YOUNGSTOWN -- This will be a big week for Youngstown State athletics as football coach Jon Heacock opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and athletic director Ron Strollo continues the process to come up with a new men's basketball coach.
Replacing John Robic, who was fired following the season, is the main topic of conversation.
Strollo pondered Robic's fate since November and did countless hours of research even before the job officially became open last month.
The Penguins have a search committee in place, but when it comes down to making the final decision that will be made by Strollo alone.
Rumors have been flying around for weeks and sometime today Strollo will announce the four finalists who have been whittled down from the more than 50 applicants.
Strollo said it was important for his next coach to have college head coaching experience. This one factor would eliminate a big portion of the applicants.
Top four candidatesare believed to be ...
From the information gathered around the university it appears that the final four candidates will include Larry Hunter, assistant coach at North Carolina State and former head coach at Ohio University and Wittenberg.
Another will be Jerry Slocum, the coach at Gannon University for the past nine seasons. The third could be Michael Grant, coach at Southern University for the past seven seasons.
The final applicant is believed to be Gary Edwards, the coach at Indiana (Pa.) University.
The interviews of the final four applicants are scheduled to begin Tuesday and run through Friday, with Strollo using the weekend to make his decision. He's expected to announce the coach early next week.
Looking at the applicants, Hunter appears to be the leading candidate. He took Wittenberg to the national championship in his first season and won national coach of the year honors in 1977. He had a 204-148 record at Ohio University in 12 seasons. Just recently, he helped North Carolina State to a Sweet 16 berth in the NCAA Tournament.
The only problem with Hunter is that he's making more money at N.C. State as an assistant than the YSU job will offer. But he's interested in getting back to Ohio so that he can add to his pension.
If for some reason Hunter backs out -- and it hasn't been assured he will interview -- then Slocum will probably be the choice and he has enjoyed great success at Gannon over the past nine seasons.
Heacock beginsfifth season
Heacock, who is beginning his fifth season as the Penguins' coach, is facing a must-win situation in the 2005 campaign.
After two straight losing seasons, Heacock must get the Penguins back to respectability this year if he wants to have any assurance of a contract extension.
An 8-3 season (7-4 at the worst) will be needed for him to hold onto his job. A berth in the NCAA I-AA playoffs would be icing on the cake.
The Penguins definitely have the weapons to accomplish those goals, especially on offense where they return most of their starting lineup. The offense will be led by sophomore quarterback Tom Zetts of Boardman, who started all 11 games for the Penguins a year ago as a redshirt freshman.
Zetts also has the entire starting offensive line returning along with some outstanding talent in the backfield.
Defense stillbig question
Defense appears to be the big question mark heading into spring, but Heacock and his staff have recruited heavily on that side of the football and brought in three transfers who will participate in spring practice this year.
The Penguins are schedule to practice four times per week over the next month. They will hold a jersey scrimmage April 22 at 3:30 p.m.
The workouts will culminate April 29 with the Red and White game at 7:30 p.m. at Stambaugh Stadium.
XPete Mollica covers YSU athletics for The Vindicator. Write to him at email@example.com.