Three months have passed since we went public with the definitive list of candidates (read now if you haven't already) from which Joe Paterno's replacement will be chosen. Three months later, we still believe the name of the next Penn State football coach is on the list.
Did we mention it's a new list?
Well, not really: The criteria are the same, and 10 of the 15 candidates from our initial list remain. We trimmed five from the first batch either because they got new jobs (although, as you'll see, that wasn't necessarily a deal-breaker...) or because events of the past three months made it unrealistic to keep them on the list. We replaced them with five coaches who (mostly) fit our criteria, and who became contenders either through circumstances or their own on-field success.
We'll get to the candidates in a second; first, let's review our previous post. We can start with the timeline. As we wrote in October: "We're convinced that Penn State will hire its first new head football coach in almost half a century no later than February 2012." We should know better than to try predicting when Joe Paterno will finally step down, but given his contract status, the uncertain prospects for his 2011 team, hints of unrest on his staff and the still underachieving state of recruiting, we'll stick with our prediction that this will be Joe's final year.
Now, onto our criteria - and what the events of the past three months have taught us about just how right we were.
Qualifications - We told you the next Penn State head coach would be a current head coach, and we still think that'll be the case. The high-profile hires this offseason have gone to a mix of head coaches (Brady Hoke at Michigan, Al Golden at Temple, Randy Edsall at Maryland, and, ultimately, Todd Graham at Pitt) and top assistants (Will Muschamp at Florida, David Shaw at Stanford), and while a dynamic coordinator with a record of success at a major program could make the cut (yes, we did add one such candidate to our list), we remain convinced the university will want someone with CEO experience.
Age - We continue to believe the most likely candidates for this job are 55 or under.
Broad Recruiting Reach - The demographic reality hasn't changed in the past three months, so a coach with recruiting connections in places like Florida, Texas or California will have an advantage in this race.
Minimal Connection to Joe Paterno - This might've been the most controversial of our criteria, and if anything, events of the past month or so confirm it's also the most correct. The fact that as many of half of Paterno's assistants have reportedly looked for other jobs since the end of the regular season tells us what we already knew: Barring Paterno's unexpected and sudden resignation to due health issues, his replacement will not come from his current staff. Period.
Fitting the New Mold - Feel free to review this entry on the previous post; for now, we'll just highlight the current seasons of two of the coaches we mentioned as part of the new Penn State template:
- Cael Sanderson: With a throttling of Pitt last Friday night, the legendary Iowa State wrestler and second-year head coach has Penn State ranked No. 1 in the nation. A national championship this season is within reach, and a dynasty might soon follow.
- Coquese Washington: In her fourth season, the former Notre Dame assistant has Penn State in contention for the Big Ten title and on pace for its first NCAA berth since 2005.
The point? Hiring young, ambitious coaches with impressive resumes and no prior Penn State connections is working out pretty well at two of the university's marquee programs. Yes, football is a different animal, but the model still applies.
So, back to the list: Gone are Bill Cowher, Jim Harbaugh, Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and Gary Patterson.
We axed the former Steeler coach because all signs point to him eventually returning to an NFL sideline. Harbaugh made our jobs easy by jumping to the pros himself. Johnson and Niumatalolo and their gimmick offenses were always going to be long shots, but their win-loss records were hard to ignore; but with Johnson struggling last season at Georgia Tech and Niumatalolo running a solid but hardly transcendent program at Navy, we decided to cull them now. Patterson, of course, did nothing to make the world think he's not one hell of a football coach, but with a contract extension through 2018 and TCU poised to join the Big East (and claim its automatic BCS bid for the foreseeable future), there are too many reasons for Patterson not to leave.
So, let's take a look at updates on the 10 of our 15 initial candidates who remain on our current list:
And now, the new guys. Here are five new potential candidates in Beau Baldwin, Mario Cristobal, Tony Dungy (we know, we know...), K.C. Keeler, and Gus Malzahn.
And there it is. We can tell you with something resembling certainly that, within the next year, one of the men listed above will be named head football coach at Penn State.
Unless Joe Paterno really does decide to stick around until he's 90. At which point we'll tell you we knew it all along.