UNIVERSITY?PARK - Penn State's current message to prospective recruits sounds a bit unusual: Keep your options open until the school finally settles on a replacement for ousted Hall of Fame coach Joe Paterno.
It could hurt the quality of Penn State's next recruiting class. But interim coach Tom Bradley wants to maintain transparency with potential Nittany Lions following child sex-abuse charges against a former assistant coach that left the program in turmoil.
"We've been honest and open with them. We've been transparent about everything. I think they're waiting now to see what happens with the head coach," Bradley said. "We've told a lot of these guys that they have to go visit other places and keep their options open until they see what happens here."
They've been waiting for a while, at least when it comes to coaching search timelines.
On the other hand, few searches have ever occurred under such extraordinary circumstances.
School trustees fired Paterno on Nov. 9, four days after authorities filed the first set of charges against Jerry Sandusky. The assistant, who retired in 1999, is awaiting a jury trial after pleading not guilty to allegations that span from 1994 to 2009.
Besides the ongoing criminal investigation, the NCAA and the Big Ten - among other organizations - have announced they are looking into the scandal.
Paterno isn't a target of the criminal investigation, but was dismissed anyway amid mounting pressure that school leaders should have done more to stop alleged abuse.
Paterno, who turns 85 today, was released from the hospital Sunday following a weeklong stay to make it easier for doctors to tend to his fractured pelvis while also treating him for lung cancer.
"Saw boatloads of birthday cards for Joe at the house & realized I'd better get him one before tomorrow," son Jay Paterno, the quarterbacks coach, posted Tuesday on Twitter.
A six-person search committee headed by acting athletic director David Joyner was named Nov. 28. School president Rodney Erickson has said he hoped to have Paterno's replacement in place before No. 24 Penn State plays No. 20 Houston in the TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 2 in Dallas.
Speculation has swirled for weeks on potential candidates. Bradley has confirmed he wants to remove the "interim" tag from his title after saying at the team's bowl media day Monday that he interviewed on Friday.
A person familiar with the search process said Tuesday that defensive line coach Larry Johnson has also interviewed.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg reported Friday about Johnson's interview. The person confirming the report to The Associated Press requested anonymity because no one was authorized to speak about the search.
Joyner hasn't spoken publicly, but has said in an interview conducted by Penn State athletics posted on the department's website last week that the school was being "very methodical and precise" about the search.
"We may be conducting our search a little different than other people," Joyner said.
Still, it's a precarious time for a search given its less than two months from the date when high school seniors can formally announce their intentions to play college ball.
And Penn State already had its own challenge even before the scandal given longstanding rumors of Paterno's impending retirement. Paterno stressed to prospects to consider the campus as a whole, including the program's academic success, a message his assistants continue to use now.
Bradley said the coaching uncertainty has affected the team's recruiting "a little bit," especially now since the recruiting calendar has flipped over into a period of limited contact. But Bradley did share part of his pitch to recruits when he did speak to them.
"This place is not going to change," Bradley said Monday. "We have great facilities, great support and great academics. We have a lot of great things going for us that have nothing to do with the head coach."
Some critics have said Penn State's next coach shouldn't have any ties with the program, though Erickson has maintained the search is "wide open."
Among those with NFL connections, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher and ex-Colts coach Tony Dungy have both said they have no interest in leaving their current positions as TV analysts.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini was the latest name to emerge on the seemingly endless rumored list of potential college-level prospects.
"First of all, the irresponsible reports that are going on out there aren't true. I haven't interviewed for Penn State. I'm not saying any more on that," Pelini said after practice Tuesday in Lincoln.
Asked if he wanted to affirm his commitment to the Cornhuskers given recent rumors, Pelini said, "I'm not addressing every single situation. I mean, I don't do it. I shouldn't have to do it."
Players are just as anxious as fans to find out who might be the next coach. The team is scheduled to practice through Wednesday before taking a break for the Christmas holiday. They are slated to regroup Dec. 26 in Dallas to begin bowl prep.
As of Monday, about 3,000 of the school's reported allotment of 6,500 tickets had been sold as of Monday, according to associate athletic director Greg Myford. He said it was difficult to characterize sales as slow given the school had no previous comparisons - the TicketCity Bowl is a new destination for Penn State.
Praising the bowl officials and Dallas, Myford said that "While total advance sales numbers are short of what we might normally see for a Penn State bowl, we need to be honest and acknowledge that this is anything but a normal year."
Bowl executive director Tom Starr said Tuesday they hoped to draw 45,000 fans to the 92,000-seat Cotton Bowl, where the game is played. He was optimistic that Penn State could draw from a roughly 9,000-member alumni and fan club based in Texas, and that the game could attract many of the 8,000 Houston alumni in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.