Coaches on Penn State's radar - and two wild-card picks

Mack Brown at Penn State? Why not? The longtime Texas coach has left the Longhorns.    ERIC GAY / AP
Mack Brown at Penn State? Why not? The longtime Texas coach has left the Longhorns.    ERIC GAY / AP
Posted: January 03, 2014

James Franklin returned the phone call. No surprise. Franklin had grown up locally, had gone to Neshaminy High, was happy to talk about the resurrection project he had undertaken at Vanderbilt.

"Everything about the job, about the program, about how football was perceived at Vanderbilt needed to be changed," Franklin said over the phone. "I realized that."

The timing of that phone call was interesting. It was a little more than two years ago, the week before Christmas, the last time the head coaching job at Penn State was open. Franklin wasn't going to talk about that, but he understood the story would have that context. He had no problem with it.

If he was trending hot then, he's the flavor of the month now, after two more winning seasons at Vandy. Maybe too hot for Penn State. Texas has talked to him, and at least one NFL team reportedly is interested - if we're still counting Cleveland as an NFL job.

Is Franklin the guy Penn State should go all-in for? It's still a risk. Remember when Gary Barnett did the seemingly impossible at Northwestern, turning a perennial loser into a winner? Then Barnett went to Colorado and fizzled. There are no automatics.

Franklin is a sizzle guy. Hiring him would get Penn State into the houses of plenty of recruits. Last week, CBS Sports quoted an anonymous Atlantic Coast Conference coach: "If James Franklin ends up at Penn State, that'd be bad for us. He'd kill it in recruiting around here."

That's why Franklin belongs high on the list. Another guy who should be up there: Greg Roman of the San Francisco 49ers. Local ties, grew up in Ventnor, N.J., graduated from Holy Spirit. Roman didn't hide his interest in the job the last time it was open and he was on Penn State's short list.

He is also on NFL interest lists, so it remains to be seen whether Penn State could get him this time.

Does Penn State want to go down the Bill O'Brien road again? Taking a guy who may use Penn State to fill the head coaching hole on his resume and then go back to the pros? Yes, and yes. Are Penn State players glad they got two years with O'Brien? Many are, according to a lot of their Twitter feeds. Most seem more at peace with his leaving than Penn State fans are right now.

Roman was an assistant at Stanford. He knows the recruiting game. You'd have to think Christian Hackenberg would be happy to work with Roman. Same for Penn State's running backs and linemen.

But what about Penn State ties? Isn't it time to guarantee some longevity by getting a guy who really wants to be there? Sure, if he's the best.

Greg Schiano, a former Penn State assistant, surely would take the job after getting fired by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The former Rutgers coach would be strong recruiting at the same high schools he worked at Rutgers. Schiano had his issues in Tampa, basically proving that he is meant to be a college coach. He knows how to be a college coach.

Al Golden, a Penn State alum, also has proved he knows how to run a program, especially in tough times. He got Temple on the right path, a huge task, and has stabilized Miami in tough times that he didn't cause. He'd probably be in State College for life.

My questions about Schiano and Golden are the same: Is everybody sure they can go toe-to-toe with Urban Meyer and get their share of wins? If the answer is yes, sign them up. But they don't have a ton of big wins in the big game to offer up as evidence.

Let's throw some wild cards out there. I'd call Mack Brown. (Seriously. Today.) He won big games, is a master at running a program, kills it in houses, and still has gas in the tank at age 62. I'd take five years of Mack, if he's got a chip on his shoulder about how it played out at Texas. He might get Meyer a little nervous. (If he's not interested, no harm, no foul.)

David Cutcliffe? Another guy Hackenberg would have to be thrilled about, especially since you get two guys named Peyton and Eli as your unofficial offseason quarterback coaches. Duke's coach knows the big-school deal from his time as offensive coordinator at Tennessee and head coach at Mississippi. He doesn't turn 60 until September. Why not find out whether he's got one more challenge left in him?

Could Penn State go outside this list? Of course. O'Brien wasn't on all the lists the last time. Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak is a Penn State alum. Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is a former Lions assistant. You'd think they'd want the job.

Will any of them pause, given that O'Brien left after two seasons and complained about non-football issues? They shouldn't if they understand that the job entails dealing with non-football issues. Being the football coach at Penn State University post-Sandusky is a tough job. But it starts with being a great football coach. Penn State had better get that part right.

The school also needs to do it quickly. The Houston Texans had that right when they went after O'Brien. Speed matters in this game, too.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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