Penn State football: Munchak, Schiano, Golden on short list as coaching search begins

tjohnson@centredaily.comJanuary 2, 2014 

— The search is on to find Bill O’Brien’s permanent replacement. It could end sooner rather than later.

A source told the Centre Daily Times a search committee has been formed and will “move quickly” to hire O’Brien’s successor after it was reported Tuesday that O’Brien has agreed to become the next head coach of the Houston Texans. It took Penn State just five days following the team’s loss in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl to hire O’Brien to take over for then-interim coach Tom Bradley.

Penn State has scheduled a press conference for 11 a.m. Thursday to discuss plans for the football program. O’Brien’s deal with the Texans is expected to be officially announced early Thursday, according to media reports.

Multiple names have surfaced, been mentioned and reported as candidates to replace O’Brien, who led the Nittany Lions for two seasons. How soon will Penn State bring in a new coach and who are the prospective candidates?

Mike Munchak

Age: 53

Current job: Tennessee Titans head coach

Alma Mater: Penn State, ‘81

The skinny: A source close to Munchak who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the Centre Daily Times he was unaware if Penn State had already reached out to Munchak. Of course that doesn’t mean Penn State isn’t interested in the former Nittany Lion who played along Penn State offensive lines in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Munchak’s name came up as a candidate for the Penn State job before O’Brien was hired two years ago but Munchak quickly denied interest in the position. Now, with just a year left on a contract that will pay out nearly $3 million next season, Munchak is waiting to learn his fate. He survived Black Monday, when four other coaches were fired, but is expected to meet with Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith and general manager Ruston Webster in the coming days. Munchak’s Titans finished 7-9 this season and missed the playoffs for the third-straight season under Munchak. Overall, Munchak is 22-26 as a head coach and fielded just one winner, a 9-7 squad in his first season.

After he missed his junior season at Penn Staet with a knee injury, Munchak returned to the field for the 1981 season and was drafted eighth overall by the Houston Oilers. Munchak would go on to make nine Pro Bowl rosters during a 12-year career. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

A native of Scranton, Munchak began his coaching career with the Oilers and eventually ascended to the team’s offensive line coach before taking over for Jeff Fisher. All 32 years of his NFL career have been spent with the Houston/Tennessee franchise. The Titans’ offense struggled at times this season. Tennessee ranked 22nd in total offense, 14th in rushing offense and 21st in passing offense. Quarterback Jake Locker went down midway through the season and yielded the job to journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.

James Franklin

Age: 41

Current job: Vanderbilt head coach

Alma Mater: East Stroudsburg, ‘94

The skinny: Tabbed by the University of Maryland as its coach-in-waiting and successor to Ralph Friedgen in 2009, Franklin didn’t need to wait for that opportunity with the Terrapins and was hired by Vanderbilt in time for the 2011 season. In just three years, Franklin has led the Commodores to their most consistent wave of success in the program’s 123-year history.

Before Franklin’s arrival, Vanderbilt had never reached a bowl game in consecutive seasons and had appeared in just four bowl games over that span. But the Langhorne, Pa., native steered the Commodores to a four-win improvement and a Liberty Bowl berth in his first season. Last year, Franklin’s Vanderbilt squad went 9-4 and capped its season with a win over N.C. State in the Music City Bowl.

This season, Vanderbilt is 8-4 and awaiting a showdown with Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

But Franklin, who’s seen as a fiery leader with dynamic recruiting abilities, is in demand. Multiple reports have surfaced indicating Franklin has already spoken with Texas officials about potentially replacing Mack Brown. Franklin and Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams have not specified which schools or NFL teams have inquired about Franklin but Williams told the Tennessean that multiple teams have expressed interest.

A former quarterback, Franklin would bring an offensive mind to Penn State. He’s helped develop young offensive talent in the past and could pick up where O’Brien left off with quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Before coaching at Maryland, Franklin worked for two seasons at Kansas State where he helped coach then-true freshman quarterback Josh Freeman. In his second year with Franklin directing the offense and providing direct tutelage as quarterbacks coach, Freeman improved his completion percentage by 11 points and threw for 3,353 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

Al Golden

Age: 44

Current job: Miami head coach

Alma Mater: Penn State, ‘91

The skinny: Like Munchak, this isn’t the first time Golden’s name has surfaced as a possible Penn State head coaching candidate.

A former standout for Joe Paterno, Golden was a team captain as a senior and played a big part in numerous memorable wins during the early ‘90s. As a player Golden has experience at the NFL level having spent the 1992 season with the New England Patriots. As a coach, Golden has spent all but one year of his 10-year career on college staffs. He coached linebackers at Boston College for two years before filling the same role at Penn State in 2000. Golden was the defensive coordinator at Virginia from 2001-05.

Like Franklin, Golden has been able to right a sinking program. In his first head coaching job, Golden took over a Temple program that went 3-31 in three years before his arrival. The Owls showed steady improvement year-by-year under Golden. They followed a 1-11 2006 season with 4-8 and 5-7 marks in 2007 and 2008, respectively. In 2009, Golden led the Owls to a 9-3 mark before they finished 8-4 in his final season.

In two years under Golden, Miami is 13-11. The Hurricanes have not played in a bowl game with Golden due to the school banning itself from bowl competition as it is investigated for possible NCAA rules violations that are alleged to have taken place before Golden took over.

Greg Schiano

Age: 47

Current job: None

Alma Mater: Bucknell, ‘88

The skinny: While Schiano found success at Rutgers, early positives morphed into chaos and calamity in Tampa Bay and spelled a quick end for the former Penn State assistant’s first NFL head coaching job.

The Buccaneers plucked Schiano from the Scarlet Knights after the Bucknell graduate led Rutgers to a 68-67 record in 11 seasons. And while Schiano and the Scarlet Knights got off to a sluggish start, going just 12-34 over Schiano’s first four seasons, he led Rutgers to five eight-or-more-win seasons and five bowl wins over the next seven.

With Tampa Bay, Schiano started out 6-4 but went 5-17 over his remaining tenure. In between were clashes with players over Schiano’s disciplinarian approach. Once considered Tampa Bay’s franchise quarterback, Freeman was released after numerous spats with Schiano.

Larry Johnson

Age: 61

Current job: Interim head coach at Penn State

Alma Mater: Elizabeth City State, ‘73

The skinny: For years Johnson has been one of the best position coaches in the country, routinely turning out top-end defensive linemen who have dominated at Penn State and moved on to successful careers in the NFL. For now, Johnson is calling the shots and trying to keep current Penn State players up to date on the current situations.

Johnson’s phone was answered by his son Tony when contacted by the Centre Daily Times on Wednesday. Johnson said his dad, Penn State’s interim coach, was busy calling recruits in an effort to keep them informed.

There’s no doubt Johnson can recruit. He’s worked Virginia, Maryland and up and down the East Coast successfully in his 18 years at Penn State. There was some thought that Johnson would be considered for Penn State’s open defensive coordinator position last offseason. But shortly after Ted Roof left, O’Brien put John Butler in that spot. Johnson interviewed for a defensive coordinator job on Ron Zook’s Illinois staff in 2008 but ultimately chose to remain at Penn State.

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