Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who next, Penn State?

I watched most of the emotional return to the field of Penn State Football today. The Nittany Lions dealt with the pressure, and nearly staged a late-game comeback, but ultimately lost to Nebraska, 17-14.

I didn't attend Penn State, but I am a fan. Didn't have much choice, as my college roommate was one, and I started cheering for them for good in 1994 with the awesome offensive juggernaut featuring Kerry Collins, Ki-Jana Carter, Bobby Engram, and Kyle Brady. I'm still having a hard time consolidating all my thoughts on the scandal and tragedy surrounding the (alleged) actions of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

Interim head coach Tom Bradley is in an impossible position. He is holding his dream job right now - he certainly would have been one of the most likely candidates if Joe Paterno had left the head coach's position under normal circumstances - and it is most likely impossible that he will be retained after the season ends. Coach Bradley succeeded Sandusky as the defensive coordinator and was one of Sandusky's assistants for the preceding 19 years. He is inexorably linked with both Paterno and Sandusky; if the university is going to make a clean sweep, the remaining games of this season will be the beginning and end of his head coaching career with the university.

I think they should sweep out the football program at PSU and start anew. So long as there are any individuals remaining with the team's staff who worked during the Sandusky timeframe or aftermath, there will be questions that the university shouldn't have to deal with once this tragedy is brought to an end (with recognition that for the victims, it may never end). What does PSU need as a new head coach?

  1. Someone untainted by association or employ with Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno.
  2. Someone who can "follow a legend" without someone questioning his worthiness to take the place of one of college football's greatest coaches (sticking to football, set the other things aside for now).
  3. Someone of national prominence who can help repair the university's damaged reputation and return legitimacy in the eyes of recruits and their parents.
  4. Someone who can handle both the role of players' mentor as well as players' disciplinarian.
  5. Finally, someone who is one heck of a football coach.

I think there is only one person who fits the bill for Penn State: William Laird Cowher.

Bill Cowher has been enjoying his TV gig since retiring from coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers. He's the hot name for every NFL head coach job, but hasn't shown any interest in going back to the sidelines in the pros. Going into next season he'd be just 55 years old, one year younger than Tom Bradley. He'd bring instantaneous respect to a damaged program. He'd command attention in recruiting from the nation's best high school footballers. He had no problems following the legendary Chuck Knoll as coach of the Steelers.

I'm not surprised at this point that Cowher hasn't gone back to the NFL. I've thought since he passed up the first couple of NFL head coaching opportunities pitched to him that if he does return to the sidelines, it will be in college. I'm sure he'd love to go to his alma mater of NC State, but they seem pretty set with a coach for now. If Penn State should call, I'd be stunned if he didn't consider it very seriously.

Here's to hoping that Pennsylvania State University pulls out all the stops to make Bill Cowher their next football coach. It will go a long way to healing wounds, and making Happy Valley happy again.

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