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Coaching Search: An In-Depth Look At The Candidates

The search for Penn State’s 16th head football coach is officially off and running. We’ve written about the potential O’Brien replacements before, but it’s time to take a more in-depth look at the résumés of some of the front runners in this early stage. There could always be a dark horse candidate that surprises us all (much like O’Brien did two years ago), but for the time being, these are the names garnering the most speculation.

James Franklin

Photo: Jim Brown
Photo: Jim Brown

Current Position: Vanderbilt head coach

Experience: Franklin bounced around as a position coach early on his career, coaching exclusively in college and handling wide receivers. He found his first long-term home with Maryland for five seasons before spending a year with the Green Bay Packers as their wide receivers coach. He jumped back over to the NCAA after one season to spend two years at Kansas State before going back to Maryland as the team’s offensive coordinator for three seasons. After Robbie Caldwell resigned after the 2010 season, Franklin beat out Al Golden and Larry Coker for the Vanderbilt job and has coached the Commodores for three years.

Record: 23-15

Penn State Connection: Franklin has no Penn State connection, but he grew up in Langhorne and played quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, just a couple hours down Route 80 from State College.

Recruiting: The class that Franklin adopted in his first season at Vanderbilt was ranked #71 in the nation by Rivals with no recruit higher than a three-star rating. From 2012 to this year, Franklin’s recruiting classes were ranked #29 (three four-stars), #19 (five four-stars), and #22 (six four-stars). Vanderbilt has played in seven bowl games in its history and just four since 1982. The Commodores can thank Franklin for three of those bowl appearances and the team’s first winning record since ’82. A lot of that success can be attributed to his recruiting ability at a program that was previously in the basement of the SEC.

Al Golden

Photo: Eye of the Hurricane

Current Position: Miami head coach

Experience: Golden began his coaching career at Red Bank Catholic HS in 1993 before taking a job as a graduate assistant at Virginia. He spent three three seasons at Boston College coaching linebackers before doing the same at Penn State for one year. He went back to Virginia as defensive coordinator before Temple hired him 2006 to be its head coach. From there, Golden’s success earned him Miami’s head coaching gig in 2011.

Coaching Record: 27-24 at Temple, 22-15 at Miami

Penn State Connection: In addition to coaching at Penn State for one season, Golden spent his college days playing tight end for the Nittany Lions.

Recruiting: Golden is regarded as a great recruiter. Although his four Temple recruiting classes (#90, #82, #113, #75) aren’t exactly impressive, Golden’s first recruiting class at Miami ranked #9 in the nation with two five-star recruits and eight four-star recruits. In 2013 and 2014, Golden brought in classes ranked #20 and #7 by Rivals. The only problem with that is it makes it all the more difficult to pull Golden away from a program that has a very bright future, but the fact that Penn State is his alma mater certainly helps.

David Cutcliffe

Photo: USA Today
Photo: USA Today

Current Position: Duke head coach

Experience: Cutcliffe spent 12 season at Tennessee as a tight end coach, quarterback coach, and later offensive coordinator. He was the head coach at Ole Miss from 1999 to 2004, leading the Rebels to a 2003 Cotton Bowl win. After refusing to fire any assistant coaches after his first losing season, athletic director Pete Boone fired Cutcliffe. He spent one season at Notre Dame before taking the offensive coordinator position at Tennesse again in 2006. After two seasons, Duke hired Cutcliffe as its head coach. In 2012, Cutcliffe led Duke to its first bowl game since 1994 and was named ACC Coach of the Year. He led the Blue Devils to its first ever Coastal Division title this past season as well as the school’s first 10-win season in its history.

Coaching Record: 44-29 at Ole Miss, 31-43 at Duke

Penn State Connection: Cutcliffe has no Penn State connection.

Recruiting: Cutcliffe’s highest-ranked recruiting class at Duke was #52 in the nation, but Cutcliffe is credited for stabilizing the struggling program to a 10-3 record this season. Cutcliffe helped recruit Peyton Manning to Tennessee as the teams offensive coordinator/quarterback coach and later recruited his brother, Eli, to Ole Miss as head coach.

Larry Johnson Sr.


Current Position: Penn State interim head coach

Experience: Johnson has spent his entire coaching career at Penn State and is the last remaining assistant from the Paterno era. He spent three seasons as a defensive ends and special teams coach before coaching the defensive line starting in 2000. Johnson has coached a number of standout defenders at Penn State, including Devon Still, Tamba Hali, and Courtney Brown.

Coaching Record: None, although he deserves to share in some success of the last two decades of Penn State football.

Penn State Connection: In addition to coaching at Penn State for nearly two decades, both of Johnson’s sons played football for the Nittany Lions.

Recruiting: Johnson was arguably Penn State’s strongest recruiter under Paterno, taking the lead on a number of major recruits from the mid-Atlantic states over the years. In the recent past, Johnson has recruited players including Thomas Holley, Adam Breneman, Donovan Smith, Zach Zwinak, and Kyle Baublitz.

Jim Caldwell

Photo: Sam Greenwood
Photo: Sam Greenwood

Current Position: Offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens

Experience: Caldwell is a coaching veteran, starting his career as a wide receivers coach at Southern Illinois in 1978. He bounced around before settling down with Penn State for seven seasons as the quarterbacks coach. Wake Forest hired Caldwell to coach their team in 1993. He saw varied success with the Demon Deacons and led them to just one winning season before being let go in 2000. Caldwell made the jump to the NFL where he serves as an assistant coach for the Indianapolis Colts for seven years. The Colts named Caldwell as their head coach after Tony Dungy retired and he led the team to a 14-2 record and a Super Bowl appearance, which the team lost, in his first season. With Peyton Manning lost in injury in 2011, the Colts went 2-14, leading to Caldwell’s firing.

Coaching Record: 26-63 at Wake Forest, 26-22 with the Colts

Penn State Connection: Caldwell coached at Penn State from 1986 to 1992, making it the job that earned him his first career head coaching gig.

Recruiting: As Wake Forest is not a great football school, Caldwell’s recruiting classes weren’t particularly impressive from his time with the Demon Deacons.

Mike Munchak


Current Position: Tennessee Titans head coach (for now)

Experience: Munchak has coached the Titans, formerly known as the Oilers, for his entire career. He began as an offensive assistant after retiring from a 12-season Hall of Fame career with the Oilers in 1994. Munchak was the team’s offensive line coach from 1997 to 2010 before taking over as head coach.

Coaching Record: 22-26

Penn State Connection: Munchak played as an offensive guard at Penn State from 1978 to 1981. He was one of the best offensive linemen in the country and was drafted eighth overall in 1982.

Recruiting: Munchak has never coached at the college level and has no recruiting experience.

Greg Schiano

Photo: War Room Spor
Photo: War Room Sports

Current Position: Unemployed

Experience: Schiano started his career as a graduate assistant for one season at Rutgers before taking the same position at Penn State. After one year, Schiano was promoted to defense backs coach, a role that he held for five years before being hired by the Chicago Bears. Schiano moved back to the college game in 1999 as Miami’s defensive coordinator and was hired as Rutgers’ head coach after two season down south. Schiano had a tumultuous start to his head coaching career, but recruited extremely well and eventually led the Scarlett Knights to its first bowl win in 2006. In 2012, he was hired to be the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was recently fired after two disappointing seasons.

Coaching Record: 68-67 at Rutgers, 11-21 with the Buccaneers

Penn State Connection: Schiano’s first coaching job (with the exception of graduate assistant positions) came at Penn State.

Recruiting: While Schiano certainly didn’t bring in recruiting classes that earned national attention, he did very well turning Rutgers, formerly a Big East bottom feeder, into a conference contender.

Greg Roman

Current Position: San Franciso 49ers offensive coordinator

Experience: Roman is one of those coaches whose name pops up every time that there’s a notable vacancy. He was discussed as a candidate for the Nittany Lions job during the last search as well. Roman began his career in the pros, coaching the Carolina Panthers’ offensive line from 1995 to 2001. He became the Houston Texans first ever tight ends/quarterbacks coach during the team’s inaugural season in 2002 and spent four seasons in Texas before the Ravens hired him as their offensive line coach in 2006. After one year as a high school offensive coordinator, Roman coached under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford as the offensive coordinator from two seasons before moving to the NFL with Harbaugh in 2011.

Coaching Record: None.

Penn State Connection: Roman has no Penn State connection.

Recruiting: Roman recruited just one player during his time at Stanford, three-star tight end Davis Dudchock.

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About the Author

Zach Berger

Zach Berger is a reporter and Onward State's Managing Editor Emeritus. You can find him at the Phyrst more nights than not. If he had to pick a last meal, Zach would go for a medium-rare New York strip steak with a side of garlic mashed potatoes and a cold BrewDog Punk IPA. You can reach him via e-mail at [email protected] or on Twitter at @theZachBerger.

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