Penn State's coach search committee not connected to football

When the search committee charged with finding Penn State's next football coach was formed last week, it looked to many like a group better suited to finding a field hockey coach.

Among its six members, only acting athletic director Dave Joyner had a football connection. His colleagues are an ex-wrestler, a women's volleyball coach, a former softball all-American, and two academics.

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Ira Lubert

"I'm sure they are all great people and great in their field," a typically perplexed fan with the screen name George412 posted on the PennLive.com website. "The volleyball coach is awesome. But this is the best we can do for a committee to pick our next football coach? Perhaps adding someone who knows football and maybe is involved in football would be nice."

Whatever you might think of the committee's makeup, it was born of necessity. Finding Joe Paterno's successor today is, for obvious reasons, a radically different task than it would have been just a month ago.

Had a similar panel been named in October, before the child sexual abuse scandal broke like a tsunami over campus, it almost certainly would have been populated - and dominated - by the legendary coach's extended football family.

Tim Curley, then the athletic director and a former Nittany Lions waterboy and walk-on who grew up across the street from Beaver Stadium, likely would have served. There might have been a Suhey, since that prolific football family has had powerful ties to Paterno and Penn State for generations. There would have been an ex-football star or two and probably a donor who had been kind and generous to the program.

And the old coach they adored would have provided considerable guidance.

As a result, their hire would have been Paterno-like, another obsessively focused, well-organized, buttoned-down coach with an intellectual and idealistic bent.

But, like everything else about that suddenly vanished world of Penn State football, those considerations are irrelevant now.

Until Nov. 5, football was not just the face of the university but the engine propelling its growth. Today, it's virtually impossible to imagine anyone with the slightest connection to PSU football, Paterno, and/or Jerry Sandusky getting the job.

If the school's immediate future is going to be clouded by lawsuits and legal issues, then keeping Penn State football as far removed as possible is the committee's mission.

So what will the decidedly non-football dynamics of this search committee yield? What will the process be like? Will its several strong personalities be able to compromise? And what ambitious coach might be willing to take the reins of a program that figures to be more transparent than Saran Wrap?

The answers will come quickly. Member Ira Lubert referenced a time frame of "three weeks" in an interview with The Inquirer.

As for their deliberations, we might never know what happens. But given the personalities involved, and their backgrounds, it's not hard to envision a scenario:

Lubert, the Philadelphia financier who was a wrestling teammate of two-sport standout Joyner, could team up with the acting AD to push for a big-name coach, one whose familiar face might help shore up recruiting and fund-raising.

The strong-willed Lubert, after all, was instrumental in coaxing one of the biggest names in wrestling to become the Nittany Lions coach in 2009, even though Cael Sanderson had no Penn State connections.

For his part, Lubert can point to the success of that outside-the-box move. Sanderson's wrestlers won the NCAA championship last March.

If there's going to be push- back to Lubert and Joyner, it could come from Linda Caldwell. A no-nonsense professor in the department of recreation, parks, and tourism, she seems most likely to urge a new football paradigm, one with tighter controls and much more transparency.

Caldwell had never been involved in sports until being named the university's faculty athletics representative in 2010. It's probably no coincidence that the focus of her professional life has been on youth development, an attribute Penn State is glad to tout in the wake of the sordid Sandusky scandal.

John Nichols would seem a natural ally for Caldwell. A former journalist, the emeritus communications professor is also a member of the Coalition on Intercollegiate Athletics (COIA), an organization composed of faculty concerned about the role of academics in athletics.

Further evidence that the new coach will be inheriting a far less closed world than the one Paterno constructed can be found in the first paragraph of an article Nichols wrote recently for COIA.

"Most universities with big-time sports programs have not used all the tools at their disposal to protect academic integrity and improve transparency and accountability of intercollegiate athletics on their campuses."

If you concede the Joyner-Lubert and Caldwell-Nichols alliances, then the committee's two crucial wild cards will be Charmelle Green and Russ Rose.

An associate athletic director, Green is the closest thing this committee has to an outsider. A softball coach and swim team administrator at Notre Dame, the University of Utah graduate went to Penn State in June. Will such a newcomer demand to be heard?

In South Bend, she developed a strong reputation for integrity and was instrumental in the hiring of a coach there - though it was for swimming, not football.

Rose, meanwhile, is a volleyball legend but a virtual unknown in the world of big-time college football. In his 33d season at Penn State, his women's teams have won five national titles, including the last four.

So, whom will such an oddly configured committee agree to hire?

Will it be a familiar face like Rick Neuheisel or Iowa's Kirk Ferentz? Will it be a squeaky clean newcomer like Virginia's Mike London, Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, or, given the success they had after hiring a Brown grad 45 years ago, Harvard's Tim Murphy? Or will it be someone not yet on anyone's radar?

Nobody knows.

And, in that sense at least, things are the same as they were in October.

 


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at www.philly.com/fitz