Stretching the Field: Penn State becoming a turnstile

1:49 PM, Jan 10, 2014   |    comments
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( - Bill O'Brien's son donned a Silas Redd No. 25 jersey when his father was introduced as Penn State's head football coach back in January 2012.

Little did the O'Briens know Redd was going to wear the same number for USC after the NCAA handed down strict sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal that rocked Happy Valley and its beloved football program.

Fast forward two years later and O'Brien is the one bolting State College for greener pastures with the NFL's Houston Texans. The departure of Redd opened the door for Penn State running backs Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton, and now O'Brien's escape to the NFL leaves the Nittany Lions looking for a new head coach.

That search may be over, as multiple reports indicate Penn State is set to name Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin as O'Brien's successor.

Penn State is not used to going through coaches because the legendary Joe Paterno roamed the sidelines for more than half a century. Paterno's fall from grace has been well documented and now the university is set to announce a second head football coach in the last two years.

Franklin is reportedly ready to take over a program O'Brien kept competitive for two seasons, compiling a 15-9 record in that time. Each year under O'Brien the Nittany Lions were bowl eligible, but thanks to the NCAA and its release of penalties Penn State was slapped with a four-year bowl ban.

O'Brien said during his introductory press conference that it was his job to put Penn State in the right direction. He did, no argument there. O'Brien also stated that the standard for Penn State football is high and always will be, and that he has confidence in his ability to lead the program. Another feat achieved by O'Brien sporting the blue and white.

Many blame O'Brien for leaving a program back on the rise and loaded with talented recruits for years to come. But this is a business and O'Brien did what's best for himself and family. You couldn't possibly think O'Brien was going to remain huddled in central Pennsylvania for 50-plus years and one day have his name on a wing of a library. That's just silly.

The NFL was always going to come calling for the cleft-chinned O'Brien, who set the bar high for the next head coach of the Nittany Lions.

Enter Franklin (maybe).

While it's still speculation Franklin will become just the third Penn State head football coach since the 1960s, there are big shoes to fill no matter who takes over for O'Brien. At least Franklin, a Pennsylvania native and former standout at East Stroudsburg University, won't have to enter a battlefield of sanctions and the unknown if he lands the position. O'Brien already calmed those waters in only two years of service.

Will Penn State's recruits or even sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg pledge their allegiance to the next head coach? That's another question that will be answered in due time.

Franklin, though, has done an admirable job with the Commodores, compiling a 24-15 record and leading Vandy to its first winning seasons since 1982. Can he lead Penn State back to a national championship one day or even close to that stage if he takes the job? Again, that's a hypothetical proposition.

Penn State is known for multiple winning seasons, but not naming multiple head football coaches. In today's world where college coaches and assistants become frontrunners for professional jobs, mainstays such as Paterno, Tom Osborne, Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden are a dying breed.

Coaches come and go nowadays like fans through turnstiles. The next Penn State coach will earn that label because he'll need a short lease on an apartment or just a tent to set up camp for a few years before bigger and better opportunities take him away from University Park.

It happened with O'Brien and will again with his replacement.

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