Generally speaking, it’s safe to say that Penn State’s recruiting process wasn’t the most streamlined in the final years of the Joe Paterno era.
In many respects, former head coach Bill O’Brien’s redistricting of in-state recruiting was one of the most important things that he was able to accomplish in his two short years in Happy Valley. It was a well-defined strategy that his staff bought into 100-percent.
And that’s something that has stayed constant under changing regimes between O’Brien and now head coach James Franklin. While their philosophies on running the program appear to be quite different, both Franklin and O’Brien understood the importance of improving in-state recruiting when they each took the job. The alignment of districts might be different, but it’s all hands on deck when it comes to, as Franklin says, “dominating the state.”
So how is Franklin taking on the challenge of in-state recruiting?
Nine districts. Nine coaches.
Similar to the way things worked under O’Brien, each assistant coach on Franklin’s staff will recruit an area of the state, chipping in elsewhere as needed. And visits aren’t wasted time and energy. If Penn State makes a trip to the western edge of the state to visit one recruit, staffers making the trip will visit other schools as well — just to maintain a working relationship with high schools across the state. You simply never know when and where talent will pop up.
- Offensive line coach Herb Hand will take care of the northwest corner of the state, covering nine counties on his own.
- Cornerbacks Coach Terry Smith will cover a region he knows well from his days at Gateway High School, taking care of the southwest corner of the state and six counties.
- Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop will manage the largest region of the state dealing with 14 counties starting on the state’s southern boarder and working as far north as Clarion county.
- Running backs coach Charles Huff will cover the top half of the state including Centre County and six counties above it.
- Offensive coordinator John Donovan is responsible for the the seven counties just east of Centre Country leaving all but the far eastern boarder of the state covered.
- Quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne will deal with the top northeast corner of the state covering eight counties.
- Defensive line coach Sean Spencer will manage a good portion of the surrounding Philadelphia area with five counties just north of the most southeastern corner of the state.
- Offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis will clean up the map in three counties in the Philadelphia area.
“First of all, we’re going to go wherever we have to go to find players,” Franklin said earlier this year. “If that is Denmark, if that is Japan, wherever we have to go to find players we’re going to do it. I think some of our recruits are trying ‑‑ some of our coaches are trying to decide — who is going to recruit Hawaii and places like that … the Bahamas has just started big‑time football.
“We’re going to go where we have to. Our job is to do a great job in this state, I think you guys have heard that before and in this region, as well, Penn State has done historically a great job six hours from campus but on top of that we want to recruit nationally by position.
“So we’re not going to have a coach necessarily assigned to Idaho, but if there is a great player from the state of Idaho and he’s at your position you better know who he is and that’s kind of the philosophy we’re taking, that’s how we will cover the rest of the country.”
“We have a pretty thorough evaluation process,” Smith said. “The position coach will evaluate the kid. The recruiting coordinator on that side of the ball will evaluate the kid and then the coordinator on that side of the ball will evaluate him along with the head coach. There is a lot of evaluation that goes into each player and they all have to pretty much say the same thing and meet eye-to-eye for an offer to come down.”
So far the “divide and conquer” approach has worked. Penn State’s seven man 2015 recruiting class has five players from within the state and three of those five are rated at the four-star level.