," he said. "We've got a lot of work to do here. We're going to build a championship program here. That hasn't changed, contrary to some beliefs."

Schiano said he always will be grateful to Paterno for giving him a job as a 25-year-old assistant coach and that the news of his retirement is sad.

"I love Coach Paterno, so I am emotional," he said. "People you love and care about . . . this is a hard thing for him. I know it is. So it hurts me when someone you love hurts."

Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

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