When Joe Paterno was fired as Penn State's head coach on November 9 in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, the Green Bay Packers coaching staff probably wasn't the place most fans expected to look for the legend's potential replacements. As the search continues for the program's next leader, however, Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements and safeties coach Darren Perry have emerged as potential candidates to take over in Happy Valley.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported on Tuesday that Clements has applied for the job and sent his resume to the university's six-person search committee led by acting athletic director David Joyner. Clements is in his sixth season with Green Bay and has coached likely NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers throughout his four years as a starter. He also coached Brett Favre to one of his best seasons as a Packer in 2007.
Perry, who the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last Friday is interested in the job, has spent the last three seasons with the Packers after stints with the Bengals, Steelers and Raiders. A former All-American at Penn State, Perry told to Post-Gazette that his alma mater is one of the few college jobs he'd consider leaving the professional ranks for.
Neither of the two has much experience coaching at the college level. Clements was an assistant at Notre Dame in the mid-1990s, but that's the extent of it.
Consequently, both are fairly unknown quantities amongst big names like Boise State's Chris Petersen and Mississippi State's Dan Mullen, rumored to be front runners for the Penn State job. For background on the pair, we've enlisted the help Brandon, manager of SB Nation's Packers blog, Acme Packing Company. He was kind enough to do a quick question and answer with us. Check out his responses to our questions below.
AB: What have been Aaron Rodgers' most obvious points of maturation under Tom Clements? What role do you think Clements played in them?
B: Clements has basically been his coach for Rodgers's entire NFL career. The two are pretty intertwined at this point. It's Mike McCarthy's offense, but every offensive coach and even the players have input in the execution. Clements certainly has influenced him. And this isn't the first time a quarterback did well for Clements. He also helped the Steelers pull Tommy Maddox off the scrap heap 10 years ago. Also, backup quarterback Matt Flynn has improved every year in Green Bay since being drafted in the 7th round in 2008, and if he gets a chance to start elsewhere, Clements might have even another success story under his belt.
AB: Brett Favre had arguably his best season under Clements in 2008. How much of that do you think was on Favre and how much was on Clements?
B: Little of it was Favre. He wasn't interested in being a mentor. He was interested in being the starting quarterback. Rodgers only learned from Favre by watching. Mike McCarthy has an annual quarterback school during the offseason and he deserves most of the credit for Rodgers's development, though Clements is involved in the program too, and he certainly deserves some credit for the development of the Packers's quarterbacks.
AB: What type of offense do you think we could expect Clements to bring to Penn State? Could you offer some perspective on Green Bay's schemes and which ones might translate to the college ranks?
B: As I watch college football now, they seem to be trending towards simpler schemes that let their great athletes be great athletes. The Packers offense might be the most complex offense in the NFL. The Packers certainly have over 100 plays they could run with everything from spread looks to full-house backfields. He could bring it all to Penn State and change the focus of the offense from year-to-year based on the personnel available. As a former college quarterback, my guess is that Clements would prefer to run a pass-first offense. If he runs it like the Packers, it would be driven by the wide receivers, and the backs and tight ends would be asked to block first before becoming a receiving option. The Packers are very aggressive attacking down field, so Clements could be bringing a very exciting offense philosophy to Penn State.
AB: A frequent knock on life-long pro coaches is that they tend not to be the most polished recruiters. How do you see this pair adapting to the demands of the recruiting trail?
B: That is arguably the most important question. Clements isn't a media hound, assistant coaches are typically asked to remain in the shadows. That's something that will have to come out in the interviews.
AB: What kind of job has Darren Perry done with the Packers safeties?
B: Mixed. They aren't playing too good at the moment because they lost their Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins back in September. With Perry's ties as a player back to Dom Capers and the Steelers, he did a good job teaching the safeties their new roles after he became their positional coach in 2009. When Dom Capers arrived in 2009, he brought a different coverage style with him that Perry had to teach. But second year safety Morgan Burnett is playing OK considering his inexperience. And he did help Charlie Peprah transform himself from a journeyman special team player into someone who's started 25 games over the past two seasons.
AB: What is the defensive scheme in Green Bay? Not to suggest Perry is married to it.
B: While the Packers technically runs a 3-4, about 70% of the time they line up with an extra defensive back and only two defensive lineman. The defensive backs play man coverage on the wide receivers, and they play zone in the middle for their safeties and linebackers to cover the slot receiver, tight ends and the backs. The coverage schemes can be complicated, and maybe they're too complicated for college players. At the very least, I think he'd bring the Dom Capers philosophy of doing the unexpected by having any player capable of dropping back in coverage (zone blitz) and any player could be coming on the blitz.
AB: Whatever strengths these two might have, at brass tax, these two are life-long position coaches. Do you think either is prepared to lead a program like Penn State, scandal aside?
B: That I don't know about. They have both kept a fairly low profile in Green Bay. Both of them have certainly spent some time around successful head coaches in Pittsburgh and Green Bay, so hopefully they've picked up some good habits.
AB: Let's talk about the scandal, now. Do you see anything that suggests either of these two are prepared to be the face of a program in the midst of the turmoil is going through?
B: That's going to be a major challenge for anyone. If Penn State wants to make a break from the past, Clements might be better suited for that role since he has no ties to Penn State. But I don't know much about either coach on a personal level.
AB: Any general thoughts on either Clements or Perry taking over at Penn State?
B: They wouldn't have gotten hired by the Packers, or stayed employed in Green Bay, if they weren't good at their jobs. If nothing else, Penn State would be hiring a quality coach. Whether that makes them a quality head coach is a different question that I can't answer.