Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, November 30, 2011

The shadow of Joe Paterno will forever engulf the Penn State head coaching job as the man spent the past 46 years roaming the sidelines in State College, Pa., as head coach. One thing is for sure about the next coach, at least in my mind: I don?t think there can be any ties to Penn State or Paterno. Sorry, Tom Bradley. It also would shut the door on Al Golden, a former Penn State tight end and assistant coach who recently signed an extension at the University of Miami.

Given the heinous child sex-abuse scandal that will continue to unfold as the investigation progresses, Penn State needs a fresh start. There is much healing and trust-building that must be done by the next coach, who has a chance to be an agent of change and to raise awareness about child abuse. Bottom line: This is about much more than Xs and Os. The school needs an experienced head coach who can shepherd the program through this difficult time and to deal with lots of media attention. Newcomers need not apply.

Here are my top candidates:

James Franklin, Vanderbilt head coach. He finally got his shot at Vanderbilt and paid immediate dividends with a 6-6 record in the SEC. Franklin, 39, is a native of Pennsylvania who graduated from East Stroudsburg. He?s a magnetic personality and recruiter who has a bright offensive mind. At one time the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland, Franklin also would bring some NFL experience to the job.

Mike London, Virginia head coach. One of the nation?s fast-rising coaching stars, London has instant credibility with players because of his NFL background as a player. He also won big at FCS Richmond in two years, netting a national title in 2008 before engineering a turnaround at Virginia in two years. A former Richmond police officer, the 51-year-old Richmond grad is full of compassion that has helped his daughter battle a rare genetic disease called Fanconi, a blood disorder that can lead to cancers. The guy knows and loves footbalk, but he also gets the ?bigger? picture of life.

Dan Mullen, Mississippi State head coach: He quickly has emerged as the front-runner, and for good reason. Mullen has done a fantastic job in two seasons at Mississippi State, a difficult place to win. He also was Urban Meyer?s right-hand man at Florida and Utah, helping build and run some strong offenses that won two national titles at Florida. And the 39-year old Mullen has an affinity for Penn State, as he?s a native of Drexel Hill, Pa., and graduate of Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa.

Chris Petersen, Boise State head coach. One of the nation?s best coaches, Petersen has made Boise State into a national power with a prolific offense, time and again leading the program to victories over marquee foes like Oregon, Oklahoma, Virginia Tech and Georgia. The 47-year-old Pedersen, 71-6 in six seasons, seemingly is wooed every offseason by a bigger program-and always opts to stay in Boise, where his family is comfortable and able to deal with cancer treatments for his son.

Paul Rhoads, Iowa State head coach. An 18-18 three-year record at notoriously-tough-to-win-at Iowa State speaks for itself. And the 44-year-old Rhoads has scored some huge wins over the likes of Nebraska, Texas, Iowa and Oklahoma State. So, we know the former Pitt defensive coordinator (2000-07) can coach. We also know the Missouri Western grad is a good person. So good, in fact, his loyalty to Iowa State may run too deep to leave this soon, as he?s a native of Nevada, Iowa, who has the program ascending.

Charlie Strong, Louisville head coach. A person of strong character and faith, Strong emotes all the qualities of good person-which he is. Strong, 51, also has proven to be a strong coach after being passed up time and again for jobs over the years despite a sterling resume that includes stops at Notre Dame, South Carolina and Florida, among other places. He quickly has made Louisville relevant again in just two years, making his mark as a defensive coach.

OTHERS TO WATCH: Harvard head coach Tim Murphy.