Posts tagged ‘Coaches Caravan’

Talking Football—the Global Version—on the Coaches Caravan

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming and Franklin find common ground at the Coaches Caravan.

Futbol or football? Walsh, Warming, and Franklin find common ground on the Coaches Caravan. Photo by Mark Selders

It’s a small irony that, while riding the bus on a Coaches Caravan trip that is understandably focused on football, I’m indulging in the chance to talk at length about soccer. That’s “football” to most of the rest of the world, of course, and as men’s soccer coach Bob Warming has jokingly reminded every Caravan crowd thus far, it remains the most popular sport on the planet. Warming knows as well as anyone that most Penn Staters are more interested in “American” football, and he’s okay with that. He knows his sport is on very solid footing in the States.

Certainly it’s in great shape in Happy Valley. In Warming and Erica Walsh—both of whom are on the bus this week and speaking at every Caravan stop—Penn State unquestionably has two of the best college coaches in America. Warming, a two-time national Coach of the Year during stints at Creighton and St. Louis, has led the Nittany Lions to the last two Big Ten regular season titles. Under Walsh, who doubles as an assistant coach with the U.S. women’s national team, the women won six straight Big Ten titles from 2007-2012.

As a regular at Jeffrey Field since my undergraduate days—for a lot of reasons, it remains one of my favorite spots on campus—I’d catch most of the men’s and women’s games even if the teams were mediocre. Happily, they’re terrific, and Warming and Walsh have a lot to do with that. Being able to pick their brains on this trip—even as James Franklin jokingly yells at us to take all the soccer talk to the other end of the bus—has only clarified why they’re both so good at what they do.

From Warming, it’s insights into the strangely adversarial relationship between Major League Soccer and the college game, and anecdotes about how soccer savvy today’s young players are about the international game. From Walsh, it’s insider knowledge about the challenges of the recruiting process and the workings of the national team set-up. From both of them, it’s good humor and an appreciation (or tolerance, at least) for a passionate soccer fan who can’t get enough of hearing all they know.

As cool as it’s been, I can say I haven’t been surprised. A couple of years ago, I sat in on a class for area soccer coaches looking to add a certificate to their resume: It started with an X’s and O’s session with Warming, who previewed that night’s game with Indiana, arguably the Lions’ biggest regular-season match. He detailed key matchups against the Hoosiers, told us certain players’ tendencies to keep an eye on, and explained the high-tech video system the program uses to fine-tune its scouting and game prep.

After watching the first half of the match at Jeffrey Field, we were joined in the bleachers by Walsh—she was in the midst of her own season, remember—who proceeded to give us an incredibly detailed halftime breakdown of what was and wasn’t working for each side. Based on her knowledge, you’d have thought she was coaching one of these teams, not running a top-10 women’s program of her own.

In both cases, these coaches gave generously of their time, showed off a remarkably thorough understanding of their sport, and conveyed that knowledge in a way that illuminated the game for all of us. Sitting across from them this week on the bus, I’ve been lucky to soak up more of that soccer intelligence. It’s been a blast.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

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May 8, 2014 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

Kicking Off Another Coaches Caravan

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One of the hundreds of fans who got to meet James Franklin on Thursday night.

It felt a lot like the past two years: Loyal Penn State fans turning out for an offseason football fix and a chance to meet the new coach.

It also felt very different. Different venue. Different coach. The start, once again, of a different era.

James Franklin took center stage Thursday night at Pegula Arena, where the third Penn State Coaches Caravan kicked off within sight of Beaver Stadium. More than 400 fans turned out, and it appeared all who wanted to had the chance to take a quick picture with Franklin at the photo station on the upper concourse. Other coaches—Patrick Chambers, Bob Warming, Russ Rose, and a few members of Franklin’s new staff—mingled with the crowd over appetizers, before fans settled into their seats to see Franklin, Rose, and Warming speak from a chilly stage on the ice.

There are plenty of photos and video from the main event over at GoPSUSports, but we also kept an eye out for things fans might have missed. A few tidbits of note:

* The new coach and new president had what we believe was their first meeting Thursday at the pre-event reception. Eric Barron and his wife, Molly, popped in briefly and spent some time talking with Franklin (below), then made their way out—mostly unnoticed—before the coaches took the stage. Barron, the subject of the cover story in our May/June issue, officially takes over as Penn State president on May 12.

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* As you’ve no doubt noticed, in nearly every posed photo since he arrived on campus (including the one at the top of this post), Franklin is holding up his index finger in a “No. 1” pose. Hoping to ask him how and why that became the thing he does when the Caravan hits the road next week.

* Roger Williams ’73, ’75g, ’88g, our executive director, presented Franklin with a life membership Thursday night—meaning he’ll now be getting The Penn Stater at home. We expect an occasional letter, Coach.

The Caravan hits the road for real next Tuesday, and I’m excited to be back on the bus for a third year. I plan to have a bunch of updates over the next two weeks, both here and at The Football Letter Blog. If the past two years are any indication, I should come out of it with some great stories. Hope to see you on the road.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 2, 2014 at 12:56 pm Leave a comment

A Stop at MetLife Stadium Reminds Us That Football Season is Only 115 Days Away

The Penn State Coaches Caravan wraps up Thursday with stops in DuBois and Pittsburgh, but I’m back in State College today—both to get caught up on my magazine duties, and because my daughter’s fifth birthday is something I’m not about to miss. So Wednesday was my last day, and a great one, starting out in New York City and wrapping up in Scranton. In between, we made time for a brief stop in East Rutherford, N.J.

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East Rutherford, of course, is home to MetLife Stadium, home of the NFL’s Giants and Jets since 2010. On Aug. 31, MetLife will host Penn State’s season opener against Syracuse, and on Wednesday, those of us on the bus got a quick tour. It’s an impressive place, and it looked especially cool with those Nittany Lion logos on the massive HD screens in each corner of the field (click the photo to enlarge and get a sense of the scale). It’s gonna look even better filled with blue and white in a few months—and yes, game tickets are on sale now.

Penn State fans with relatively long memories should be especially excited about the game, which harkens back to some successful season openers in the old Kickoff Classic games held at Giants Stadium, which stood right next to where MetLife stands now. I have great memories of tailgating in the parking lot before the ’96 win over Southern Cal, and of course, there was that famous demolition of defending national champion Georgia Tech back in 1991.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

May 9, 2013 at 12:45 pm Leave a comment

Getting Back on The Bus

I didn’t expect to be re-joining the Penn State Coaches Caravan this spring. That’s mostly because I didn’t expect there to be another Penn State Coaches Caravan.

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Last spring, I rode the bus on the first week of the inaugural caravan, the multi-state bus trek designed primarily to introduce Bill O’Brien to Penn State fans. It was fun but tiring, much more so for O’Brien, who made the three-day trip over three consecutive weeks, speaking to 18 rooms full of eager Nittany Lion fans and shaking more hands than he could ever hope to count. When it was over, I got the impression that O’Brien viewed the trip as well worth the effort—but not something he was in a hurry to do again.

I’m glad I was wrong. Next Tuesday morning, we’ll board the customized Fullington Trailways bus for the first of two caravan legs. O’Brien will once again be the main attraction, and he’ll be joined at various stops by fellow coaches Cael Sanderson, Russ Rose, Coquese Washington, Patrick Chambers, Mark Pavlik, Char Morrett, and Guy Gadowsky, a group with a slew of Big Ten and national championship rings between them. Why is O’Brien once again hitting the road? I think he remembered the energy in those rooms, the loyalty and passion of all those Penn State fans, and signing up for the sequel was a no brainer.

If you’re within driving distance of one of these stops and haven’t signed up—what are you waiting for? You can find all the registration details here. The Penn State Alumni Association and Nittany Lion Club are once again sponsoring the caravan, and I can vouch for how seamlessly my colleagues from the Alumni Association events staff kept things moving last year.

Me? I’ll once again be blogging and tweeting from the road, bringing you exclusive insights from O’Brien and the other coaches on the bus, and sharing highlights from each stop. Hope to see you there.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

April 24, 2013 at 11:51 am Leave a comment

Bill O’Brien Hits the Road

The arrival of our May/June issue means we’re well into work on our July/August edition. Among the features we’re working on is a profile of Bill O’Brien, who just wrapped up his first spring practice. I’m in the midst of reporting that one, a task that so far has included a 6:30 a.m. interview with O’Brien in his office; anyone who knows me knows the scheduled time must’ve been his idea.

Busy as he’s been, O’Brien has found time to do plenty of interviews. He’s spoken repeatedly since his hiring about the importance to reaching out to Penn State alumni and fans, and making himself available to reporters is only part of that plan. Starting next week, he’ll take his show on the road.

On Monday, O’Brien will lead the Penn State Coaches Caravan on a nine-day, 18-city tour throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states. I’m fortunate to have a spot on the bus for the first leg of the caravan, which starts next week with a Monday lunch gathering in Philadelphia and includes stops in Drexel Hill, Pa., Baltimore, Washington D.C., Richmond, Va., and Harrisburg. And that’s just the first three days; the next two weeks will include stops in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Ohio, and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

I’ll be blogging from early stops on the caravan, which will feature O’Brien at every stop and appearances from additional Penn State coaches. If you’re not already signed up for one of the stops, you can register and find more information here. A few are at capacity, but tickets are still available for most of the events.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

April 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment


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