Nearly two months passed from the time Penn State removed Joe Paterno until it hired Bill O’Brien.
This time around?
“We expect this search to be very timely,” athletic director Dave Joyner said Thursday at a press conference at Beaver Stadium. “A matter of days rather than weeks.
“We’re going to be deliberate again this time. But faster.”
With the program still in a fragile state while digging out from the receding NCAA sanctions, the university must move quickly to replace O’Brien, who was officially named head coach of the Houston Texans on Thursday.
Long-time defensive line coach Larry Johnson was also formally named interim head coach to keep the current roster and recruiting class intact while a new search committee conducts interviews.
“I’m 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,” Johnson said in a statement.
Joyner will lead the six-person committee, which also includes university vice president Tom Poole, senior woman administrator Charmelle Green, faculty representative Linda Caldwell, men’s soccer coach Bob Warming and former Nittany Lions quarterback Wally Richardson, who recently took over as director of Penn State football’s Letterman’s Club.
Green and Caldwell both served with Joyner on the committee that selected O’Brien two years ago. Warming fills the veteran coach role filled last time by renowned women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose.
One notable change is that Penn State no longer places members of the board of trustees on search committees for any sport. In the search to replace Paterno, highly influential trustee Ira Lubert was part of the group.
Joyner and Penn State praised the work done by O’Brien, calling him “a tremendous leader during a challenging time at our university.” The former Penn State football player and wrestler said that Penn State made “every effort” in trying to retain O’Brien.
“But in the end Bill just got… I don’t know the details, but I can imagine he got an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up,” Joyner said. “We’re very, very sorry to see Bill go. He’s a tremendous person and a tremendous coach. But every new challenge means new opportunities.”
O’Brien is expected to be introduced at a press conference in Houston later on Thursday.
Joyner said he had no formal indication about the fate of the rest of O’Brien’s staff at Penn State outside of Johnson. Receivers coach Stan Hixon will reportedly join O’Brien with the Texans, but Joyner could not confirm that, saying he had not directly spoken to the veteran assistant.
Penn State players, meanwhile, are hoping Johnson sticks around in some capacity on the news staff.
While Joyner was addressing the media, Lions players — who are still scattered around the country during semester break — began simultaneously expressing their own thoughts via social media.
“I know me and other players would love to have Coach Johnson as our head coach,” wrote Deion Barnes, who is instructed directly by Johnson on the defensive line. “He’s a great leader and will be a great head coach.”
Barnes’ thoughts were echoed by players such as Adrian Amos and Nyeem Wartman.
Two years ago, Johnson interviewed for the head job along with a handful of other former Paterno assistants before being immediately retained by O’Brien.
“If Coach Johnson wants to get into the mix, he will be very much welcomed,” Joyner said. “He will be given every strong consideration for someone of his stature.”
Johnson was the lone potential candidate that Joyner would address specifically. He said that Penn State has been contacted by “a number of very prominent head coaches” and that head coaching experience “is a very desirable requisite.”
Given O’Brien’s unexpectedly quick departure to the NFL, Penn State may look to interview candidates with direct ties to the university such as Miami coach Al Golden, a former Lions captain and assistant coach.
“It’s not a requirement,” Joyner said. “But it’s something that will be a thought process in selecting the next coach.”