Penn State Football: With Bill O'Brien in the NFL, Who Will Replace Him?

Troy Weller@@troywellerContributor IIIJanuary 3, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, PA - SEPTEMBER 01:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Penn State Nittany Lions runs off the field after losing 24-14 to the Ohio Bobcats at Beaver Stadium on September 1, 2012 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

With Bill O'Brien's recent departure to fill the Houston Texans' head coaching vacancy, Penn State is back in the mix for a new leader.

The opportunity that O'Brien took seemed like one that nobody wanted back then. Just weeks after Joe Paterno's firing in November of 2011, a search committee was formed to find Penn State's next head coach. It took nearly two months for O'Brien to be named Paterno's successor.

This time around, it shouldn't take longer than a week.

The Penn State job is much more attractive now than it was two years ago. O'Brien is the main reason why, and it's hard to argue against that—even if you don't support his decision to chase a dream that he never shied away from acknowledging. 

Joyner is now tasked with finding the 16th head coach in program history. Public opinion suggests that Penn State need an individual with ties to the university. When asked during a press conference on Thursday what characteristics would warrant an individual for consideration, Joyner hinted that a Nittany Lion pedigree isn't a requirement:

At Penn State, I like to say that intercollegiate athletics, which is ICA, equals integrity, academics and championships, IAC. So first and foremost is integrity. Second is the ability to continue and build upon our great tradition of academics and the integration of our student athletes within the university. And then the third, in that order, but nonetheless tremendously important, somebody that has the ability to win championships -- to win Big Ten Championships and National Championships.

The program ultimately needs someone who will be around for the long haul. Here are a few coaches who could end up on Penn State's sideline next fall. 


James Franklin

The head coach at Vanderbilt, Franklin has made quite the impact since taking over in Nashville just three years ago.

James Franklin's energy has revitalized Vanderbilt's program.
James Franklin's energy has revitalized Vanderbilt's program.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Franklin got his start back in 1995 as a wide receivers coach with Division II Kutztown. He quickly ascended the coaching ranks, and within 10 years was on staff with the Green Bay Packers. After stints as the offensive coordinator at both Kansas State and Maryland, he accepted the head job at Vanderbilt. 

In three full seasons, Franklin has compiled a 23-15 record while appearing in a bowl game each year. Prior to 2013, Vanderbilt had never been to three straight bowl games. They've also never had two consecutive seasons with at least eight wins.

Franklin has been in terrific from a recruiting perspective, too. Vanderbilt has signed a top-30 recruiting class each of the last two seasons, according to The Commodores are on pace for a third come February.

All of this was unheard of before he came along. It's safe to say Franklin has revolutionized Vanderbilt football. 

While he doesn't have any direct ties with Penn State, Franklin was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He played quarterback at Division II East Stroudsburg in Pennsylvania, and coming back to coach the most storied college football program in his home state could appeal to him. 

And as Bruce Feldman of CBS tweeted the other day, the thought of Franklin in Happy Valley is enough to make some coaches worry:

Franklin's name is the most popular amongst Penn State circles right now. We'll see if the university has the resources to lure him back home. 


Al Golden

If having Penn State ties is something the search committee will strongly consider, Miami's Al Golden should be the first coach they call.

A tight end in Happy Valley from 1987-1991, Golden began his coaching career shortly after that. He started off as a graduate assistant with Virginia, eventually finding himself as Penn State's linebackers coach during the 2000 season. 

Al Golden has a track record of program improvement.
Al Golden has a track record of program improvement.Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Golden finally caught his break as a head coach when he was hired by Temple in December 2005. Inheriting a team that finished the previous season 0-11, he turned the Owls' program around. In just his fifth year, Temple had nine wins and played in its first bowl game since 1979. 

He eventually left for Miami, and just finished up his third season with the program. Golden led the Hurricanes to a 9-4 record this year, and is poised for a bright future in Coral Gables. So far in 2014, Miami has assembled the seventh-best recruiting class in the nation. 

Hiring Golden would make sense because of his Penn State roots and ability to revamp a program. With the foundation that O'Brien has laid, bringing in someone with a track record like Golden's is pivotal to keeping the momentum rolling in Happy Valley. 

Miami's impressive 2014 recruiting class could be a factor that weighs heavy on Golden's decision, if he were offered the job. But the allure of coaching his alma mater might be too much to pass up—according to reports, there is mutual interest right now between Golden and Penn State.  


Greg Roman

San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman isn't a name that's popping up a lot—but it's one that has before. 

A guy who has spent the majority of his career in the NFL, Roman did have a brief stint in the college game. He was Stanford's offensive coordinator from 2009-2010, prior to being brought to San Francisco when Jim Harbaugh took that head coaching gig. 

His lack of college experience could be viewed as a red flag—but not in terms of qualifications. Some may be wary of Penn State hiring another "NFL guy," for fear of that individual heading back to the pros like O'Brien did.

Before O'Brien was hired, Roman interviewed with Penn State for the position. As Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea wrote a year ago, Roman at the time viewed Penn State as a destination job:

Roman, a native of Ventnor, N.J., said the Penn State job is the kind of position that would be a job in which he could retire.

“[A] a job like Penn State is a lifetime job. That’s a job if I were to become the head coach there, I’d wouldn’t leave there,” Roman said Tuesday according to

“That’s a very unique opportunity at Penn State, so that’s something I’d definitely consider strongly.”

Penn State is in a better situation than they were in two years ago. With scholarship numbers slowly being restored, the possibility of the bowl ban being lifted and young talent all around, what's to say Roman doesn't hold the job in high regard—if not higher—as he did back then?

Judging by his comments, you'd think the search committee would give Roman another look. It's very unusual for a coach to openly talk about another opportunity the way in which Roman did. That alone speaks volumes about the passion he would have in heading up the program.

Whichever route Penn State decides to take, it'll need to do their due diligence on a variety of people to make sure the right hire is made.  


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