All Coach Franklin’s Men
The list of qualifications for the men who would make up James Franklin’s Penn State coaching staff was specific and demanding: He wanted guys with roots in the region. He wanted confident, relentless recruiters. He wanted guys who are as smart as they are competitive.
He found nearly all of them in Nashville, bringing along eight of his former Vanderbilt assistants (seven of whom were on his staff last season) as well as Vandy’s strength and conditioning staff. The lone “outsider” is a former Nittany Lion player who became one of the Pennsylvania’s most successful high school coaches before jumping to the college ranks last year. Based on their resumes—and, if first impressions are worth anything, on their personalities—Franklin got his guys.
The new Nittany Lion coaching staff was unveiled Friday at Beaver Stadium, with Franklin offering that glimpse into the sort of candidates he was looking for before the assembled media got the chance to meet—and chat extensively—with every one of the new hires. On paper, at least, they fit the bill:
They know their turf: Defensive coordinator and safeties coach Bob Shoop is from Oakmont, Pa.; assistant head coach, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Pry is an Altoona native; offensive coordinator and tight ends coach John Donovan hails from New Jersey; run game coordinator and offensive line coach Herb Hand is from upstate New York; and defensive line coach Sean Spencer played his college ball at Clarion. Every member of the staff graduated from a college in the Mid-Atlantic of Northeast, the broad area that Franklin has promised to dominate in recruiting.
And of course, that doesn’t count Terry Smith ’91, the defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach, who starred as a Nittany Lion wideout before leading Gateway High on a torrid run of success from 2002-12. Smith spent last season as an assistant at Temple, meaning he has coached and recruited some of the best high school players in the state. There likely isn’t a Pennsylvania high school coach who doesn’t know and respect Smith; there probably also isn’t a guy on the new staff who is happier to be in Happy Valley.
Lastly, there’s Dwight Galt III, the Lions’ new Director of Performance Enhancement—Franklin called him “kind of the Yoda of the program”—and father of Dwight Galt IV, who spent the past two seasons as a strength and conditioning assistant under under Craig Fitzgerald and will stay on staff under his father.
They’ll get their guys: Franklin has already shown a willingness to flirt with hyperbole, and there will be no way to quantify his prediction that “I think we’ll have the most aggressive recruiting staff in America.” But it’s not hard to believe that’s a goal. “We will not have a guy on this staff who I don’t feel is going to be an excellent recruiter,” he said Friday. Asked if recruiting was part of the job he really enjoyed, Franklin said that what he enjoyed was winning. It spoke to the truth appreciated by successful coaches at any level: Talent matters. “The plays work better,” he deadpanned, “with really good players.”
They will be visible: Every member of the new staff is on Twitter—here’s a handy list if you’d like to follow them all—and Franklin made clear in his intro that media and fans will quickly get familiar with his assistants. It was strongly implied that the head coach won’t be the only one saying yes to speaking engagements and community events.
As for actually coaching football? Vandy’s unprecedented success the past few seasons implies these guys know what they’re doing, but results on Saturdays will ultimately show their worth. For now, we’ll leave you with a few of the most memorable moments from their introduction…
“I truly believe we have the best defensive staff in the country.” — Shoop
“As many as it takes to win.”—Donovan, after Franklin interrupted his portion of the presser to ask his offensive coordinator (and primary play caller) how many points per game the Lions would average this fall.
“We’ll have a nekton mentality.”—Huff, describing the non-stop motion with which he expects his special teamers to play. We’ve got a call into the marine biology department on this one (seriously, we do). We’ll let you know what we hear.
Ryan Jones, senior editor