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


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.

Was Washington loss the beginning of the end of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC?

Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian’s win totals in his six previous seasons are both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, he resurrected a moribund Washington program that went 0-12 under Ty Willingham in 2008 and took them to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-2013. He won nine games his last year in Seattle, then led a talented-yet-thin USC team to a nine-win season and AP No. 20 finish in 2014.

Those are good accomplishments. But the flip side of the argument is Sarkisian has never won double-digit games in a season, something that’s a necessity to keep one’s job at USC. The Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington last night — at home, no less — means the road to 10 wins and a Pac-12 title will be awfully difficult.

And worse yet, there are plenty of arguments to be made Sarkisian doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and a little more time in Los Angeles to turn things around (#SarkAfterDark, his drunken rant at a booster event, certainly doesn’t help). The reaction from national media to last night’s loss looked like this:

Mandel, in his column, argued USC is right where it was two years ago with Lane Kiffin as its coach. And there’s this embarrassing thought, that looks more and more like a truth, for Pat Haden:

This one, however, was the most damning by far for many reasons, most notably that it came at the hands of Sarkisian’s old team. The sense among many Washington fans nearly two years ago was that the Huskies managed to upgrade coaches when the school lured Chris Petersen from Boise State upon Sarkisian’s departure to USC.

They were right.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken similarly wrote that USC needs to drop Sarkisian and bring in Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the state of USC, and it may not get better. The Trojans start a brutal three-game stretch next Saturday at Notre Dame in primetime, then welcome Utah to Los Angeles the next week. A Halloween trip to Berkeley to face Jared Goff and Cal finishes it up. There’s a very real chance USC, for all its talent and all its hype, limps into November with a 4-4 or 3-5 record.

Sarkisian will have to engineer and sustain a major turnaround in these coming weeks, otherwise he’ll give Haden all the ammo he needs to unceremoniously jettison him after two years.

Starting Navy S Kwazel Bertrand undergoes surgery, likely out for season

Kwazel Bertrand, Jacobi Owens
Associated Press
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Navy has seen one of its most productive players on the defensive side of the ball play for perhaps the final time this season.

Kwazel Bertrand sustained a broken ankle in the win over Air Force last Saturday, head coach Ken Niumatalolo confirmed earlier this week. As a result, the defensive back will very likely miss the remainder of the 2015 season.

And, because he is a senior and has no other eligibility avenues to pursue, it would effectively end his collegiate career as well.

“I feel terrible for Kwazel. It’s really unfortunate any time a senior goes down with a season-ending injury,” Niumatalolo said. “Kwazel has been a really good player for us and we’re going to miss his presence out on the field.”

Bertrand started 27 games over the past three-plus seasons, including all four in 2015.