In Part I of this series last month, RFBS explained why Penn State president Graham Spanier and AD Tim Curley must begin planning for the end of the incomparable Joe Paterno Era immediately after this season. It detailed how they needed to make the move crisply, yet carefully and tactfully, in the days after the 2011 regular season ends.
This was based primarily on two things: (1) The 84-year-old Paterno is in physical decline to the point he can no longer fulfill the exhausting duties of a major college football coach, and (2) Paterno has given no indication he will step down willingly any time soon, so it will take careful planning to do it at the right time and in a manner worthy of Paterno's legacy.
The next question then is, who should be the next Penn State football coach?
Last week, a media outlet covering Ohio State reported that Urban Meyer met with Spanier and Curley on Sept. 25. Which obviously could mean Spanier/Curley are on the same wavelength as RFBS and are planning to replace Paterno with Meyer after this season.
It makes sense. If Spanier/Curley end Paterno's legendary career, they will need a coach worthy and capable of replacing him. And Meyer is the best coach available, or at least the most accomplished. He has won 82 percent of his games and has a 7-1 bowl record. He is one of extremely few with the stature and skills to fill JoePa's renowned black shoes. And PSU is one of the extremely few schools with the status to lure Meyer from his "retirement" after last season at age 46 (he's now 47).
Perhaps Spanier/Curley were only consulting with Meyer on how to go about the process of ending the Paterno Era. Picking his brain for potential replacements across the coaching landscape.
But maybe they were zeroing in on the best available coach. Or at least feeling him out.
Let's hypothesize that they get to know Meyer better, do the proper vetting and get a commitment. Then, in early December, in one of the biggest coaching announcements of all-time, Spanier introduces Meyer - two-time National Champion at Florida, and the man who reached unprecedented success at Bowling Green and Utah before that - to succeed Paterno.
In Part I of this series, RFBS said of JoePa's end, "No options will include (Paterno) having final say over his successor, because Curley and Spanier are paid to make those decisions." But the next coach (especially if he comes from outside the current staff) might insist on meeting with Paterno first to get his blessing. And Paterno might not be willing to step aside gracefully unless he perceives he has a say in his successor. And making this transition smooth, and most respectful of Paterno and his legacy, is of utmost importance and cannot be compromised. He has done far too much for Penn State and college football to have it any other way.
Meyer likely wouldn't have it any other way, too. On many occasions, including the December buildup to the Florida-PSU Outback Bowl, and most recently during the PSU-Iowa broadcast Saturday which Meyer worked as a commentator for ESPN, he has spoke glowingly of his relationship with and reverance for Paterno. He took it a step further Saturday by touting the friendship between his wife and Sue Paterno. Meyer wouldn't just want to have Paterno's blessing, he would insist on it.
What would happen to PSU football under Meyer? Lions fans will have four big concerns:
- The prolific arrest record of Florida players during Meyer's tenure. In six seasons, from 2005-10, it was at least 30 arrests.
- Can Meyer uphold Paterno's "Success with Honor" legacy by graduating his players and staying in good stead with the NCAA?
- Meyer's spread-option offense at Florida - and offense is Meyer's side of the ball, though he also has the CEO thing down pretty good - when Tim Tebow wasn't under center, was all too often stultifying.
- Is Meyer physically and emotionally up to the task, long-term? He left the Gators claiming health woes, burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family.
No. 1 - The Penn State community was aghast at times during the past decade by the number of arrests of PSU football players. It brought a lot of negative publicity, and it clearly harmed Paterno's legacy.
The past few years - knock on wood - off-field problems are down. Whether that's a concerted effort by the coaches, players and administration, or whatever, it's important: If arrests and misbehavior had continued at the high rate, it would have lent credence to the notion Paterno had lost touch, lost control and lost his clout. He might not have made it this far.
No one wants a return to those woes. You can be sure this will be discussed at length between Spanier/Curley and Meyer. The onus is on Meyer and his staff to investigate recruits more closely and monitor them better once on campus. It's impossible to eliminate off-field problems, but it is important to minimize them. Meyer failed in that regard at UF. Which doesn't mean he would fail again, but it is definitely a cause for concern. Meyer bristled at news reports that his Florida players were renegades, and he got testy with reporters who questioned him about it. If he coaches again, he seems very likely to get a better grasp on off-field behavior.
No. 2 - Meyer is a very aggressive recruiter, and it was one of the keys to his success at Florida. Public perception - and proven fact in many instances - is that pretty much everyone in the SEC is cheating (except for Vanderbilt) and either has been nailed by the NCAA, or will be nailed. Meyer skated by without major incident. Penn State would not tolerate NCAA violations. PSU's status, along with Stanford, as the only BCS schools to never have incurred NCAA sanctions is gleaming badge of honor.
Meyer would have to toe the line. Could he do so? The infrastructure obviously already is in place at PSU. Clearly the boosters are well informed and monitored by PSU compliance, as are the players. The current coaching staff obviously is playing by the rules too, and some of those coaches might be retained. This will be another lengthy discussion between Meyer and PSU officials - there is no gray area on this one. Meyer recognizes this and would not want to tarnish his and Paterno's legacy by bringing shame upon the school. RFBS expects Meyer would not incur NCAA troubles.
As for the graduation rate and commitment to molding as many true student-athletes as possible, Meyer would be hard-pressed to live up to Paterno's exalted standards. Who could? But he'd have one big thing going for him: The Paterno Way has been ingrained in Happy Valley since the 1966 season. You don't change a 46-year policy overnight. It's part of the DNA of the program.
No. 3 - Meyer's offense at Florida was awful last season. It wasn't even good during the first National Championship season, 2006 (it just looked good in the title game mugging of Ohio State). It takes the right QB - obviously Tebow was the man, and having Percy Harvin didn't hurt - and a little seasoning to work properly. And even then it can look ungainly at times. It's a grind, for the most part. But Meyer is completely committed to it. In fact he thinks his offense is meant for a school like Penn State, as he recently labeled his version of the spread as a Big Ten-appropriate spread offense. But it must have the right quarterback, and neither Matt McGloin nor Rob Bolden are that guy. Kevin Newsome would have been that guy, but he transferred (Newsome was reminiscent of Meyer's first quarterback at Bowling Green, ultra-productive Josh Harris). Either Paul Jones, incoming recruit Skylar Mornhinweg, or a new, Meyer-recruited QB would start for PSU next season.
No. 4 - Meyer resigned twice from UF, just in the last two years, citing health issues, burnout and a desire to spend more time with his family. Is he really ready to resume one of the toughest jobs in America - head football coach at football factory that demands wins and 100,000 plus in the seats and high graduation rates and no NCAA violations and minimal player off-field shenanigans? Only Meyer knows, but there certainly is reason to be skeptical. Meyer mailed it in his final season at UF. He was not the same coach. And that was just last year. Is he ready to dial it up again, full-bore, so soon? Only Meyer and his physician know the answer. Also worth noting is that Meyer's approach might not be designed for the long haul. As a motivator, he's a little gimmicky, schtick-ish. A veteran beat reporter at Florida when Meyer arrived predicted his style wouldn't last much more than a few years before it lost effect. After five successful seasons, the Gators incurred a big decline under Meyer in 2010.
One other possible hang-up with Meyer: $$$$$. The price tag for the highest paid college coaches is ridiculous, and Spanier has said PSU will not pay top dollar for its next coach. He firmly believes the Mack Browns and Nick Sabans of the world are way overpaid (Saban reportedly earns in excess of $6 million annually, Brown more than $5 million). Which means Spanier believes Meyer was overpaid, too. Plus, Spanier has gotten away with paying Paterno far below market value for many years.
Spanier is looking to pay the next PSU coach about $1.5 - $2 million annually, which is probably about half of what Meyer could earn elsewhere. Spanier likely would have to be creative with Meyer's contract, adding value in non-financial ways, and Meyer would have to be satisfied with well under his market value for the chance to coach Penn State.
The bottom line? Meyer is no JoePa, but who is? Jim Tressel, sullied as his name now is, probably is a better comparison to Meyer as a football coach, but without the sheer stupidity and denial Tressel displayed while (not) dealing with off-field issues. And Meyer had a better knack for coaching big games. Winning like Tressel in the regular season and JoePa in the bowls while steering a steady ship off the field would be a best-case scenario. And it's achievable for Meyer - if he's truly physically and emotionally ready for job.
Meyer likely would keep some of Paterno's assistants. Two who definitely would not make the transition are the coordinators: OC Galen Hall would retire, because this is Meyer's offense, even if he does have a de facto offensive coordinator, and Hall is getting old; and DC Tom Bradley, who would take a head coaching job or defensive coordinator position elsewhere. Bradley likely would bring a few PSU assistants with him if he got a good enough head job.
5.5 years - that's the over-under on how long Meyer would last before he succumbed to the same issues he did at Florida. He'd win couple of Big Ten titles and go to a couple of BCS bowl games (or perhaps get PSU into the first-ever Division I playoff in 2016? RFBS can dream ... ) and keep the program, by and large, out of trouble and graduating players. For perhaps five years. Which sounds a lot like PSU football from 2005-09, when the Lions were 51-13.
Which isn't such a bad thing, is it?
And then in late 2016, PSU can introduce Meyer's successor ... Jay Paterno.