On Monday, amid the Urban Meyer press conference announcing his hiring at Ohio State, Penn State announced via a press release that it had formed a six-member search committee headed by acting athletic director David Joyner and charged with finding a permanent replacement for the legendary Joe Paterno.
Apparently, a coach known more recently for his Southern exploits but with extensive ties to the Northeast and Midwest has emerged as one of the leading, if not the leading, early contenders.
Dan Mullen‘s name has been floating around the vast expanses of the Internet the past several days as a possibility for Happy Valley. Tuesday, ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad, citing an unnamed source, writes that the current Mississippi State head coach “is at the forefront of the Nittany Lions’ list of candidates.”
While at first blush the names “Mullen” and “Penn State” don’t exactly appear to belong in the same sentence given his recent SEC past, Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com‘s Big Ten blog has compiled a solid mini-biography of Mullen’s past that shows deep roots in and around the area. When viewed through the following prism, Mullen makes a whole heck of a lot of sense, actually.
Mullen is interesting because he was born in Philadelphia, grew up in New Hampshire and attended Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa. He has coached in the Northeast and Midwest at places like Wagner, Columbia, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Bowling Green. Even though he has spent the past seven years in SEC country at Florida and Mississippi State, he knows the region around Penn State.
When asked about the reports linking him to other jobs, Mullen had the expected response.
“Great. I’m sure I’m on everybody’s (list). Am I right?” Mullen said today. “Every time a job comes open, doesn’t my name come up? So, you know our policy. We talk Mississippi State football. That’s all we ever talk about.”
Of course, the concern for Mullen — or any other candidate for that matter — would be the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal that rocked the campus and shook the university to its very core earlier this month. One widely-held school of thought in the immediacy of the sickening revelations and Paterno’s ouster was that the Nittany Lions would have a tough row to hoe in getting a quality replacement. One agent with numerous clients at the collegiate coaching level told me over the weekend, however, that he would not hesitate to send one of his guys to the Nittany Lions, and would in fact encourage him to jump at the opportunity if it were presented.
“The stain, whatever it is, will go away eventually. These kind of jobs rarely come open, and you’d be a real [bad word] agent if you didn’t have one of your guys at least consider it,” the agent, who requested his name not be used, said. “[The scandal is] a consideration, and you’d have to have some protections [built into a contract in case of NCAA sanctions], but it’s still Penn State. You pick up and listen if they call.”
Whether or not Mullen would pick up and listen remains to be seen. If he learned anything from his former boss, who returned to his roots yesterday, it might at least be a consideration.
Speaking of Meyer, a Mullen hiring by Penn State — yes, I fully understand that’s way down the road, if it happens at all — would set up an interesting dynamic in the conference as the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions reside in the same division. An annual matchup of Meyer and his former offensive coordinator would certainly lend itself to some intriguing storylines in the weeks leading into what’s already one of the Big Ten’s marquee games year-in and year-out.