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Giger: Northwestern's Fitzgerald would be great choice to succeed Paterno


August 29, 2010
By Cory Giger,

Who will start at quarterback? Can they beat Alabama? Will the offensive line hold up? All good questions about this year's Penn State team.

But with speculation growing about this possibly being Joe Paterno's final season, none of those questions stack up to the one PSU's administration needs to be spending a lot of time thinking about now more than ever.

Who will replace JoePa?

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Pat Fitzgerald is in his fifth season as head coach at Northwestern, his alma mater.

My choice is Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald.

If Graham Spanier and Tim Curley stay in house, Tom Bradley or Larry Johnson would be an outstanding choice. They have paid their dues and been invaluable, loyal assets to the program.

But if the school elects to go outside the Penn State family, it will not find a better choice in virtually every aspect than Fitzgerald. He's more appealing than either Bradley or Johnson for the simple fact that he has run his own program for four years (soon to be five).

Fitzgerald was one of the best college linebackers of the past two decades while playing for Northwestern - winning two Bednarik and Nagurski awards in the mid-1990s - and his defensive mentality would fit in exceptionally well at Linebacker U.

He has won at Northwestern (8-5 and 9-4 the past two years, 27-23 overall), which is far from the easiest thing to do. He understands, both as a former player and now as coach, the demands of being at a great academic institution and the kind of young men who can excel there.

Fitzgerald is only 35 years old and could conceivably be at PSU for decades. He's also affordable, which is important because Spanier is on record saying the school will not pay an outrageous salary. Fitzgerald made $750,000 last year and received a contract extension through 2015, with terms undisclosed.

The only sticking point for PSU would be convincing Fitzgerald to leave his alma mater. But Penn State is a highly lucrative situation that would offer him elite facilities, a great chance to win a national championship and tremendous job security -- you know, two coaches in 60 years.

(I've been asked by several people if Fitzgerald would really leave Northwestern. Maybe he wouldn't. But he can go 8-5 every year of his career there, or he can realize that he can go 11-2 or better at PSU and possibly contend for national titles a few times a decade. He'd be crazy to turn down that opportunity.)

Fitzgerald is a highly respected, first-class person who does things the right way, and the Nittany Lions would be lucky to land him.

SUBHD: Season predictions

Will this be JoePa's last season?: Yes

Will he be forced to coach at least one game from the press box?: Yes

Record: 8-4, with losses to Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State and - just a hunch - Minnesota. The Gophers have always given PSU fits.

Bowl game: Gator (Jan. 1 in Jacksonville, Fla., against SEC team) or Insight (Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz., against Big 12 team) as the fourth- or fifth-place finisher from the Big Ten.

Starting QB: Still a toss-up for the opener, but I'll take a flyer and go with Matt McGloin, the former walk-on who has played well in camp. However, by midseason, look for Robert Bolden to take over. Even if the true freshman Bolden is better in some areas now, the notoriously conservative Paterno likely will want to start the season with someone who's been around the program longer. That's either McGloin or Kevin Newsome.

Evan Royster over/under: Let's go with 1,200 yards. I'll take the under because, with an unproven quarterback, defenses will load up to stop the running game. He'll get 1,082 yards and finish with 4,000 exactly for his career.

Best offensive player: Guard Stefen Wisniewski

Best defensive player: Defensive end Jack Crawford

All-Americans: Wisniewski could be a first-teamer, while Crawford and defensive tackle Devon Still could make second or third team.

Leading receiver: Derek Moye with 44 catches

Leading tackler: Linebacker Michael Mauti with 105

Best unit: Defensive line. Johnson is without question the best D-line coach in the country.

Worst unit: Special teams. But they simply can't be as bad as last season, which JoePa called the worst of his career.

Something different: Put Royster and Stephfon Green in the game together, with one lined up in the slot. Having both dangerous, versatile backs in there at the same time would be a great benefit to the inexperienced quarterbacks.

Cory Giger is the host of "Sports Central" from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. He can be reached at 949-7031 or

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