- Josh Moyer, ESPN Staff Writer
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's coaching search news is starting to heat up around Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, but nothing definitive has surfaced.
Al Golden appeared to be a favorite over the weekend -- several outlets reported he had taken the job -- before that news turned out to be false. Some still haven't counted him out of the race.
So, all that being said, it's not 100 percent clear what Penn State's next move might be. But ESPN.com confirmed it's looking at at least four candidates, so here's a closer look at each:
James Franklin, Vanderbilt head coach
Pros: In a lot of ways, he seems like the most qualified coach here. He guided Vanderbilt to back-to-back nine-win seasons, all the while building up a strong reputation for recruiting and doing so with strong academic standards. The last time the Commodores had a nine-win season? Try 1915. He's an offensive-minded coach from Pennsylvania, and he was a quarterback himself at East Stroudsburg.
Cons: Franklin is a hot commodity this offseason, as he already interviewed for the Houston Texans' head coaching job and has fielded requests to speak with both Cleveland and Washington. That might not sound like a con, but the Nittany Lions are in need of stability now -- and it'll be hard to get that from a coach who'll have the option to the jump to the NFL. Also, some accusations still hang over Franklin's head involving the Vanderbilt rape case. PSU might not be able to risk another hit to its image.
Mike Munchak, former Tennessee Titans head coach
Pros: He has NFL head coaching experience, and his loyalty has been well-documented. Since 1982, he has only ever played/coached for one franchise (Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans) and was fired when he refused to fire his assistants -- even with a raise on the table. He brings stability, and Penn State's offensive line would almost certainly grow leaps and bounds if he were the head coach. If he brings a member or two of his NFL staff, that would be even better.
Cons: He has no previous college coaching experience. The game is obviously different from the NFL, and it could take some time for him to adjust. Recruiting could be a gamble in his hands. His businesslike approach -- no hats in the building, no headphones while working out, etc. -- might not be a big hit with players either.
Al Golden, Miami (Fla.) head coach
Pros: He has Penn State ties, and he definitely has shown he can guide a team through hard times. He took an awful Temple team and made it respectable. With the specter of sanctions hanging over the Hurricanes' heads, he also made sure they never suffered a losing season. He's a strong recruiter, someone whom fans see as made in the mold of Joe Paterno, and Penn State is widely believed to be his dream job. It'd be difficult to see him leave his alma mater.
Cons: He has been knocked for his inability to win against elite competition. Golden has never finished a season with a winning record against teams above .500. In this past year, in which Miami finished 9-4, his team was 3-4 against teams with winning records. And it was winless against teams that finished with more than seven victories. His defensive coordinator, Mark D'Onofrio, has long been seen as a liability -- and PSU fans could be in for John Butler: Part Deux if Golden hops on board.
Larry Johnson, Penn State interim head coach/DL coach
Pros: He's the player favorite, and many current and former players have tweeted their support for him. He has been on the staff since 1996 and is the only remaining coach from the Joe Paterno tenure. As a result, he's already familiar with commits and future recruits, and he's also known as a hard-nosed recruiter. He brings the most stability out of any of the candidates, and he'd likely coach at Penn State for as long as the school would have him.
Cons: Despite his popularity, he never has held a permanent title above position coach. He has no head coaching experience outside of high school. He's not as big of a name as the others on this list and, with his lack of experience, he's a bit of a wild card. Like with Munchak, there'd likely be a transition period needed to learn the nuances of being a college football head coach.