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CBSSports.com Senior College Football Columnist

It's complicated, but Penn State can't hire best football coach

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Replacing Joe Paterno was never going to be easy, but now it has gotten only tougher. (US Presswire)  
Replacing Joe Paterno was never going to be easy, but now it has gotten only tougher. (US Presswire)  

Penn State football will be back, just not the way you think.

Certainly not with Urban Meyer. Not unless the restructured administration is willing to violate the early parameters of restructuring Penn State football.

Meyer's market value is $4 million per year. That's what he was making at Florida after winning two national championships in six years. He was worth every penny.

But Penn State cannot be in the business of paying top dollar for anyone. That's not the mission. Winning can't necessarily be the thing as the school moves forward.

It's complicated. Joe Paterno took way below market value (approximately $1 million) because his contribution to Penn State was way beyond football. Now the situation dictates the school may have to pay four times that amount as it de-emphasizes the trappings of big-time football.

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It won't -- pay the money or re-establish itself in football anytime soon. Penn State will win. Big. It is among the handful of programs that could survive such a scandal. There will always be kids who want to play at Penn State.

If that sounds like two different statements, get used to it. The days ahead are just beginning to get complicated. Something has to change. That begins with the statement made with the hiring of the new coach. By the time the school gets there, it will most likely have a new AD and president. Every member of Joe's staff could be blown out after years of loyal service. Many of them are the collateral damage of a horrible scandal.

The answer cannot be an even bigger commitment to football.

Told you it was complicated.

There are those who think Penn State actually underachieved in recent years. The Nittany Lions have gone to four January bowls (two of them BCS) and have won a couple of Big Ten titles since 2005. In that sense, Paterno was competing against his own legacy before the legacy became unrelated to football.

He leaves behind a wounded program, but still one Paterno made a brand out of long before "brand" was a marketing cliché.

"Brand" is same reason USC and Ohio State will rebound quickly from NCAA sanctions. Brand is the same reason Miami rebounded from a Pell Grant scandal in the mid-1990s and will recover from the Nevin Shapiro case, still in its early stages.

Penn State the program now stands for something greater. Paterno, as great as he was, couldn't stay atop the moral high ground. It's hard to think about anything else right now. Meyer tried to diffuse the situation when he released a statement last week saying he was happy in his job as an ESPN analyst and had no plans to coach at this time.

There's your wriggle room. It's a great enough job for Meyer to consider a discount on his salary. It's a daunting enough job now for Meyer to demand every dollar of that $4 million per year.

Kids will continue to flock to State College knowing they will be on TV, play in bowl games and get ready for the NFL. There will also be parents of kids who won't want their children near locker room showers where alleged child molestation took place.

The message has to be that football is not first, nor is it diminished. It a quiet, unstated way Penn State has to strike a balance of rebuilding a school's soul immediately while continuing to win games -- eventually.

That's why the new guy won't be Meyer. Even if somehow the coach would settle for less, there is another issue: those 30 arrests in six years at Florida. That's not to disparage the man. Those arrests don't necessarily reflect a program run wild. If Meyer is guilty of anything, it is of loyalty. He gave Chris Rainey another chance after the infamous "time to die" episode.

He stepped away from Florida at the top of his game due to health issues, but also to spend more time with his family. Florida never had any significant NCAA issues under Meyer.

Meyer would be perfect in State College, but they can't hire him.

Told you it's complicated.

If Paterno had simply retired and the Sandusky scandal never happened, Meyer would be the logical replacement. Now it just won't work, not if that retaking of the moral high ground is to be taken seriously.

That's not to say Penn State can't win or won't win. The school just has to stay on message. When JoePa started there were no such things as criminal background checks. Now parking tickets will raise red flags.

The school will likely have to settle for someone who is untainted but untested. There was a weekend report that Penn State had already approached the promising Mike London of Virginia. Out of loyalty or common sense -- or both -- London turned down the overtures.

Miami's Al Golden or Rutgers' Greg Schiano could still come. They are emotionally invested in Penn State. But the list of candidates is trending more toward Harvard's Tim Murphy, a guy who wins big in the Ivy League, a conference that doesn't offer scholarships. A conference that doesn't bow down at the altar of football.

Murphy, in his 18th year with the Crimson, won another Ivy title Saturday.

That's the sane, measured approach to football. Look what singular worship of one man who delivered 409 wins got Penn State. So it won't be Meyer. It's can't be. Nothing against a fine coach and a perfect father, but the fit isn't right. Not for Penn State to send that right message.

It's more than complicated. The industry is abuzz that Meyer would love the Penn State job, but under these circumstances? It would be hard enough replacing Paterno. Try recreating a football program.

That's why as the healing begins, the correct statement has to be made. One that isn't highlighted by six zeroes behind it.

While Penn State won't de-emphasize football, it has to show the world it knows how to prioritize it.


Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.
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