It’s been a while since I have been able to find some unfettered writing time, but so much has happened at Penn State that I better shake the jumble of ideas out of my head before they become so passé that I’ll be regarded as a historian instead of a current events commentator. We mainly concentrate on assistant coaching hires here, none of which as yet have been announced officially by Penn State. Such an announcement should come soon, because incoming head football coach Bill O’Brien had imposed a deadline of Wednesday (today) upon himself for hiring seven assistants. It appears as if he has met this goal. Counting rehired Paterno assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, O’Brien has hired or is in the process of hiring eight assistants.
On Wednesday, Penn State Sports Information Director Jeff Nelson said, “Penn State will officially announce Coach O’Brien’s staff once all University employment procedures have been completed.”
Before we start on coaching issues, yesterday President Rod Erickson, who had the “Interim” removed from his title recently, reset himself to interim status when he announced that he would stick around only until 2014. I hope that is enough time to get over all this Sandusky crap and begin the new president’s tenure without all its baggage. By that time, perhaps the BOT will have some different members.
So, what’s going on with the coaches, you ask? Well, that’s what I’m really here to squawk about, so let’s get started.
First of all, who won’t be retained from the present staff? Thus far, we know that Bill Kenney (tight ends/offensive tackles), Kermit Buggs (defensive backs), and Jay Paterno (quarterbacks) will be hitting the road. While the status of Dick Anderson (guards and centers), and Galen Hall (offense/running backs) is not yet known, the likelihood is that they’ll retire. They’re both older than this Turkey, who himself is older’n dirt. Hell, Anderson is so old that he was my sophomore Phys Ed instructor in 1965. Hall has long been forthright in stating that when Joe Paterno retires, so will he. Joe didn’t retire, but it’s time for Galen to play some shuffleboard. Tom “Scrap” Bradley (defensive coordinator and acting head coach) was caught in a bind, and will be leaving the University, although this has not been finalized as yet. Neither has the fate been decided of the beleaguered Mike McQueary (wide receivers), presently on administrative leave, is a central figure in the prosecution’s case against Jerry Sandusky. However, AOL Sports has reported that he will probably not return.
You can expect that the offense will be completely overhauled. This is a very good thing, even for Penn Staters who think that having coaches on the staff for thousands of years, some essentially in patronage positions, is a good thing. Fran Ganter took an administrative job when the “too many cooks” offensive play calling system was installed by Old Joe, probably to get Jay involved. Ganter didn’t like it, but what choice did he have, given that the great dictatorial dad had spoken. Who knows whether we would have had a real offense at Penn State if Ganter had stuck around for the past ten years. It is quite possible that he was there too long, too. It is even more possible that Joe would have throttled back any kind of spirited offensive plan that Ganter had implemented. Fullback dives and the occasional, slow developing end-around make for a predictable offense. Is it any wonder that Penn State was among the worst producers of NCAA’s top division? So, complete change in offense will be just what the doctor ordered. We don’t know what will happen to Ganter, who is presently Associate Athletic Director for Football Administration, but this Turkey thinks it is likely that he will quietly retire.
(On an unrelated tangent, but one that must have entered some of your quick minds, one has to wonder how much or little Ganter knew about Sandusky’s alleged molestations. Fran, being the forgotten man, is at least titularly involved in running the football program, although we’re pretty sure that Joe Paterno was ruling the program like Julius Caesar ruled Rome. What do you think about Ganter?)
In Penn State’s case, the offensive change will start from the top. Bill O’Brien is the present offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Accordingly, I believe he will want to call his own plays. He’ll have plenty of help on offense. It appears as if Charles London will coach running backs. London called Penn State a top-5, top-10 job, providing an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. Most recently “quality control assistant” for the Tennessee Titans (whatever that is), he is the big question mark in this new set of assistants. Stan Hixon will probably coach wide receivers, coming from the Buffalo Bills, where he also coached wide receivers. I’m thinking that O’Brien will want to coach quarterbacks and be overall offensive coordinator. John Strollo, offensive line coach for Ball State, will coach tight ends. This leaves open the conjecture that Mac McWhorter will join the team. All that is known is that McWhorter, 61, was offered a job by O’Brien, presumably as offensive line coach, for which he would have to unretire. He had been with the University of Texas (Austin) since 2002, where he was initially tight ends and offensive tackles coach, and in 2005 was promoted to assistant head coach. McWhorter would seem to be a possible eventual choice for offensive coordinator, but there are many question marks as I write this.
Defensively, O’Brien made the smart move of retaining Larry Johnson (defensive line) and Ron Vanderlinden (linebackers). Very, very smart in so many ways. Obviously, and to Johnson’s and Vanderlinden’s credit, the defensive front seven consistently has been the very best part of this team for a long, long time. Their recruiting efforts have brought in some amazingly talented players, and they represent continuity in this year’s recruiting effort. Intangibles associated with their retention might be even more important, in that both were well regarded by fans and players, being associated with the aspect of the team that reflects Penn State’s image as a tough, grinding, run stopping, hard hitting, defensive football team. To have let them go would have painted O’Brien as a ruthless iconoclast and might well have caused an insurrection. On the other hand, I doubt that either will stay for very long under O’Brien and his new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, for whom O’Brien was offensive coordinator at Duke in 2005-6. Roof was also Minnesota’s defensive coordinator in 2008. However, many think that he was almost run out of town at Auburn, where up until last year he was defensive coordinator for three seasons. Johnson is nearing retirement age and Vanderlinden has some significant upside potential that he’ll no doubt want to exploit sometime in the future.
It is not known at present whether Kermit Buggs will be replaced by another defensive backfield coach.
Those of you who had long lamented Penn State’s step-child approach to special teams, take heart! O’Brien has hired South Carolina’s special teams coach, John Butler to handle similar duties for the Nittany Lions. During last year, Butler’s only year on the job for the Gamecocks, South Carolina was fair to middlin’ in kickoff and punt returns, but sucked badly in net punting (92nd in nation). Butler spent four years in the Big Ten, coaching Minnesota’s special teams and linebackers.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, none of these hires have been announced officially by Penn State, so there might some changes here and there.
Many of these assistants have connections to O’Brien from the past, as one would expect. Hiring an entire staff at once is an onerous proposition, which at this late stage must necessarily involve compromises. A lot of fans are wailing about O’Brien having hired a lot of old cronies from Georgia Tech and Duke, but where was he expected to find people on such short notice. It is easy for fans to say things like, “He should have hired Tony Sparano as offensive coordinator, and Jeff Fisher as defensive coordinator.” Yeah, right. Gimme a break. Timing, money, compatibility, and other factors all come into play.
That said, he’s got a lot of George O’Leary connections on the projected staff. Perhaps, when UCF gets tired of old George, they’ll fire him and he can apply for the permanent position of Athletic Director. (That’s a joke, son.)
I would expect to see fans, alums, and players scrutinize every hire from their personal points of view. Nothing wrong with that. Armchair staffing is as easily done as armchair quarterbacking — a collection of opinions that will never be tested and are therefore continually arguable. Besides, you know what they say about opinions.
So let’s hear from you, the Vast Disgruntled, and the Clam Happy! Tell me what you think is good or bad about these hires. Talk amongst yourselves. Discuss. Share. That’s what I’m here for!