The Post-Paterno Era

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1: Head coach Joe Paterno of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the 2010 Capital One Bowl against the LSU Tigers at the Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on January 1, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. Penn State won 19-17. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

“That’s probably something the athletic director thinks about in the back of his mind from time to time.”

-Penn State President Graham Spanier

If you couldn’t tell by the title, that “something” mentioned in the quote by magician/Penn State president Graham Spanier is about the end of the coaching career of the one and only Joe Paterno. This is something that most Penn State fans have thought about as well and something that most have strong opinions about (including the person writing this right now). The quote was part of a 3-minute video that I found while sitting on my computer in this 100 degree heat in which Spanier discusses what may or may not happen when Joepa is done coaching. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my grandpa a few days ago about this very subject.

Most people (including my grandpa) assume that once Joe leaves, Penn State will hire or promote from within the program. Graham Spanier does nothing to refute this thought by saying in the interview:

We’re not going to pay somebody 4 or 5 million dollars. I’m sorry. I don’t care who it is. It’s just not going to go over well at Penn State….There are, I assure you, a lot of people who would be thrilled, a lot of very talented people, who would be thrilled to be the head coach in any sport at Penn State.

In fact that mirrors exactly something my grandpa said and the sediment that most seem to think will drive an in-program promotion: money. Penn State will not be willing to pay Nick Saban type money to the next head coach at Penn State. In my opinion and in the opinion of most others that thinking would point towards the promotion of either Tom Bradley or Galen Hall. Hall has done a great job with the offense and running backs over the past 17 years and Bradley has done a spectacular job with the defense over the past 11 years he has been in charge of it.

More about Joepa after the jump!

Either would be fine candidates and would carry the tradition of Penn State into the future. Personally, if I had to choose from the two, I would choose Tom Bradley because he is younger and seems to be able to churn out at least a top 20 defense no matter what kind of talent he has (the talent is usually pretty good though). On the other side of the coin though, Galen Hall does have previous head coaching experience at the University of Florida and has been able to implement a more wide-open offense pretty smoothly over the past couple years.

If I had money to put down on this (which I don’t), I would certainly put my money on an in-program promotion. However, When Joepa leaves, it will pose an unprecedented question: How coveted is the Penn State job by the college football coaching community? Is the job on the same level as Notre Dame and Alabama? No one knows because none of the current crop of coaches has ever lived in a world where Joe Paterno wasn’t the head coach of Penn State. Will Urban Meyer be chomping at the bit to come to Penn State? I highly doubt it, but in all reality, who knows? It could depend on many factors including further conference shake-ups and how competitive the new Big 10 (12) will be on a national level. Graham Spanier says many talented people want to coach here, maybe there is something he knows that we don’t.

Graham Spanier knows more than you can even imagine (Source:Commons.wikimedia.org)

With all this in mind, I don’t think that an in-program promotion is necessary or even a smart move. The last time Penn State truly competed and deserved a National Championship was 1994. Sure we were close in 2005, but we were easily the 3rd best team that year behind Texas and USC. And sure we were close in 2008, but we all saw what happened in the Rose Bowl. And 1999, well lets not talk about 1999.  So take a look Penn State fans, it’s been 16 years since the last time we were the best team in the nation. I’ll repeat: 16 years. Seems like an awful long time for an elite program.

I won’t get too philosophical, but I truly believe that the “old school” attitude around the Penn State program is hurting us. I’m not talking about the offense and defense and plays and what-not because those have all evolved with time. I’m talking about the “old school” instinct that hangs in the back of the coaching staffs’ minds and drifts around the program. Now don’t get me wrong, I went to my first Penn State game at Alabama when I was 6 months old (Note: My parents camped for the few days before the game somewhere close to Bama, I consider it the start of my Paternoville experience). But, I have felt for the last couple years that we will never win another National Championship with Joepa at the helm. Again not because of schemes or plays, but just because of the general attitude of the program. The 80s were a different time, today’s coaches are younger and more energetic than ever before and bring that energy to their respective programs. I just feel like that internal energy isn’t there and that we need to catch-up to the 21st century.

So, when Joepa is gone, why not shop around that nation for interested coaches? Why not gauge interest? Even if we are determined in hiring from within why not see what is out there? A change is coaching philosophies or energies will not make or break the Penn State tradition. Just look at Alabama, they still have the Houndstooth and worship Bear Bryant. Their traditions were not broken by a few coaching changes and in the end, I believe, neither will ours.

Topics: Alabama Crimson Tide, Bear Bryant, Galen Hall, Joe Paterno, Penn State Football, Tom Bradley, Urban Meyer

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  • JK

    Sorry, you are wrong. Penn State was not the third best team in the nation in 2005. Ohio State was the third best, USC was the fourth best. Had the oh so biased crew working the game in Ann Arbor not given Michigan an extra play Penn State would have been undefeated, and with the defense, was perfectly suited to shutting down the Longhorns while USC needed a bad call to get my Notre Dame. No my friend, Penn State was one of nation’s top two teams in 2005 and belonged in the title game where they would have won.

  • Paul

    Thanks for commenting! All I will do to back up my point was the Orange Bowl. We had trouble with Florida State that year, an 8-4 team out of the always powerful ACC (sarcasm). Not saying that that should define the whole season, but I personally do not think we could have shut down Reggie Bush or Vince Young. Also that same Notre Dame team whooped up on us the next season so I would put more stock in a close game with ND in 2005 or 2006 than you are doing. Those were the best ND teams in the past 15 years. Were we a top 5 team? Yes. Were we the best team in the nation? No.

  • Joe Kumpf

    It’s time for Joe to move on, take away PSU’s highly suspect non conference schedule and they are well just another mediocre program.