Who will replace Joe Paterno at Penn State?
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.