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COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOTES: Penn State begins coaching search

Before he was introduced by the Houston Texans as head coach, Penn State officials congratuled Bill O’Brien on his move back to the NFL.

Athletics director Dave Joyner said Thursday that a national search is underway and confirmed O’Brien’s contract buyout to leave the university was between $6.5 million and $6.7 million.

According to Joyner “several prominent coaches” reached out to Penn State to inquire about replacing O’Brien. Candidates reportedly include Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano and potentially Mack Brown, who stepped down at Texas.

“We intend to move quickly in our search to identify the next great Penn State football coach,” Joyner added.

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson will serve as interim head coach while the search is underway, Joyner said, and could also be considered for the permanent coaching job if he is interested.

“We need to do everything we can to support the needs of our student-athletes during this period,” Joyner said. “I am very confident in Larry Johnson, the coaches and staff in maintaining continuity and working with the returning players and recruits.”

O’Brien led Penn State to marks of 8-4 and 7-5 during his two years as the Nittany Lions’ head coach. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, giving Penn State the conference’s last two freshman honorees.

“I’m humbled by the confidence that Penn State has bestowed upon me during this critical time for the football program and honored to do my part to help Penn State,” Johnson said in a statement. “My job will be made very easy since we have a team comprised of tremendous student-athletes, coaches, trainers and support staff who are second to none and care as much about Penn State as I do. This program has a historic past and very bright future and I look forward to continuing to work with the players, staff and our incoming recruiting class to uphold the tremendous traditions, ideals and principles that make Penn State the best University in the nation and the football program the most successful on and off the field.”

During the 2012 season, O’Brien was selected the Bear Bryant, Maxwell Football Club and ESPN National Coach of the Year and the Big Ten-Dave McClain Coach of the Year and Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year. O’Brien’s eight wins were the most by a first-year Penn State coach in the history of the program, which began in 1887.

O’Brien came to Penn State after five years on the New England Patriots’ coaching staff, serving as the quarterbacks coach from 2009-11 and as offensive coordinator in 2011, helping the Patriots to the AFC Championship and a berth in Super Bowl XLVI. O’Brien began his coaching career at his alma mater, Brown University, in 1993-94. He then coached at Georgia Tech (1995-2002), Maryland (2003-04) and Duke (2005-06) before joining the New England staff.

Clowney turns pro; scouts examine character

In a move that should shock no one, South Carolina junior pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney will skip his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. He made the declaration moments after the Gamecocks’ 34-24 victory over Wisconsin on Wednesday in the Capital One Bowl.

Clowney is rated as the No. 1 defensive end prospect for the 2014 draft and the No. 2 overall player in this year’s class. Only Texas A&M senior offensive tackle Jake Matthews is currently rated above him. It would be considered a shock if Clowney fell out of the top five picks on draft day.

Arguably the most talented NFL prospect in this class or in recent years, Clowney is a freak athlete for his size (6-foot-5, 275 pounds) with above-average first-step quickness and the ability to convert speed to power. His burst, flexibility and overall strength are outstanding, and they allow him to make an impact as both a run stuffer and pass rusher.

Although his production was down in 2013 (only three sacks compared to 13 the previous season), Clowney’s impact cannot be fully appreciated on the stat sheet. He often was double-teamed and received special treatment from opposing offenses, who left a tight end or running back on his side of the field.

Even so, despite the immense natural talent, Clowney is not a flawless prospect, and there will be several questions that he will need to answer during the pre-draft process. His effort and overall passion were questioned by scouts, who saw signs of lackadaisical effort on tape.

“He’s a modern-day Randy Moss,” an AFC East scout said on Clowney. “J.C. doesn’t have the same type of criminal background as Randy did when he was his age, but the dependence on natural talent and problematic effort concerns are very similar. Difference is, Clowney won’t fall out of the top seven like Randy did.”

The “effort” concerns don’t exist because his statistics dipped in 2013 compared to 2012, but rather because he appeared tentative and fatigued too often during his junior year. Was he playing not to get hurt, or are there legitimate effort concerns?

“In high school, he was the best player on the field. Same in the SEC,” the scout added. “But he needs to realize that won’t be the case in the (NFL). If he wants to have a career longer than a few seasons, the kid needs to wake up, add some glass to his diet and understand that it’ll take a lot more work during the week.”

Another issue likely to be scrutinized by NFL team’s is Clowney’s two recent speeding tickets. He was stopped Dec. 26 near downtown Columbia, S.C., when police charged him with going 84 mph in a 55 mph zone. In early December, Clowney was stopped by a South Carolina state trooper after he was reportedly clocked at 110 mph in a 70 mph zone on Interstate 77 north of Columbia.

Clowney also battled a foot injury throughout the season. Although he said Wednesday he has “no plans” for surgery, it is something to monitor.

A native of Rock Hill, S.C., where he attended South Pointe High School, Clowney was the crown jewel recruit when he arrived at South Carolina. His legend kept growing, eventually getting to the point where it was impossible for him to live up to the hype.

Clowney’s “football character” likely will be a hot topic over the next few months, but it should also be noted that he plays a position where concerns in that area aren’t as magnified for NFL teams as they would be if he played quarterback.

WRs Cooks, Robinson declare for NFL Draft

Wide receivers Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Allen Robinson of Penn State both decided Thursday to make themselves eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft.

Cooks (5-10, 185) is ranked as the No. 7 wide receiver and 38th overall in the projected 2014 draft by NFLDraftScout.com. Robinson (6-3, 210) is rated as the No. 4 wide receiver and 33rd overall.

Cooks, the 2013 recipient of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s most outstanding college receiver, earned consensus All-America honors following the recently completed season. He set numerous school and Pac-12 Conference records, including new league marks for single season receptions with 128 and single season yards with 1,730 (NCAA leader in 2013). During his OSU career he has accounted for 226 receptions for 3,272 yards and 26 total touchdowns. Overall, he has compiled 3,863 all-purpose yards.

Cooks is utilizing the NFL Draft Advisory Board, made up of NFL scouts, to determine interest professional teams may have in him. He has until 11:59 p.m. EST Jan. 18 to formally withdraw from consideration for the NFL Draft and return for his senior season if he hasn’t secured representation from a player agent.

Robinson’s announcement comes only a few hours after Penn State introduced Larry Johnson as interim head coach as it searches for a replacement for Bill O’Brien, who is heading to the NFL as the Houston Texans coach.

Robinson is the 2012 and 2013 Big Ten Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year and earned seven All-America honors after the 2013 season.

“It was a honor to wear a penn state uniform for 3 years. I will miss my teammates and coaches, blessed for the opportunity and experience!” Robinson tweeted Thursday.

Robinson’s combined 174 receptions and 2,445 receiving yards the past two years both rank No. 3 in Big Ten history for consecutive seasons.

A semifinalist for the 2013 Biletnikoff Award, Robinson earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches and media the past two seasons. In Penn State’s eight Big Ten games in 2013, Robinson made 71 catches for 984 yards.

The 2014 NFL Draft is May 8-10 in New York City.