During his reign at Rutgers, Greg Schiano was seen as a potential successor to Joe Paterno. Following the 2011 season, he seemed like a main target for the Nittany Lions’ head coaching vacancy. After Bill O’Brien’s departure two years later, Schiano’s name was once again linked to the throne James Franklin now sits upon.
The former Penn State assistant never returned to his coaching roots and will face off against the program on Saturday as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator.
The Link To Penn State
Schiano’s not a Penn State alum, nor did he grow up near Happy Valley. After finishing his playing career at Bucknell, the New Jersey native cut his teeth in his home state’s high school football scene and as a graduate assistant at Rutgers before earning a similar role under Joe Paterno.
After a season as a Penn State grad assistant, Schiano became the full-time defensive backs coach for the Nittany Lions — a position he held from 1991 to 1995.
It might seem strange that a man with just a handful of years as an assistant at the school could years later become a consistent talking point as the future head coach of the team because of his ties to the program.
The reasoning behind that is as simple as this: He was one of Paterno’s guys. Fifteen years after he left Happy Valley, his family was still close to the Paterno family — so much so that Paterno wanted Schiano, along with a number of other people close to him, to have one of his famed neckties after his death.
“Joe was, has been a ton, everything to me,” Schiano told NJ.com after Paterno was fired in 2011. “He gave me a chance. I was a 25-year-old kid, and he gave me a chance, hired me as a full-time coach at one of the top programs in the country. He certainly gave my career a jumpstart to say the least, and I learned a ton working under him for six years and he’s been a mentor of mine. He and Sue and the whole Paterno family have been great to [my wife], myself, and our family.”
Schiano left Penn State for a job with the Chicago Bears, then returned to the college game as Miami’s defensive coordinator. Rutgers soon came calling, and he turned the program from a perennial failure to a consistent bowl eligible side that challenged for Big East titles and BCS berths.
There was speculation, especially during Schiano’s peak at Rutgers in 2006 when the Scarlet Knights launched themselves into the top 10, that he could be the successor to Paterno once the legendary coach had finished his career.
Rutgers fans had feared that potential, as long-time Newark Star-Ledger reporter and columnist Steve Politi put it following Paterno’s departure as head coach:
There was a time, not long ago, when this day was anticipated with great dread around Rutgers.
Joe Paterno’s reign as Penn State football coach would end, and administrators would roll the red carpet across Pennsylvania and straight into Piscataway. Greg Schiano, who cut his gap-toothed teeth under the legend, would be welcomed back to Happy Valley as his successor.
2011-12: The First Coaching Search
When the Sandusky scandal broke in November of 2011 and Paterno was ousted, Schiano was immediately asked whether he would consider the Penn State job.
“I’m only interested in one job and that’s the one I have right now,” Schiano told Sirius XM radio host Bill King.
Schiano never made outright claims that he wanted to be the head coach of Penn State, but it never stopped speculation, much like it didn’t stop the debate over the airwaves from switching course — with the uncertain future, why would he want to head to Penn State?
After weeks of the “is he or isn’t he” stage, reports broke after the bowl game in January that plane records showed Penn State’s private jets flying into an airport near Schiano’s New Jersey home after an NFL agent with ties close to the Nittany Lion program said the team was targeting the Rutgers coach.
Sources close to Schiano persisted he was not interested in the job and had not interviewed.
Penn State officially hired Bill O’Brien days later, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Schiano later in January.
2013-14: Replacing Bill O’Brien
By the end of the 2013 college and professional football seasons, two things became clear: O’Brien would likely be leaving for the NFL following his season with Penn State and the Bucs were expected to fire Schiano after he posted an 11-21 record over the course of two years.
Crossing paths once again with the head coaching vacancy, Schiano made similar claims in his final days as Tampa Bay’s head coach that he was only interested in his then-current position. However, with it clear he likely would not return for another NFL season, it was reported that Schiano was in fact seeking out a new job in Happy Valley.
The Nittany Lions were said to make a strong push for the coach once he was fired on December 30, much to the dismay of some Penn State fans, but that push never came to fruition — this time with speculation reportedly shut down by the university.
James Franklin would be introduced in the middle of January after a relatively short coaching search and the rest is history.
Schiano, who wasn’t involved in the coaching scene for two years, then joined Ohio State’s staff as a defensive coordinator. He interviewed elsewhere prior to taking the job and had two offers this offseason, according to Urban Meyer.
Will he be on the move again in the near future? It’s likely, but at least this time, speculation won’t involve Penn State.