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Headhunters: New priorities slow Penn State’s search to a crawl

Matt Hinton
Dr. Saturday

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We'll get there when we get there. While the bad news keeps coming for Joe Paterno, there's still no news on his potential successor at Penn State, where even specious coaching rumors are déclassé in light of the child sex scandal that's shaken the program and the university to their core. (Most of the recent articles dealing with the coaching search have all focused on who's not getting the job.) In fact, in light of new university president Rodney Erickson's stated goal of "transform[ing] the university's public image from a football school to a world-class research institution," the question has shifted from speculation of over specific targets to speculation over whether the new regime is even trying. From pennlive.com:

…while Erickson's statements may appear to be a natural progression from apologetic to the healing and transformation of the university's image, he in essence prescribed a poison pill to the head coach search committee.

What great coach wants the honor of presiding over a declining program?

And even more astounding in terms of lack of foresight; how does the search committee and the university intend to announce a new coach's salary (likely greater than a 200% increase over Paterno's) when they are publicly communicating the deemphasis of football?

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The assumption there is that sustaining a program valued at roughly $99 million per year in a bare-bones economy remains a priority regardless of the public rhetoric, and said rhetoric only makes the search committee's impossible job that much more difficult. The only confirmed interview candidates to date? Longtime defensive coordinator/interim head coach Tom Bradley (right) and quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno, both likely extended as courtesies before the housecleaning begins.

[Related: Jerry Sandusky accusers the focus, but Mike McQueary key in preliminary hearing]

At any rate, at least there's time: The committee's self-imposed 30-day window for finding a permanent replacement apparently extends into early January, after the Lions' date with Houston in the TicketCity Bowl.

I guess what I'm asking is, How for real are you? Hey, did you hear Tulane hired a new coach? No? Well it did, quietly tapping New Orleans Saints assistant Curtis Johnson, 50, for his first head-coaching job after 25 years as a journeyman wide receivers coach in the college and pro ranks. He has national championship and Super Bowl rings, he can recruit the city — he's credited with luring fellow New Orleanians Marshall Faulk and Ed Reed to San Diego State and Miami, respectively — and he knows full well that Tulane is a Bermuda Triangle.

He also comes aboard just as the university is making a genuine commitment to football for the first time in ages in the form of a new, $60 million on-campus stadium expected to take the Green Wave out of the echoing canyon that is the Superdome by the fall of 2014. Thirty-thousand mostly filled seats in the Garden District is a dramatically better scenario than 50,000 empty seats downtown, and if Johnson can hang on that long, his prospects will seem somewhat less hopeless.{YSP:MORE}

Bogus Rumor of the Day. With top candidates landing in other high profile jobs and the situation beginning to look a little embarrassing, the weekend rumor mill at Arizona State zeroed in on Utah's Kyle Whittingham:

Sources close to Utah's head coach and the ASU football program have indicated there is mutual interest, with one source saying Whittingham's "ideal job" would either be coaching Arizona State or a California school. FOXSportsArizona.com was unable to learn whether athletic director Lisa Love has contacted Whittingham or his agent, Bruce Tollner, so ASU's level of interest is difficult to gauge. Tollner did not return messages left for him.

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If that sounds kinda dumb, that's because it is: Whittingham went to school in Utah (BYU), has spent most of his career there, has raised four kids there, is heavily involved in the Mormon Church there and has made Utah into a Pac-12 program on par with, say, Arizona State. In case you're still not convinced, Whittingham is also on the verge of signing a contract extension at Utah. Which makes sense in the exact same way that his leaving for Arizona State does not.

In the meantime, the Sun Devils may be forced to look inward: A group of nine players — including starting quarterback Brock Osweiler — recently met with athletic director Lisa Love to lobby for offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone to succeed ousted head coach Dennis Erickson, a move that may pay off for Mazzone out of sheer lack of viable options. "Obviously, I would like coach Mazzone to stay here," Osweiler told the Arizona Republic. "I'm the first one to admit that I would not be where I am without him. ... I would love coach Mazzone to be here next year."

My old Ohio home. UCLA has already resigned itself to playing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl with offensive coordinator/interim head coach Mike Johnson in place of head coach Rick Neuheisel. Soon, the Bruins may be in search of an interim interim coach: Johnson is reportedly interested in the vacancy at Akron, where he played quarterback in 1988 and 1989. On the other hand, Johnson grew up in Los Angeles and would be "very comfortable" with remaining on the Bruins' staff under incoming boss Jim Mora, who… fired Johnson in 2004 after one season as quarterbacks coach with the Atlanta Falcons.

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Matt Hinton is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.

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