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.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

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Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

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It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

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Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.