Photo: Bill O'Brien had his eyes set on the NFL the entire time he was at Penn State, but he waited for the right opportunity to take the next step. Will Penn State's next head coach do the same? Photo: USA Today Sports
In 2014 Penn State will have their fourth head coach in three years. With Bill O'Brien already cleaning house with the Houston Texans after two years in State College, the Nittany Lions are once again conducting a coaching search for the right guy to lead the program in 2014 and beyond.
I was asked this past week if Penn State was going to turn in to a program that has to hire a new coach every couple of years. This is what happens when one coach is in charge of the program for decades. Fans grow used to having long-term stability because they simply do not know any better. Of course, there are other reasons why the coaching turnover has happened at Penn State.
Today's coaching world is different than it used to be of course. With success in the college game and with NFL franchises looking more and more to the college ranks for their new coaches, it makes sense that a truly successful coach at Penn State or any other program would draw interest, perhaps even annually. That said, O'Brien will be the exception to the rule at Penn State as opposed to the new norm.
The dismissal of Paterno late in the 2011 season came in the fallout from the impact of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked the university and community and beyond and continues to be the marker that draws a dividing line among fans, alumni, students and more. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley was named the team's interim coach for the final few games of the 2011 season and bowl game, but the school opted to go with a clean slate by brining in O'Brien, from the New England Patriots.
O'Brien did many good things in a most difficult time at Penn State, but his sights were always set on the NFL. When Houston came coming with the best opportunity presented to him, he accepted it. Now the school must make a decision to hire a guy who can continue off the foundation re-established under O'Brien or if another clean slate is in store. With Miami head coach and Penn State alum Al Golden getting an interview on Saturday and Vanderbilt's James Franklin also considered a top target of Penn State, it looks as though Penn State could be going in a slight step back in terms of program philosophy, but either coach would look to add their own stamp on the program.
But back to the original question. Will the next coach at Penn State be hired thinking this is his final destination or use Penn State as another pit stop on the way to another program?
There is still some cleaning up to do with the program for whoever comes in, so things could be somewhat rough at times in the short term. Penn State still has two years left on a postseason ban, but they will be regaining some scholarships initially lost due to NCAA sanctions. There is a realistic possibility the postseason ban is reduced at some point, but no coach coming in should assume that to be the case. the school also has plenty of financial commitments to pay off stemming from the scandal. Still, Penn State has the look of a quality coaching job and the future may begin to become more optimistic with the right coaching hire.
Penn State is still in one of the top conferences in the country in the Big Ten (please, hold your Big Ten jokes for another time), with great media packages and tremendous resources available to the program. That will only get better once the school is once again eligible for conference payouts from bowl games and such, which are being withheld while Penn State serves their postseason ban.
I actually won a gentlemen's bet with an old college friend of mine who thought O'Brien would be at Penn State at the end of his initial five-year contract. Penn State was not a long-term destination for Bill O'Brien. O'Brien was never really expected to be a long-term solution anyway considering the circumstances surrounding his hiring and the program's situation either, but it may be for another candidate. That would likely be the case for Golden if Penn State can lure him away from what he has been building in Miami. It may or may not be a destination for Franklin, who is currently being pursued by the NFL's Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins.
Penn State will likely have a new coach in a matter of days if all goes to plan, and I would be surprised if the school has to put together another search committee before the 2017 season.
After that, all bets are off.