DALLAS -- There's a widespread theory among Penn State followers that the search committee already has selected its next football coach and is merely waiting until after Monday's TicketCity Bowl to announce it.
"No, it's not accurate," PSU acting athletic director Dave Joyner said when asked about that possibility Thursday night at a team function. "We haven't negotiated a contract with anybody, we haven't done anything specific in those regards right now at all."
Joyner would not specify how many candidates have been interviewed but did seem to indicate the search committee is down to a few finalists.
"We have a handful of people that we think are worthy," said Joyner, who later mentioned there have been "some very, very high quality people, both on and off the football field" who have been targeted by the search committee.
Joyner wouldn't give a ballpark for the number of candidates interviewed, saying only, "It's been a fair number of people. It's more than one and less than 40."
Adding further reason to believe there is no deal already in place for a coach, Joyner said he has not yet discussed specifics with university president Rodney Erickson about how much the school can pay.
"We haven't actually gotten down talking about finances at this point yet," he said. "The president and I have talked about generalities, but we haven't begun a negotiation with any individual.
"I think we'll have an appropriate financial package for whoever is the coach that will fit well with our environment," he later noted.
The hope of the Nittany Nation is that Joyner and the search committee have a home run candidate up their sleeve, a huge name that would excite everyone, such as the hiring of wrestling legend Cael Sanderson by PSU in 2009.
"It depends on how you judge a home run," Joyner coyly said.
He then was asked how he judges it.
"I judge it by getting a person that has those qualities that we're used to in the university," he said, "and I think that if we get somebody that reflects the values that have been at this university for a long time and the football program in particular, then I'll feel like we've hit a home run."
Does that have to be a big-name coach?
"It doesn't have to be, in my opinion, to hit a home run because time will tell if you hit a home run," Joyner said. "Once you hit the ball, you don't know if it's gone out of the park until it gets up there, so it will take time to know for sure."
Today marks the 52nd day since Joe Paterno was fired Nov. 9, and Penn State certainly has taken its time with the search for his successor.
"We just want to know who it is," junior defensive lineman Jordan Hill said, "just like any other team or anybody would want to know who the head guy would be.
"It's not nervous," Hill said of the players' emotions having to wait so long. "It's just anxious, more anxious to know who it's going to be."
Even with such a lengthy search already, Joyner said he's still getting feelers from perspective candidates.
Joyner tried to give some assurance on the time frame -- "We're right where I thought we'd be at this point" -- but even if that's true, there's no denying that this PSU coaching search has taking much, much longer than virtually every other one in recent college football history.
Why so long?
"Because we're looking at people in a systematic way," Joyner said. "We're looking for some very important qualities that this program has been known for for many, many years."
The only time frame Joyner discussed about the hire has to do with recruiting. He wants the next coach to be able take full advantage of the NCAA contact periods, which in January run from the 4th to the 7th and from the 13th to the 28th. National signing day is Feb. 1.
"I'd like to get this finished so that whoever the head coach is, be it Tom Bradley, be it somebody else, has enough time to interact with recruits," Joyner said.
Many rumors have circulated about the coaching search, and Joyner admitted he finds it interesting reading some of the speculation. He also was asked which one has been his favorite rumor."
True to his secret form, he smiled and ducked the question so as not to give anything away.
"If I tell you what my favor rumor is you'd know that it wasn't true," Joyner said.