Paterno wasn't the only Penn State coach to work on the cheap, relatively speaking. His nine assistants have logged 159 years of combined service because of devotion to JoePa and to Penn State, and maybe in part because a dollar stretches further in State College than in a lot of other college towns. Bradley, the defensive coordinator who became interim coach Dec. 9, reportedly didn't even receive a minor bump in salary when he was temporarily promoted to finish out the 2011 season in Paterno's stead.
If, as many suspect, the same Board of Trustees that took the bold step of firing Paterno decides on a total housecleaning of the football coaching staff, it's likely the trustees will look to an outsider with no ties to the old master and the sequestered empire he created. Given how long Paterno ran the show, that would eliminate quite a few interested parties and narrow the field to those who have yet to become teary-eyed when the student section chants "We are . . . Penn State!"
"While it would obviously do a lot of good for public perception, I have a hard time believing that they will go outside of the family," Kent said. "There are too many vested interests in the Penn State family that would have a hard time with that. However, if the right person became available, this might be the only time (given surrounding circumstances) where an outside hire would be tolerable to the base.
"At the end of the day, the next hire is going to have a very tough role - balancing honoring the past (the Paterno legend) with the program's need to break from that very past. If it were me, I'd want to be the guy after the next guy (like Meyer was at Florida ... not Ron Zook)."
Candidates without the Penn State stamp will want to be satisfied that they have a chance to win, some guarantee of job security if they don't immediately have success, and compensation hefty enough to ensure the job will be worth their while as the cleanup process is taking place.
Figure on Penn State being on the hook for a minimum of $2.5 million a year for its next coach, and maybe even $3 million-plus if it hopes to hit a grand slam on the public-relations front instead of just a bases-empty homer.
Of course, there are critics who will claim that the image-smearing Sandusky scandal is the result of a "football culture" that needs to be significantly dialed back in Happy Valley, lest the jocks in the helmets and shoulder pads subvert the educational mission of the university. Paying millions of dollars to a football coach, any football coach, flies in the face of the argument that football should be just another aspect of campus life.
"Any time you have uncertainty in a football program and you're being asked to take it over, you have to take that uncertainty into account," Barnhart said. "Penn State is one of the great franchises in the history of college football and it has a great deal going for it. Whoever Penn State hires is going to have to balance the attractiveness of the job and the wide support from a great fan base vs. the uncertainty of the situation."
Football is the engine that often drives alumni contributions, and football at Penn State not only is a self-sustaining enterprise, but one that is profitable enough to fund an overall athletic program encompassing 31 varsity sports. Admissions applications invariably tend to rise in correlation to the on-field success of many schools' football teams.
That's why Penn State - Joyner heads a seven-person search committee charged with the responsibility of identifying coaches who might be the right fit - needs to make a boffo hire, and soon, to retain the verbal commitments of recruits who could look elsewhere if they suspect their futures will be turned over to a second-tier field leader. It's even possible that a charismatic coach with name recognition could reinvigorate a staid program some already believed was regressing under the leadership of an octogenarian whose declining health was such that he no longer went on the road to sweet-talk top prospects and their families.
For the first time since Lyndon B. Johnson occupied the White House, Penn State has to choose who will represent it on those football Saturdays. It's a decision university officials can't afford to get wrong.
It's also a decision they can't afford to scrimp on.
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