Penn State football coach Bill O'Brien addresses a news conference before his first spring practice as Penn State's head football coach, in Pennsylvania

Penn State makes Bill O’Brien’s departure for Texans official

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It’s officially official: for the second time in two years, Penn State will be forced to conduct a search for a new head coach, albeit under entirely different circumstances.

Nearly two year’s to the day Bill O’Brien was officially introduced as Joe Paterno‘s successor, Penn State confirmed Thursday morning that the head coach is leaving Happy Valley to take the same job with the NFL’s Houston Texans.  In two seasons with the Nittany Lions, and working under stifling NCAA sanctions, O’Brien posted a 15-9 record.

The announcement comes a handful of days after it was reported that O’Brien and the Texans were closing in on a deal that would send the coach back to the professional ranks, a level at which he had spent the majority of his coaching career prior to coming to the Nittany Lions.

Athletic director Dave Joyner also confirmed that long-time defensive line coach Larry Johnson will serve as interim head coach while the search for a permanent replacement is conducted.

“We need to do everything we can to support the needs of our student-athletes during this period,” Joyner said. “I am very confident in Larry Johnson, the coaches and staff in maintaining continuity and working with the returning players and recruits.

“We intend to move quickly in our search to identify the next great Penn State football coach.”

At a press conference that began shortly after the release was sent out, Joyner stated that the search could be wrapped up “in a matter of days, not weeks.”

Based on recent reports, Greg Schiano appears to be Joyner’s top target.  A candidate for the job the last time it came open, Schiano was fired last month as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  While Schiano’s schtick may have worn thin at the NFL level, he showed during his time at Rutgers that he can run a successful collegiate program, even at a place not known as a traditional football power.

In addition to Schiano, Vanderbilt’s James Franklin and Tennessee Titans head coach — and former PSU All-American — Mike Munchak have both been prominently connected to the job over the past couple of weeks.  San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman could be an under-the-radar candidate, as could Miami Hurricanes head coach Al Golden, who was a potential candidate the last time around as well.

While there’s not much buzz around him at the moment, Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi would be at or near the top of my to-do list were I standing in Joyner’s shoes.

There’s also the matter of Christian Hackenberg.  The Freshman All-American quarterback is rumored to be considering a move on from the Nittany Lions now that a significant reason for his signing with the school is gone; it will be up to the new head coach and his staff, particularly the position coach, to convince the talented freshman to stay.

Virginia adds graduate transfer from Oklahoma State, too

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Virginia Cavaliers fan reacts to the Cavaliers being charged with a safety in the second quarter against the Boise State Broncos at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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A graduate transfer from Notre Dame is not the only Power Five addition Bronco Mendenhall made to his Virginia roster Tuesday.

According to the Cavaliers in a press release, Brandon Pertile will enroll in classes at the university and play football for the Cavaliers this fall.  The offensive lineman will be graduating from Oklahoma State this spring, making him eligible immediately to play during the 2017 season.

This upcoming year will be Pertile’s final season of eligibility.

Pertile began his collegiate career at Georgia State, appearing in six games for the Panthers in 2013 before transferring to an Arizona junior college for the 2014 season.  He then transferred to Oklahoma State, where he played in three games the past two seasons.

Pertile and John Montelus, the former Notre Dame lineman whose addition to the roster was confirmed today as well, are actually the third and fourth Power Five transfers added to the team in less than a month.  One of Montelus’ former teammates, fellow offensive lineman Colin McGovern, transferred to UVa. late last month, and was followed a week later by Missouri quarterback Marvin Zanders.

McGovern is coming to Charlottesville as a graduate transfer, while Zanders will have to sit out the 2017 season and leave him with one year of eligibility that he can use in 2018.

Former East Carolina WR Jason Nichols returns to alma mater as RBs coach

GREENVILLE, NC - OCTOBER 04:  Justin Hardy #2 and Anthony Scott #3 of the East Carolina Pirates celebrate after Scott's touchdown against the Southern Methodist Mustangs during their game at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on October 4, 2014 in Greenville, North Carolina. East Carolina won 45-24. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Once upon a time, Jason Nichols was a school-record holding receiver at East Carolina. On Tuesday, he officially returned to campus — as running backs coach.

“Not only does Jason bring a wealth of coaching experience to East Carolina, he knows first-hand of the special bond that exists between Pirate Nation and our program,” head coach Scottie Montgomery said in a statement. “To have the opportunity to impact young men on the same campus and playing field where he earned his degree and competed is immeasurable. From a recruiting standpoint, I’m not sure if there’s anyone else who could tell a more compelling story of what it means to be a Pirate.”

After leaving East Carolina in 1998, Nichols deposited a couple years in the CFL and Arena Football League before returning to campus as a graduate assistant in 2001.

From there, Nichols went on to coach wide receivers at Sacred Heart, Appalachian State, Toledo, Louisiana-Monroe and, in 2016, at Western Carolina.

Nichols takes over a running game that finished 110th nationally at 132.4 yards per game and 101st in FBS at 3.93 yards per carry. The Pirates’ leading returning rusher stands as rising senior Anthony Scott, who carried 79 times for 384 yards and two touchdowns in eight appearances.

Virginia AD Craig Littlepage returns to work full-time for first time in four months

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 26:  Kris Burd (R) #18 of the Virginia Cavaliers is greeted by Craig Littlepage (L), director of athletics for the University of Virginia, during Senior Day festivities prior to the Cavaliers' game against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Scott Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
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Virginia athletics director Craig Littlepage has been on a quasi-sabbatical for the past four months, but that period is now over.

Littlepage announced in late October he would work on an “adjusted” schedule through Jan. 2 to attend to personal matters involving a family member. January eventually turned into February, but the school announced Monday Littlepage is now back at work on a full-time basis.

Executive associate AD Jon Oliver served as the Cavs’ acting AD during Littlepage’s absence.

“I would like to thank the University administration, our student-athletes, coaches, staff and especially Jon Oliver for their support and hard work while I was away,” Littlepage said in a statement. “It’s great to be back and I look forward to a successful and productive spring semester for Virginia Athletics.”

Nick Saban hosts meeting with Mark Zuckerberg

MENLO PARK, CA - APRIL 04:  Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during an event at Facebook headquarters on April 4, 2013 in Menlo Park, California. Zuckerberg announced a new product for Android called Facebook Home.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Mark Zuckerberg is in the midst of a self-guided tour of America, and on Tuesday his travels took him to Tuscaloosa. And when you’re Mark Zuckerberg visiting Tuscaloosa, you have to go see The King.

Nick Saban hosted the Facebook founder and his wife, Priscilla Chan, at the Mal M. Moore Athletic Facility for a chat on leadership, Saban said. “I just met with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook guy,” Saban told a luncheon in nearby Hoover, Ala., according to AL.com. “He wanted to know about leadership, and what do you do to affect people.

“It was kind of interesting that he saw the spirit that we have in this state relative to supporting athletics as something that is very special, very unique, and very wholesome in terms of people having the opportunity to create hope whether it’s in competition, or something they believe in or a spirit.”

Wrote Zuckerberg:

We stopped by the University of Alabama and sat down with Coach Saban. We talked about what it takes to build a world class football organization. Many of the same things go into building a good company and a winning football program — a focus on recruiting, developing talent and setting high expectations.

We also got lunch with some of the Alabama Football players who come from all over the country to be part of this program. We talked about about the pressures of being a student athlete — not only the personal pressure of achieving their goals of making it to the NFL, but also having the hopes of their community ride of their success.

We all need to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Communities can form around all kinds of things — churches, schools, teams — and it’s clear that for a lot of folks in Alabama, college football is an important part of their community.

It’s hard to imagine a meeting of two people with a greater mastery of their respective fields that have absolutely zero knowledge in the other’s field. But it does create an interesting hypothetical prop bet: Who could give a longer seminar: Saban on the mechanics of coding, or Zuckerberg on the basic tenants of the 3-4?