With Meyer available, Penn State will have opening

Penn State needs a coach. Urban Meyer is available.

Let the speculation begin.

The last game Meyer coached for Florida, his Gators beat Joe

Paterno and Penn State in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1.

Meyer, then 46, needed a break from coaching. Paterno, having

just turned 84, was seemingly going strong.

”He will go down as the greatest football coach in the history

of the game. Every young coach, in my opinion, can take a lesson

from him,” Meyer said after that game in Tampa, Fla.

”If I ever start a coaching school, I’m going to make everybody

do a book report on Joe Paterno, and say that’s the way you should

act in coaching because that’s college football. … You just don’t

want to lose that man or lose what college football is. That was

college football out there today.”

Now it’s possible Meyer could be the man to replace Paterno, the

winningest coach in Division I history, whose 46-season run with

the Nittany Lions ended because of a child sex abuse scandal

involving a former assistant coach.

Paterno was ousted Wednesday night by the Penn State board of

trustees, after earlier in the day he announced he would retire at

the end of the season. The university president was also fired and

the athletic director at Penn State has stepped aside, too, so no

one even knows who will be hiring the next coach.

And Meyer’s name certainly won’t be the only one to surface as a

possible candidate at Penn State.

This, however, is certain: Penn State is going to hire a

football coach for the first time since 1966 and one of the most

successful in the last decade is on the market.

Even before former Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Jerry

Sandusky was charged with being a serial molester – speeding up

Paterno’s departure – there had been talk that Penn State officials

had reached out to Meyer about eventually replacing their coaching

legend.

Meyer, now 47, has given no indication that he’s ready to return

to coaching – anywhere. The Ohio State job could also come open at

the end of the season, and Meyer is an Ohio native. Some Buckeyes

fans have already started counting the days until Meyer takes over

in Columbus.

But Meyer has made no commitments. And before the Penn State

scandal erupted, he was happy just being a college sports fan:

Meyer has three children and his two daughters play college

volleyball.

”I’m not worrying about down the road,” Meyer told The

Associated Press in a phone interview last week. ”I do miss it. I

miss a lot of things about it, but I also am really enjoying

another part, that’s I get to watch my kids play sports.”

Some other top candidates have a Penn State connection.

Expect Miami coach Al Golden, a former Joe Pa player, to be

mentioned almost as much as Meyer’s.

The 42-year-old Golden was a tight end at Penn State from

1987-91 and was linebackers coach there in 2000, the season after

Sandusky retired.

The New Jersey native went on to become coach at Temple in

Philadelphia. In four years there, he revitalized a program that

was one of the worst in college football.

Miami hired him away after last season and he unexpectedly

walked into a massive NCAA investigation. Even with all the tumult,

Golden’s Hurrcianes are 5-4.

”We’re excited about what we’re building here. I can’t worry

about what other people are saying,” Golden said Wednesday when

asked about Penn State during a teleconference for Atlantic Coast

Conference coaches.

There was a time Rutgers coach Greg Schiano was thought to be a

top candidate to replace Paterno.

Schiano never played at Penn State, but Paterno gave him his

first big break in coaching, promoting him from graduate assistant

to defensive backs coach under Sandusky in 1991. Schiano, a New

Jersey native, was at Penn State until 1995 and took over at

Rutgers in 2001. Like Golden, Schiano turned a laughingstock

program into a winner.

Schiano, who turned down a chance to coach Michigan in 2007, is

not as hot an item as he was then and he appears to be comfortably

settled at Rutgers.

Plus, having ties to the old Penn State crew might not work in

anyone’s favor at this point.

The extent of the long-term damage caused by the Sandusky

scandal is also impossible to predict and that could influence who

Penn State is able to hire. NCAA President Mark Emmert has said

that after legal proceedings run their course, the NCAA will

determine if it has any reason to take action against Penn

State.

The type of potentially program crippling sanctions – loss of

scholarships and bowl bans – such as the ones the NCAA levied

against Southern California, and could bring down on Ohio State,

might not come to Penn State.

In that case, the image of the program will be tarnished, but

the foundation would likely be strong.

If that’s the case, consider any top coach a candidate. Boise

State’s Chris Petersen and TCU’s Gary Patterson tend to be

mentioned for every job opening.

Oregon’s Chip Kelly would seemingly have everything a coach

could want, but he was born in New Hampshire so maybe a move from

the Northwest to the Northeast would be appealing.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has already shown he can win

at a program with high-academic standards and his character has

never been in question. And who better to coach Linebacker U. than

a former linebacker. That said, the 36-year-old Fitzgerald went to

Northwestern and is fiercely loyal to the school.

Virginia’s Mike London has recruiting connections in the

mid-Atlantic region, a hot spot for Penn State.

Another guy to consider is Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who has been

with the Hawkeyes 13 years. Ferentz seems entrenched in Iowa City,

but he went to high school in Pittsburgh and is only 56 years old.

So he’s got another quarter-century ahead of him, by Penn State

standards.

If the school is looking for someone with impeccable character

to lead the program out of this sordid scandal, former Indianapolis

Colts coach Tony Dungy, could be a fit.

Still, the Meyer-to-Penn State talk had already started before

Happy Valley turned gloomy. It will only get louder from here.

—-

Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP