The most speculated name within the Nittany Lion circle, especially earlier this week, has been Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen. For those who had their hearts set on Urban Meyer this would be the next best thing, with Mullen having served under Meyer as both an offensive coordinator at Florida and a quarterback coach at Utah. Mullen has gone 20-17 in three years as the head coach of the Bulldogs, and led his team to a 9-4 record with a #15 ranking during the 2010 season. But 2011 has been somewhat of a disappointment for Mississippi State, finishing the regular season at just 6-6 despite being picked by some to be a contender in the SEC West. ESPN’s Joe Schaad had reported Monday that Mullen was Penn State’s top target, and Ray Coleman of WAPT even went as far as to say that Penn State would announce Mullen as the next head coach this week. But on Tuesday Mullen adamantly denied such reports and claimed that rival schools had planted these rumors in an attempt to weaken Mississippi State’s recruiting efforts. For the moment this has slowed down Mullen talks within the rumor mills, but he is certainly not being ruled out as a candidate just yet.
Another potential candidate, and who I would like to see get the job, is Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. Winding up his 13th season as the head coach of the Hawkeyes, Ferentz led Iowa to BCS bowl games in 2002 and 2009 along with having a 6-3 record in the postseason. Ferentz has an overall record of 96-65 at Iowa and has twice led the Hawkeyes to a share of the Big Ten crown. Iowa has experienced strong quarterback play in his tenure, something Penn State could use, including former Heisman candidate Brad Banks and more recently Ricky Stanzi who is now a member of the Kansas City Chiefs. Ferentz has strong ties to the area having grown up in Pittsburgh and working as a graduate assistant at the university before joining Iowa. Perhaps the strongest case you could make for bringing in Kirk Ferentz is that Penn State could end his dominating reign over the Nittany Lion football program, with Iowa winning eight of the last ten games in the series.
Other names atop Penn State’s search include Pat Fitzgerald, Al Golden, and Greg Schiano. These coaches have strong ties to the university with each having served as an assistant coach under Paterno in some capacity. All three have enjoyed varying levels of success in their respective head coaching stints, with Schiano and Fitzgerald having coached at their schools for eleven and six years respectively. But even with the success endured by all of the above names and the fact that many have ties to Penn State, for the moment everything is speculation and no coach has been linked to the position with any certainty. Dark horses such as Harvard’s Tim Murphy have even found their way into discussions, so as of now nothing is outside of the realm of possibility. But no matter what direction Penn State decides to go, you can all but guarantee that there will be brand new faces on the sideline (or in the press box) for this football team next season.