UNIVERSITY PARK - Penn State will have a new football coach "in a matter of days rather than weeks," Athletic Director Dave Joyner said Thursday, and the next coach will not necessarily have to have previous ties to the university.
"Our job is going to be to select the next great head football coach at Penn State and to get the best football coach available for Penn State University," said Joyner, who will chair the six-person search committee.
Penn State is looking for a new coach because Bill O'Brien resigned after a two-year stint to become head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans.
"We're happy for Coach O'Brien and this tremendous opportunity for him," Joyner said. "And at the same time, we're grateful for the last two years at Penn State and Bill laying a foundation upon a great foundation that already existed here."
That foundation once included Penn State setting the standard for stability in college football with Joe Paterno heading the program for 46 years. But the next coach will mark the fourth for the school in the past 26 months: Paterno was fired in November 2011, followed by interim coach Tom Bradley that year, then O'Brien in January 2012.
It actually will be five coaches in that span if you include Larry Johnson, who has been tabbed as the interim coach for the time being until a new hire is made. Johnson is the team's longtime defensive line coach, and Joyner did not rule out him being a candidate for the full-time position.
"If Coach Johnson wants to get into this mix, he will be very much welcomed and will certainly get every strong consideration of someone of his stature," Joyner said.
Johnson said in a university statement he is "humbled by the confidence that Penn State has bestowed upon me during this critical time for the football program and honored to do my part to help Penn State."
While Johnson is overseeing the day-to-day operations of the team, the search committee will be looking for what Joyner called "the best coach available out there." He would not give specifics about criteria the committee will use but did say that "head coaching experience is a very desirable requisite."
O'Brien didn't have any head coaching experience when he was hired, but in two years he became a household name in football and eventually the hottest coaching candidate around for NFL openings. O'Brien made his first public comments about leaving Penn State on Thursday in Houston. See Page B1 for those remarks.
It was no secret that O'Brien wanted to become an NFL head coach, but Penn State did try to sweeten the deal for him in the past week with unspecified benefits.
"I thought that Penn State made every effort to, within our ability, to make it very attractive for Bill to continue as our head coach," Joyner said. The AD also said: "I believe [O'Brien] always had Penn State's best interests at heart, and this is just something that came up that he couldn't pass up. We wish him well."
When it comes to the kind of coach the school will be seeking, Joyner said it should be someone of integrity who stresses academics and seeks to win championships.
It also will be important to the university that the next coach stay for a longer period of time to maintain a level of stability.
It's unclear how many coaches already have reached out to PSU about the vacancy, but the job apparently is in high demand.
"We have been contacted by a number of very prominent head coaches or their representatives," Joyner said without naming names.
Joyner would not address a question about whether he will try to remain AD once PSU President Rodney Erickson's term ends this summer. There's a strong chance that the person who will be leading the search committee, Joyner, will not have a job by the start of the next football season, and the new coach also will be reporting to a president who hasn't been hired yet.
Those elements could be troublesome to a degree in the search process, since most people want to know who their bosses are when they take a job.
"Transitions occur in programs all over the place at different times, and athletic programs survive and go on and move forward," Joyner said.
"My answer to that would be that Penn State's got a great tradition of great presidents and administrators, 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."