Along with the rest of you I've been thinking about how Joe Paterno and the administration should go about making a smooth coaching transition. I don't know what the right answer is, but I figure there are several different scenarios to choose from. Let's take a look at them.
Prior to the 2005 season Alvarez announced he was going to be stepping down as the head coach at Wisconsin. He named Brett Bielema as his successor at that time and coached out 2005 as his final year.
The Pros - Program stability. Assistant coaches were retained. Recruits were clear in what to expect. The result was a 12-1 record in 2006 and a 9-3 record so far in 2007.
The Cons - The candidate for successor has to be a current member of the staff or someone currently ousted from a coaching role. You take a risk of long time assistants leaving when they realize they will not get the job they have been holding out for.
How This Would Work at Penn State - It would make sense for Paterno to declare 2008 to be his last season after the bowl game since his contract runs out after the 2008 season. The most likely member of the current staff would be Tom Bradley. He's been on the staff for 27 years and he has been the defensive coordinator since 2000. When Joe was injured in 2006 it was Bradley who took over the head coaching duties during the games.
This seemed to work well for Wisconsin and I think it would work well for Penn State.
Last week Florida State gave Bowden a one year contract extension through 2008 and restructured offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher's contract to make him a very rich man if he is not named the next Florida State head coach.
The Pros - Again, program stability. Assistant coaches, players, and recruits know what to expect.
The Cons - Like the Alvarez solution, the successor has to be named from the current staff. Other assistants hoping for a chance at the head coaching job may be tempted to leave to look for other opportunities.
How This Would Work At Penn State - Curley would have to grant Joe a series of one year contract extension starting in 2009. Then he would have to select a successor, again likely Bradley, and agree to pay them handsomely if they are not appointed the next Penn State head coach.
The jury is still out on this plan at Florida State. What if Bowden decides to coach another five, six, or seven years? Is it fair to Fisher to make him wait around like that? This is assuming Bowden will be granted more extensions after 2008.
Last spring Carr had his contract restructured to give him an out to be paid as an administrative employee after the 2007 season. He then had the contracts of his assistants restructured into guaranteed two year deals.
The Pros - Carr went to bat for his assistants and got them money. His loyalty to them was rewarded in his staff sticking around for his final season. Now anyone not retained by Rodriguez will get a nice fat bonus check and likely find another coaching job very quickly.
The Cons - There was a period of uncertainty that lasted a few weeks after Carr announced his retirement after the Ohio State game. Athletic director Bill Martin looked like a bumbling fool at times. Some recruits decommitted and others decided to start looking around.
How This Would Work At Penn State - Nothing need be done to Paterno's current contract. It's due to run out after the 2008 season. Just quietly let it run out and announce before the bowl game in 2008 that this is it. But the contracts of the assistants need to be redone right away. Give them all two year deals of guaranteed money if they stick around. The pay day at the end will keep the staff together so we can be competitive in 2008.
The Status Quo Solution
Give Joe a four year contract extension through 2012.
The Pros - Speculation of Joe quitting or getting forced out after the 2008 season ends. Program stability is maintained.
The Cons - Longtime assistants get tired of waiting around. Joe's age and inability to travel continue to hurt recruiting.
How This Would Work At Penn State - You're effectively kicking the can down the road and saying we'll deal with it four or five years from now. As if the decision will be easier at that time.
The Emperor For Life Solution (a.k.a. - The Charlie Weis Solution)
Give Paterno a lifetime contract and let him coach as long as he wants.
The Pros - The uncertainty regarding post-2008 is lessened. Paterno can say he intends to coach one, three, five years and end any discussion regarding his future. Until Paterno announces when his last game will be recruits can assume he will be around for a while.
The Cons - Long time assistants will likely jump ship. There is no sign that the old man wants to call it quits anytime soon. Assistants hoping take over and other assistants hoping to fill the resulting power vacuum will get tired of waiting around.
How This Would Work At Penn State - I'm not crazy about it. Half of the fan base is on the verge of revolution when you start discussing contract extensions for Paterno. I think giving Paterno a lifetime contract would be too much like maintaining the status quo.
Some of you may take issue with me saying Bradley is the most likely assistant to take over from the current staff. Whatever. The intent of the post is to discuss possible succession plans regardless of who the successor will be. We can discuss candidates at another time. Something tells me in a couple weeks we'll be dying for something football related to talk about.
If I had my choice, I would go with the Lloyd Carr solution. Let everyone know 2008 will be Joe's last year. Then pay the assistants handsomely to stick it out. Promise them the opportunity to interview for the job or any other jobs the incoming coach is looking to fill. I'm not crazy about the Alvarez or Bowden solution only because I would like to see Curley go outside the program and at least interview some people. Who knows who might be out there interested in the job. You'll never catch the big fish if you don't throw the bait in the water.