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Penn State athletic director expects quick search for new coach

| Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 12:15 p.m.

The process for finding Penn State's 16th head football coach is underway, and it's not expected to take long.

“We expect this search to be very timely,” athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday. “Our anticipation is that we'll be counting this in a matter of days rather than weeks.”

Chairman of a six-person search committee, Joyner did not divulge names but said candidates from across the country reached out to the university before Bill O'Brien made his resignation official this week.

O'Brien, who coached the Nittany Lions for two years, left to become head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans. He is expected to be introduced at a news conference Friday morning in Houston.

Joyner praised interim Penn State coach Larry Johnson Sr., the defensive line coach who has been one of the staff's top recruiters since joining it two decades ago. Johnson, who is popular with players and incoming recruits, is the only individual Joyner confirmed would be given consideration for the permanent job.

Joyner said prior ties to Penn State “are not a requirement going forward, but it will be a thought process in the selection of the next coach.”

Recently fired Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, a former Penn State assistant whom many considered to be a strong candidate, has not contacted the university about the job, nor have university officials contacted him, a college football source told the Tribune-Review on Thursday night. Given Joyner's time frame, that would suggest Schiano is not on Joyner's short list.

Joyner said he believed the job is more attractive than it was two years ago, after Joe Paterno was fired in the wake of former assistant Jerry Sandusky being indicted on child sex-abuse charges and the NCAA levied historic sanctions on the program.

Two years ago, restoring the university's reputation was a priority.

“The atmosphere around this search is entirely … different,” Joyner said.

“First and foremost is integrity,” he said. “Second is the ability to continue and build upon our great tradition of academics … and then the third, in that order — but nonetheless tremendously important — is the ability to win championships. Win Big Ten championships and national championships.”

The scholarship reductions, bowl ban and ability of players to transfer freely conspired to prevent O'Brien from winning a championship in his two seasons, but he finished 15-9 under trying circumstances.

Joyner, whose relationship with O'Brien had been the focus of outside speculation, repeatedly praised the coach who had been an assistant for five seasons with the New England Patriots.

“The environment is whatever the environment is, but Bill handled that very well with grace and style,” said Joyner, who defended the school's decision over the summer to decrease O'Brien's buyout to about $6.6 million. “And I really believe that he loved it here. From the get-go, he looked at himself here as a long termer. But I think just a tremendous opportunity came up for him. I just think the opportunity was too good for him to pass up.”

Besides Joyner, the committee comprises Tom Poole, university vice president for administration; Charmelle Green, associate athletic director and senior woman administrator; Linda Caldwell, faculty athletics representative and distinguished professor; Bob Warming, men's soccer coach; Wally Richardson, a former Nittany Lions quarterback who is the director of the school's Football Letterman's Club.

Joyner's long-term status is in limbo. The university continues its search for a replacement for retiring president Rodney Erickson, and the new president will have control over who is athletic director.

Joyner insisted the lack of certainty surrounding potential superiors would not hinder hiring a new coach.

“Penn State's got a great tradition of great presidents and administrators,” Joyner said, “and I would say to any prospective coach that Penn State will continue with that great tradition no matter who is at the helm and who is head of the university.”

The only player Joyner mentioned by name is quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year who enjoyed a strong relationship with O'Brien and stuck with his commitment to Penn State after the sanctions hit two summers ago.

“Christian Hackenberg is a tremendous asset at Penn State,” Joyner said. “He's just a great person. He's a great student. His maturity is off the chart, as we all know … not just on the field but off the field. So we were very, very interested in Christian Hackenberg as a Penn Stater.”

A 19-member recruiting class that has been ranked among the Big Ten's best also is in limbo. The first day of spring-term classes is Jan. 13, and some recruits were planning on enrolling then.

“We are very encouraged,” Joyner said, “that we can have some very positive … information for them to help them continue here at Penn State.”

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