Penn State is looking for a "highly ethical" football coach who values academics and can win football games within that framework, according to its acting athletic director. Two coaches who fit those parameters and will be considered are Boise State's Chris Petersen and Harvard's Tim Murphy, a person familiar with the football program said.
Both Petersen and Murphy have denied interest in other jobs, and Petersen last week turned down an offer of nearly $4 million annually from UCLA, according to the Los Angeles Times. Still, both are high on Penn State's list of candidates, according to the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Penn State needs someone who is a certified straight shooter, someone with integrity, and someone who is a damn good coach," the source said. "By all accounts, these are two guys who fit the bill."
In its second week of activity, Penn State's six-person search committee charged with hiring the university's next football coach has been fairly quiet. The activity has been more notable regarding coaches saying they're not interested.
On Monday, former Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy told USA Today that he's not a candidate. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen and Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, who played at Penn State, also have said they're staying put. The only coach to express interest publicly is Green Bay Packers assistant Darren Perry, a former Penn State player whose agent talked about his interest to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Still, Dr. David Joyner, Penn State's acting athletic director, said last week "there is not a lack of interest" from potential candidates, whom he would not name. He also noted the criteria for being considered.
"No. 1, [we're looking for] a highly ethical coach who has a great background in that and is well-respected for that," Joyner said in an interview for Penn State's athletic website http://www.gopsusports.com. "A coach that understands the importance of academics and being part of the larger educational community and the value of that for their athletes. And then one that's able to win, because that's important, and one that's able to win within that environment."
Penn State's search committee is expected to conduct interviews this week, with Tom Bradley, Penn State's interim head coach, being among the candidates. University President Rodney Erickson said last week that he hopes to have a coach in place by the Nittany Lions' bowl game. Penn State will play Houston in the Jan. 2 TicketCity Bowl in Dallas.
Petersen, 47, is 71-6 with two BCS bowl victories in six seasons at Boise State. He has a good reputation among college coaches and was friendly with former Penn State coach Joe Paterno.
Academically, Boise State recently was honored for its 100 percent graduation rate for the class of 2004. The football program's most recent four-year NCAA Graduation Success Rate (74 percent) was 9 points higher than its previous rate.
Though Petersen reportedly turned down the UCLA offer, the source said two members of Penn State's search committee, Joyner and Philadelphia-based investor Ira Lubert, are persuasive.
Joyner and Lubert, former wrestling teammates at Penn State, were on the search committee that helped bring former Iowa State wrestling coach and Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson to Penn State in 2009. Penn State won the NCAA Division I wrestling title last season.
"[Petersen] might be a reach, but I wouldn't put anything past Ira," the source said. "He can be very convincing. If there's a deal to be made, he can make it happen."
Murphy, 55, this year won his sixth Ivy League football title at Harvard, where he is 120-59 in 18 years. Murphy also has been a head coach at Maine and Cincinnati. The Harvard Crimson reported last week that Murphy recently turned down two coaching offers from Football Bowl Subdivision schools.
The source said Murphy would "align well with academia" at Penn State and praised his skills as a football coach. It would be a significant shift for Murphy, however, since Harvard does not offer athletic scholarships.
Hiring out of the Ivy League wouldn't be unprecedented. Penn State's last two football coaches came from the Ivy League, albeit some time ago. Penn State hired Brown coach Rip Engle in 1950, and Engle brought Paterno, a Brown graduate and former quarterback, with him as an assistant.
Both Joyner and Erickson repeatedly have noted their intentions to continue Penn State's positive academic performance. Penn State's most recent NCAA Graduation Success Rate for football (87 percent) ranked second in the Big Ten Conference behind Northwestern. And Joyner recently referred to himself as the "Dean of the College of Intercollegiate Athletics."
"I'm a scholar first and foremost who happens to do administration leadership work for the university," Erickson told students at a Penn State town hall last week. "And my goal always has been, and will continue to be, that Penn State be defined as a great academic institution, a world-class institution, rather than being defined the other way around."
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