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Heir apparent

Five candidates who could replace Joe Paterno

Posted: Tuesday August 16, 2005 12:52PM; Updated: Tuesday August 16, 2005 2:03PM
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Tom Bradley
: 48
Alma mater: Penn State, '79
Current position: Penn State defensive coordinator


Why he'd fit: One of Paterno's longest-tenured lieutenants, having served on his staff all 27 seasons since his playing career ended, Bradley is the most logical in-house successor. After more than two decades as a position coach, Bradley succeeded longtime defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky following his 1999 retirement and helped produce the nation's fifth-leading scoring defense last season. He knows the program inside and out, already has all the right recruiting connections (he was instrumental in landing coveted cornerback Justin King this past season) and would likely be Paterno's preferred successor.

Why he wouldn't: It can't be overlooked that Sandusky's departure prior to the 2000 season coincided with Penn State's fall from grace. Depending on where the program stands when Paterno finally calls it quits, the administration may decide it best to bring in someone from the outside who can provide a new start.


Butch Davis
Age: 53
Alma mater: Arkansas, '74
Current position: TV analyst (NFL Network)

Why he'd fit: Davis has experience resuscitating a fallen college power. Prior to his rocky four-year stint as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, Davis lifted Miami out of the depths of NCAA sanctions, leading the Hurricanes to an 11-1 record his final season and recruited a bevy of NFL-caliber talent that paved the way for national-title game appearances the next two years. A defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys before that, Davis brings substantial NFL experience, an increasingly common trait among college head coaches like USC's Pete Carroll, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and Virginia's Al Groh.

Why he wouldn't: Davis, who is receiving the remaining $12 million on his contract from the Browns, would likely garner an expensive price tag. It's also unclear whether he wants to return to college or pursue another NFL opportunity. Finally, he has no natural ties or experience with the Penn State program.


Al Golden
: 36
Alma mater: Penn State, '91
Current position: Virginia defensive coordinator

Why he'd fit: A former Nittany Lions captain and assistant under Paterno, Golden remains close to the program. His family has Penn State season tickets, and he even got cited for an NCAA violation regarding in-person scouting when he joined them at a 2002 Nittany Lions game during a Cavalier's bye week. Widely regarded as a rising coaching star, Golden became the youngest coordinator in the country when he got the Virginia job in 2001. In four years, Virginia has improved from 108th to 18th in total defense.

Why he wouldn't: Golden is extremely loyal to Paterno and would only step into his office if he was assured he had the patriarch's approval. He's also extremely young to be a head coach at a major program (though a year older than anointed Wisconsin successor Bret Bielema), nevertheless one attempting to succeed a living legend.


Kirk Ferentz
Age: 50
Alma mater: Connecticut, '78
Current position: Iowa head coach

Why he'd fit: Ferentz is a proven winner in the Big Ten, having led a Hawkeyes program that won seven games from 1998-2000 to three consecutive 10-win seasons and two shared Big Ten titles. Many have him pegged for an eventual NFL head coaching job (he spent six seasons with the Cleveland Browns/Baltimore Ravens) prior to getting the Iowa job, but his low-key demeanor is better suited to the campus game, and the chance to resurrect a former powerhouse program could prove as enticing a challenge as the NFL. Though born in Michigan, he has ties to the area, having played his high school ball in Pittsburgh and served as a graduate assistant at Pitt.

Why he wouldn't: Ferentz insists he's happy in Iowa City, where he recently signed an extension through the 2012 season, and even if he does jump ship one day, his loyalty to Iowa (where he also once served as an assistant to Hayden Fry) might preclude him from taking a job at one of the Hawkeyes' intra-conference rivals.


Jay Paterno
Age: 36
Alma mater: Penn State, '90
Current position: Penn State quarterbacks coach

Why he'd fit: On the off chance Paterno is afforded the opportunity to hand-pick his successor, and if by chance his decision is driven by family loyalty, then Jay would be the guy. He has honed his coaching skills under his father and during stints at Virginia, James Madison and Connecticut. He's spoken openly of his desire to be a head coach. He has also served as the Nittany Lions' recruiting coordinator.

Why he wouldn't: Jay Paterno would be an unpopular choice in Happy Valley, where he has come under heavy criticism for the quarterbacks' poor play the past few seasons and his play-calling role (he shares duties with offensive coordinator Galen Hall) in a miserable offense. He was also stripped of his recruiting coordinator job prior to last season.