Vanderlinden Out

by Ben Goldfarb on December 3, 2013

in Penn State Football

Penn State head football coach Bill O’Brien wasted no time in making a couple of post-season coaching moves on Monday, according to reports, dumping Paterno Dynasty holdover linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and second-year quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher.

Fight On State’s Mark Brennan opined that “The days of Penn State football having a static coaching staff for years on end appear to be over.”

This will leave highly respected and much-loved Larry Johnson, Sr. as the only remaining vestige of the Paterno regime. I had felt that O’Brien would want to replace Vandy and LJ when the timing was right. It will take longer for the timing to be right with respect to LJ due to the aforementioned high respect and much love. O’Brien has made this program his own and will continue to do so. I give LJ, a solid recruiter, one more year.

O’Brien is closed-mouthed about the moves, as anyone who has dealt with him would expect. He frequently speaks in code; thus, we’ll have to look for nuances here and there. The truth will eventually emerge.

Vanderlinden didn’t return Brennan’s call, so we will have to wait for any smoke signals from that camp.

Heading into the recruiting season, O’Brien is obviously working quickly to assemble his team.

It was always this turkey’s feeling that Vanderlinden and Johnson were retained somewhat begrudgingly as a perceived requisite for alumni appeasement, given the turmoil surrounding the St. Joe firing and the Tickle Monster scandal. Too much change too fast would upset the fragile balance. Now that O’Brien is entrenched, he can shuck the surly bonds of the Paterno past with impunity. And he will. The new broom is still in the process of sweeping clean. To dump both legacy assistant coaches in one fell swoop would have been too much. LJ will wait and he’ll probably retire gracefully. When he does, it’ll be “his idea.” O’Brien seems to have the political timing concept down pat.

One thing is for certain. Unlike the late Paterno years, we won’t be bitching that a static coaching staff has rendered Penn State devoid of new blood and new ideas.

Neither Vanderlinden nor Fisher is reportedly under consideration by USC for that institutions’ open head coaching position.

Joe December 3, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Not surprised, although this must have been something thought through earlier and the trigger pulled apparently the day after the win at Wisconsin.

I like Vandy, but often wondered that if he was so good at coaching LB’s then why didn’t we have a steady stream of 4 and 5 star LB recruits beating a path to State College to learn under him. Maybe he was good at recognizing potential in 3 star recruits, but I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Perhaps it’s nothing more than getting a better offer or taking one of those great PS retirement packages.

Often wondered why we needed a QB coach since BO’B seemed to have direct involvement with McGloin and now obviously with Hack. You never hear Hack talking about what Fisher is teaching him, it’s always Coach O’Brien.

So what happens next? Obviously they need a LB coach, who they get, I have no clue. Hmmmh, Urlacher is a good friend of BO’B and Tim Bream. Now maybe that could bring some recruits to Happy Valley.

I don’t think BO’B is going to take on HC, OC & QB coach responsibilities by bringing in a Special Teams Coach as some have suggested (although I daresay this is something that wouldn’t hurt after this past season.) I think he looks for an OC/QB or OC/ST coach and he assumes either the QB or ST responsibilities. There were a couple guys mentioned when he was assembling his first staff but I can’t remember their names.

I believe whatever he does reorganizing his staff and whomever he hires will occur pretty quickly. Can’t have those 17 and 18 year olds worried about who their position coach is going to be.

Perhaps the beginning of an interesting off-season ‘ya think?

The Nittany Turkey December 3, 2013 at 2:52 pm

A special teams coach. We can only dream.

Mac is getting up there in years. I can see him retiring again sometime soon. Same with LJ. They’re 63 and 61, respectively.

I agree that Fisher was superfluous in that O’Brien had expressed the desire to coach quarterbacks and it’s a passion of his. But you’re right. If he’s trying to be all things to all men, he’s spreading himself way the hell too thin.

In any case, I doubt that we have seen the last personnel move of this off season. As you say, it should be interesting.


Joe December 3, 2013 at 10:21 pm

Ah yes-the “resigned to pursue other career opportunities” reason. I guess it really was if you go quietly, we’ll give you a nice fat severance package and call it a day.

If this is like most places, this didn’t happen overnight. HR has to do their due dilligence, packages have to go through legal and all kinds of other shit has to be reviewed and approved by all sorts of people including Joyner and most likely Erickson. I think this has been in the works for at least a month and I think they both knew they were gone after the last game for a couple of weeks now.

Oh well, not sure if they’ll be any reaction from any of the 16 commits, but we’ll see. I’m hearing Godsey may be a candidate for OC, but I think he’s still with the Pats. I still like Uhrlacher for LB coach, but it most likely will be someone BO’B has worked with in a past life!!!

The Nittany Turkey December 4, 2013 at 1:07 am

So, let’s cut through the encoded responses.

O’Brien wishes Vanderlinden well in future endeavors and Vanderlinden wishes O’Brien nothing but the best in the future = “mutual agreement”. About as classy as I could expect from O’Brien and just what I would expect from Vandy.

O’Brien wishes Fisher well in future endeavors and Fisher looking forward to next chapter = “git out and stay out”. I’m thinking there’s some sour grapes here.

The past is the past. I’m looking forward to some interesting moves. Urlacher would be a great draw, but can he coach? Furthermore, would he give up his lucrative Fox contract? Screwing around with Jenny McCarthy and being a party in paternity suits doesn’t exactly fit the Penn State mold. Maybe Bednarik is available.


K. John December 4, 2013 at 8:26 am

Not sure where to go with this but I am hearing Ron’s departure is part of a multi-year transition and that he already has a job lined up. Usually the first information comes from recruits the ones that would be working with him have been mum so this seems like it was planned in advance.

I am not sure about Fisher but it seems logical that O’Brien would handle the QB’s personally and let some else take over the day to day offensive coaching with a fair amount of game day input from Bill. Godsey is young and unproven as a coordinator so it makes sense that he would be a solid choice if Bill wants to remain hands on.

K. John December 4, 2013 at 8:27 am

I am sorry about the poor grammar. Darn Smart Phones.

Michael G December 7, 2013 at 1:30 pm

Seems it could be a philosophical issue.

Perhaps it has more to do with John Butler than anything else? Could it be that Vandy chafed under the new boss?

There is no way it is disappointment with Ron’s work. Let’s list: Lee, Pausluzney, Conner, Bowman, Mauti, Hodges . . . soon Carson.

as for wiping out the old, could be. But LJ and Vandy’s guys were the strength of the D this year (in a down year for the D). Surely wasn’t the DB’s. So, how bad would things have been without them? BOB has to know all this.

my theory: Vandy told Bob that the kid (Butler) wasn’t up to snuff –and BOB told Vandy, change your mind or find another playground to play in.

The Nittany Turkey December 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Your theory is better than any I’ve considered.

I agree that the philosophical issues sometimes outweigh practical considerations. I doubt that Vandy’s demise had anything to do with his performance. His resume along those practical lines is solid.

He’s been a head coach and he’s been around long enough to have some intractable notions about how things should be run. I could easily see him butting heads with O’Brien; the outcome of that turmoil is painfully predictable.

I do find that Butler is getting the blame for just about everything people can pin on him, so I’ll stop short of blaming him for Vanderlinden’s departure.


Michael G December 7, 2013 at 4:10 pm

haha. Yeah, I’m not blaming Butler for his departure either.

Butler might know something that the rest of us don’t, and maybe there is a system he is getting in place, or maybe he’s learning on the job. All I know is there were LOTS of uncovered receivers in this year’s D.

We all have peers. If one gets promoted, we don’t alway trust it was a good choice.

Anyway, just a theory. Nothing more.

I’m curious to see who gets hired next and how that works out.

K. John December 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

I spent some time looking at the current roster and next year’s recruiting class and have some thoughts.

1. John Butler has historically been a special teams and linebackers coach according to his bio. He has experience with both 3-4 and 4-3 schemes. His most significant success thus far has coming coaching outside linebackers and special teams.

2. The current personnel and incoming class show we may see a change in philosophy. The one thing they don’t have is a Steelers style 3-4 nose tackle. But there are other variations of the 3-4 that don’t use that style such as the version currently employed by Bama and Stanford. They do have an excess at guard and someone could be moved. The below breakdown is how I see the current players fitting into the two main 3-styles.

Tackle – Austin Johnson, Derek Dowry.
End – Brian Gaia, Tyrone Smith, Parker Cothren, Kyle Baublitz (not sold he is leaving though it does look very likely)
End/Outside Linebacker – Anthony Zettel, Garrett Sickels, Carl Nassib
Outside Linebacker – Deion Barnes, Brad Bars, CJ Oliniyan, Evan Schan, Curtis Cothren
Inside Linebacker – Mike Hull, Nayeem Wartman, Ben Kline, Brandon Bell, Gary Wootten

Throw in the incoming freshmen and they have a well rounded roster. Throw in the fact that most of the formations that proved exceptionally effective against Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin were essentially typical 3-4 formations and in my opinion, the writing is on the wall for shift. I can seen Vanderlinden not being in the picture with such a scheme. He has no experience and his philosophy doesn’t mesh.

Michael G December 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Interesting. So, would you say that the terrible pass coverage play in most games (so many opponents were wide open) was a result of learning a new system and not a sign that John Butler was failing?

K. John December 15, 2013 at 8:33 am

In my opinion, I would say it was the result of a variety of things, with injury being the biggest factor. Mike Hull might be the fastest most instinctual linebacker in the country. It isn’t much of a secret that he played well under 100% this year after the knee injury in the opener and wasn’t above 80% (total guess) until the last three games. This forced Glen Carson into coverage far more than he should have been. Kline’s injury situation didn’t help. Neither did pulling Obeng from safety. On top of that, Ryan Keiser spent time hurt this year.

On the player side, Trevor Williams peaked around game three. He made steady improvement up until then but stopped improving after that. He did play better as the third corner late in the year however. The coaches waited too long to shuffle the roster by moving Amos back to corner. Additionally, Amos at full time safety didn’t work out as well as they hoped based on the previous year.

Then there is Butler. His play calling got a lot better towards the end of the year. I don’t know if that was the result of him starting to “get it” or the defense being healthier than it had been through the first 8 games. That is a tricky question to answer without being in the locker room. Either way, it clearly got better as the year went on.

Overall, I am of the opinion that the injury bug was by far the biggest problem the team faced this year and if they were only banged up as most teams tend to be late in the year, they would have won at least ten games and some of the close ones (Michigan, Illinois) would not have been close.

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