After two weeks of work, James Franklin has finally assembled his entire coaching staff for the 2014 season. Franklin waited until the staff was complete before presenting the group to the public, holding a press conference on Friday afternoon and allowing each and every one of his coaches to address the media. The tight-knit group is largely made up of Vanderbilt coaches that made the move to State College along with Franklin.
“I am very pleased to bring to Penn State a staff of great family men, tremendous teachers and developers of talent, and the most aggressive recruiting staff in the country,” Franklin said.
Franklin stressed that he wanted a group that he had familiarity with, bringing seven assistants from Vanderbilt to Penn State. Every member of the staff graduated from a college in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast, areas where Franklin wants to focus his recruiting efforts. Franklin also mentioned that a number of his coaches have Pennsylvania ties and grew up in the state, stressing that he was serious when he first proclaimed that the staff would “dominate the state” in recruiting.
Here’s a look at the full and completed staff and what they had to say at this afternoon’s presser:
Bob Shoop — Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach
Shoop began his appearance on the media dais with a bold proclamation: “I truly believe that we have the best defensive staff in America,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of good defenses, but there’s only one championship defense and that’s what we came here to do.” Shoop went into some detail about his defensive strategy, saying that it is based on two things, “relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure.”
From his remarks this afternoon, it seems that the pressure comes harder than ever on third downs, where Shoop says that he likes to “bring the magic show,” which he later told me refers to exotic blitzes that fool the opposing offense. Shoop added that his three core values on defense are passion, toughness, and team. He harped on the idea that the defense has to be playing as one unit, not as 11 individual players.
Shoop has coached on the college level for the past 25 years. He hails from Oakmont, Pa. and held the same title at Vanderbilt for the past three seasons under Franklin, leading the Commodores to top 25 defenses in the nation each season. Shoop’s defense forced a whopping 31 turnovers last year and his 2012 squad held opposing offenses to an impressive 18.7 points per game.
John Donovan — Offensive Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach
Donovan began his comments in the press conference by discussing the style of offense that he runs. He said that he likes to use a personnel-oriented, pro-style offense, which he said helps prepare players for the NFL and could be a potential selling point for recruits for that reason.
While he hasn’t had a chance to work with Christian Hackenberg all that much, Donovan said that he is excited to have such a talented quarterback at his disposal. “It’s a tough spot for him because he was really tight with Coach O’Brien,” he said, adding that he hopes to reach that level with Hackenberg and earn his trust as a coach by proving that he can further his development.
At one point, Franklin screamed down at Donovan from the recruiting lounge balcony that overlooks the media room, asking him, “How many points are we going to score this year?” Donovan’s response? “As many as it takes to win.”
Like Shoop, Donovan held the same role at Vanderbilt over the last three seasons with the exception that he coached running backs instead of tight ends with the Commodores. Franklin said that there has been no decision made on play-calling duties yet, but that Donovan called every single play in his three seasons at Vanderbilt and will likely do the same at Penn State. Donovan is credited with the three most productive offensive seasons in Vanderbilt history, helping transform a program that was a perennial conference bottom-feeder to a competitive force, especially on offense.
Charles Huff — Special Teams Coordinator/Running Backs Coach
Huff is one of the least experienced coaches on the new staff, but makes up for that lack of experience with an impressive résumé and a strong plan for the special teams unit. Huff comes to Penn State after serving as the running backs coach at Western Michigan. He said that he nearly dropped the phone when Franklin called him and immediately accepted the job without second thought. He spent the 2012 season working as an assistant running backs coach for the Buffalo Bills, saying on Thursday that he sees a lot of similarities between the Bills’ running back duo of Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller and that of Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton.
When it comes to special teams, Huff stressed a fast-paced approach to the phase, explaining that he likes to play “no-huddle special teams.” While that sounds sort of nonsensical since special teams doesn’t take the field for consecutive plays and never has to huddle, Huff said that he used the term to refer to the speed at which he wants the unit to play. He also used a marine biology reference to analogize that the special teams unit will always be attacking no matter the situation. Huff joked that Franklin told him that the offense would never punt and the defense would always force a turnover, so all he needs to worry about is kickoffs and field goals.
Brent Pry — Assistant Head Coach, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach
Pry is one of the more outspoken of the group, which is saying something since just about the entire staff was extremely talkative at Thursday’s presser. An Altoona native, Pry is very familiar with the tradition and history of Penn State football and has ties in the state that will help with recruiting efforts. Pry joined Franklin in Vanderbilt in 2011 and was promoted to Assistant Head Coach in 2013.
He said on Thursday that he is excited to get to work with the linebackers and has spoken to Mike Hull, sort of a de facto leader of the group, and walked away very impressed with his demeanor and how serious he is about football. Pry said that the thing that the defensive staff does best is preparation, adding that he and Shoop work very well together. Pry said that he likes to consider the team as a family and will have the linebackers over his house to meet his wife and kids and get as close as him with possible.
“I’ve know Brent for a very, very long time,” Franklin said. “He did a great job for us in Vanderbilt, and had a big impact, not only in recruiting and dealing with the media but in other areas. He’s a very sharp guy.”
Oh, and that beard…
Josh Gattis — Offensive Recruiting Coordinator/Wide Receivers Coach
Gattis is the first of two recruiting coordinators on Franklin’s staff. “That’s something that we want to make sure that we’re emphasizing,” Franklin said. “Josh is going to make sure that from here on out we have one of the top recruiting classes on the offensive side of the ball. He’s going to work together with Coach Donovan to make sure that we’re filling all of our needs.”
Gattis has been a coach for just five years after a short NFL stint with the Chicago Bears. He served as Vanderbilt’s wide receivers coach for the last two seasons and helped Jordan Matthews set a number of SEC records, including career receptions (262) and career receiving yards (3,759).
“While we may not have the experience of some other groups, we will have the work ethic, we will have the talent, and we will have the determination to be the best in the country,” Gattis said of his wide receiver corps. “I look at the opportunity right now as having a piece of clay in front of me and I have to go out and sculpt that.”
Herb Hand — Run Game Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach
Hand is a tenured collegiate coach, entering his 24th season after spending the last four at Vanderbilt coaching the offensive line. He became the Commodores’ run game coordinator in 2013 and coached the unit to 34 scores behind his line.
“You guys will get to know Herb really well because he is a beast on Twitter and social media,” Franklin said. “He’s a great guy with a great personality and he’s going to do a great job working with our offensive line. He has tremendous experience. He was a part of the Tulsa staff that was the number one offensive unit in the country.”
Franklin wasn’t joking when he mentioned how entertaining Hand is on Twitter, so give him a follow over at @CoachHand.
Ricky Rahne — Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterback Coach
Rahne is yet another Vanderbilt transplant who coached quarterbacks for the Commodores for the past three seasons. He previously worked with Franklin when they coached together at Kansas State in 2006 and 2007. Rahne works very well his counterpart, Josh Gattis, as his passers helped Matthews set conference records. In 2012, quarterback Jordan Rodgers threw for the fourth-highest yardage total in school history under Rahne’s tutelage.
“I’m excited to work with [Christian Hackenberg],” Rahne said. “To be honest, I’m excited to work with this whole team and university. Our ability to compete for championships is something that I’m really looking forward to. But obviously, Christian’s ability to throw the ball on game day is exciting and I can’t wait to help him perfect his craft.”
Terry Smith — Defensive Recruiting Coordinator/Cornerbacks Coach
The lone Penn State alumnus on the staff, Smith was a standout wide receiver for the Nittany Lions from 1988 to 1991. He’s been coaching ever since his playing career and is returning a little closer to home as he grew up in Pittsburgh. Smith spent 2013 just a few hours away from State College as he was the wide receivers coach of the Temple Owls, leading the unit to a school record in passing yards and receiving touchdowns.
“I got to know Terry years ago through recruiting and was always so impressed with him,” Franklin said. “For us, to be able to get a guy with really strong Penn State ties on our staff was really important. I’m exciting about what he’s going to bring to the table. Like all of these guys, he’s so passionate and great with working with kids.”
Sean Spencer — Defensive Line Coach
It’s possible that all you need to know about Spencer is that Franklin refers to him as “Coach Chaos” because of his high energy and how it translates to the pressure that his unit puts on opposing quarterbacks on the field. Spencer’s defensive lines and their ability to take down quarterbacks played a big role in Vanderbilt’s defensive success over the last three seasons. After coaching on the offensive side of the ball for some time, Spencer made the switch to defense back in 2001 and has worked his way up the collegiate coaching ladder before moving with Franklin to Penn State.
Dwight Galt — Director of Performance Enhancement
Franklin referred to his strength and conditioning coach as the “Yoda” of the staff, an ombudsman of sorts that the rest of the coaches look up to. Galt has spent 25 years at the collegiate level and boasts nearly 40 athletes that he trained that are currently in the NFL, including Vernon Davis and Darrius Heyward-Bey who rank among the Top 10 in NFL Combine history at the 40-yard dash. Davis holds the record for a tight end at 4.36 while Heyward-Bey’s 4.30 is one of the fastest of all time for a wideout.