Plenty of names will be mentioned by the media and fans as possibilities to become Penn State's next head coach, but there's one thing to keep in mind throughout the process.
During the last coaching search, Bill O'Brien's name didn't surface at all as a strong candidate until four days before he was hired. The search had gone on for nearly a month and a half prior to that, with many names being mentioned, and at one point ESPN even reported that Mississippi State's Dan Mullen was a leading candidate.
At this point, speculation about any candidate should be taken with a grain of salt, and Penn State's search committee likely will be just as secretive about its process as it was the last time around. The committee might be impressed by a relative unknown once again and surprise everyone with the hire.
Another major component: The Penn State job is a very good job right now, not toxic like it was when O'Brien was hired.
Now, one big question is exactly who will be making the hire. The money man, Ira Lubert, will need to be on board with the decision, but athletic director Dave Joyner probably will be heading the committee, even though his tenure is expected to end this summer.
It's not the best-case scenario having a lame-duck AD make such an important hire, but that's the unavoidable situation Penn State finds itself in.
* James Franklin, Vanderbilt coach
* Greg Schiano, just fired by Tampa Bay Bucs
* Al Golden, Miami (Fla.) coach
* Greg Roman, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator
* David Cutcliffe, Duke coach
* Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern coach
* Mike Munchak, Tennessee Titans coach
* Jim Caldwell, Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator
Let's look at the type of coach PSU probably will be looking for to replace Bill O'Brien.
The first priority is a coach who will be committed to Penn State for several years and who won't be using the job as a springboard to the NFL or another college job. That's not a knock on O'Brien or his ambition, but the bottom line is Penn State can't be going through this kind of coaching uncertainty every couple of years.
It's not feasible to expect the next coach to commit to the Nittany Lions for 10 or 15 years, but at least a five-year commitment should not be out of the question given that Penn State is now, thanks to O'Brien's efforts, once again a very good college job.
This criteria could rule out a number of potential candidates, such as San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who was in the running two years ago. If Penn State hires another NFL coordinator, it runs the risk of that guy being just like O'Brien in that he would always be looking for a potential pro job.
That's not to say all NFL assistant coaches would be a questionable choice. If Penn State can find one who would be committed to the school for a lengthy period, then certainly the NFL experience and connections would help entice recruits, as it did for O'Brien.
Another major criteria is to find an offensive-minded coach. This is 2014, and offense is the name of the game in football. Finding someone who can carry on what O'Brien started from that standpoint would make for a more compelling product to watch, and entertaining the fans is important, especially when you consider how many empty seats there have been for many games at Beaver Stadium the past two years.
The Lions have a franchise quarterback in place in Christian Hackenberg. The best-case scenario would be a coach who can help him continue to develop, which in turn should help PSU once again become a factor on the national stage in the coming years as the sanctions come to an end.
Some of the names that already have been mentioned as possible replacements are listed above. We'll have more on these and other potential candidates in the coming days.