THE RUMOR mill has it that Mississippi State's Dan Mullen is atop Penn State's wish list to be the Nittany Lions' new head coach. But the rumor mill also had people believing that Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, the interim coach since replacing the fired Joe Paterno on Nov. 9, was signed, sealed and delivered to the Pitt Panthers last December. The rumor mill was wrong.
There are countless thousands of Penn State fans who all are hoping that the coach of their dreams will be wrapped up and placed under the big Christmas tree in State College in the near future. Some may get the guy they're hoping for; many will not.
Even if the full-time replacement for Paterno is selected in the next several days, sources have indicated to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Bradley, a former Penn State player who is wrapping up his 33rd season on his alma mater's football staff, will coach the Lions in whichever bowl game they land in. Penn State's current assistant coaches also are expected to remain that long, with the possible exception of those who accept other jobs and leave beforehand.
Bradley is considered a longshot to stay on, but longshots do come in. Maybe this is one of those times.
At least 13 names have been forwarded in some quarters as the Penn State coach for 2012 and beyond. That number would rise to 15 if former Penn State player Al Golden, who last week signed a multiyear extension to coach the Miami Hurricanes and said he was very happy to do so, has an "out" clause that could be exercised for a sufficiently large buyout.
Which of the following candidates is your personal favorite?
* Dan Mullen, 39. Positives: Drexel Hill native, a tight end at Ursinus College, has deep Pennsylvania ties and is widely viewed as a coach on the rise. Was offensive coordinator at Florida under Urban Meyer from 2005-08 before taking job as head coach at Mississippi State. You'd have to think he's tired of butting heads in the SEC West with powerhouses LSU, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn. ESPN.com reported Tuesday that Penn State is "expressing interest" in Mullen. Negatives: Not many, but he's not as high on Penn Staters' radar as some others on this list.
* Tony Dungy, 56. Positives: Has the squeaky-clean image some cite as a necessity for the cleanup job ahead. Served as a mentor for troubled players, most notably the Eagles' Michael Vick. Posted a 139-69 record (.688 winning percentage) as NFL head coach with the Buccaneers (1996-2001) and Colts (2002-08); won Super Bowl XLI with Indianapolis to cap '07 season. Has been an analyst for NBC's "Football Night in America" the last three seasons. Negatives: Has never coached at the college level.
* Tom Bradley, 55. Positives: Penn State's interim coach is popular with past and current players, many of whom would like him to stay on. He is Penn State through and through, having played for the Nittany Lions before joining the coaching staff for what is now a 33-year run, the last 12 as defensive coordinator before taking over for the fired Joe Paterno on Nov. 9. Negatives: Is too tied to Paterno and, by extension, Jerry Sandusky. That won't fly if a total housecleaning is initiated.
* Pat Fitzgerald, 37 (as of Dec. 2). Positives: Worked wonders with downtrodden Northwestern program as a player and, since 2006, as the coach. Wildcats will be playing in fourth straight bowl on his watch, a remarkable feat. Would be considered a good fit with Nittany Lions on many levels. Negatives: Signed a 10-year contract extension in May, tying him to Northwestern through 2020. Cost of a buyout could be prohibitive, and that's if he even wants to move on, which is no certainty.
* Mike London, 51. Positives: Won Division I-AA national championship as head coach at Richmond in 2008, and led Virginia to an 8-4 turnaround season this year, his second with the Cavaliers. The former cop - keeping things disciplined under this guy shouldn't be a problem - has extensive recruiting contacts in the Atlantic Coast Conference region, traditionally an area mined heavily by Penn State. Negatives: Only four seasons as a head coach, is coming off a 38-0 Saturday loss to Virginia Tech.
* Jim Grobe, 59. Positives: The former head coach at Ohio University has done some nice things at Wake Forest, most notably winning Coach of the Year honors from the ACC and Associated Press after leading the Demon Deacons to an 11-3 mark in 2006. He might jump at a chance to go to a higher-profile school. Negatives: Contract runs through 2016, overall coaching record of 101-99-1 wouldn't do much to excite the Nittany Nation.
* Greg Schiano, 45. Positives: New Jersey native, former Bucknell player and current Rutgers coach was an assistant coach at Penn State from 1990-95, during which time the Nits went 58-15. Was smokin' hot candidate for a lot of high-profile jobs after leading Scarlet Knights to an 11-2 mark in 2006. Removed name from consideration for head-coaching gigs at Miami (Fla.) and Michigan, possibly hoping for opening at Penn State. Negatives: Having ties to Paterno era not necessarily a plus these days.
* Greg Gattuso, 49. Positives: A lot of sound football minds like Gattuso, a Pittsburgh native and defensive lineman for Penn State's 1982 national championship squad. Posted a 97-32 record at I-AA Duquesne from 1993-2004, was an assistant under Dave Wannstedt at Pitt from 2006-10. He is in his first year as d-line coach at Maryland. Negatives: Possibly his ties to Paterno, and the fact Maryland went 2-10 this season. Doesn't generate buzz on a national level that some others would.
* Chris Petersen, 47. Positives: Head coach at Boise State is on wish list of every school on the lookout for a head coach, and why not? He's 71-6 as the Broncos' field leader since 2006. If he chooses to leave, he could have his pick of attractive choices. Negatives: A native Californian, Petersen would be leaving his comfort zone for any job east of the Mississippi River. And don't forget, his Boise predecessor, Dan Hawkins, went from 53-11 at BSU to 19-39 at Colorado and was fired at the end of the 2010 season.
* Kevin Sumlin, 47. Positives: Fourth-year coach at Houston, spent five seasons at Oklahoma (2003-07), the last two as offensive coordinator, so his teams throw the ball - a lot. A slew of school total-offense and passing records would fall if he popped up in State College. Made his Big Ten bones as a 4-year starter at linebacker for Purdue. Negatives: Is Penn State ready for a Wild West kind of guy who likes his quarterback to throw 50-plus times a game?
* Kirk Ferentz, 56. Positives: Has done a commendable job at Iowa, going 96-65 since 1999, including a 7-3 mark against Penn State. Played high school ball at Upper St. Clair in Pittsburgh; wife, Mary, is a Pennsylvania native. Negatives: Sure, it'd be an easy transition for Ferentz to return to his home state, but he's well-established and popular in Iowa and, oh, yeah, he makes about $4 million a year there.
* Tim Murphy, 55. Positives: Has posted a 119-59 record at Harvard since 1994, with 11 consecutive winning seasons, including a 9-1 mark this year, and six outright or shared Ivy League championships. And don't forget, Joe Paterno came to Penn State from Brown, another Ivy school. Negatives: Wasn't nearly as successful from 1989-93 at Cincinnati, a Division I-A (now FBS) school, going 17-37-1.
* Gary Patterson, 51. Positives: Maybe the most sought-after coach in America, and has been for a while. Has led Texas Christian to seven 10-win seasons since 2000, including a 13-0 finish and 21-19 victory over Wisconsin in the 2011 Rose Bowl. Turned down $2 million a year to jump to Minnesota, a Big Ten sinkhole. Penn State, even dealing with fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, is not Minnesota. Negatives: He could be turned off by a lack of good chicken-fried steak joints in State College.