Ron Vanderlinden might be one of the most unsung assistant coaches in college football.
Disgraced former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was largely responsible for Penn State earning the "Linebacker U" label, but Vanderlinden has been responsible for helping hone the skills of several of the best linebackers in school history, including current NFL players Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor, Sean Lee and NaVorro Bowman.
Vanderlinden also coached Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern, one of the all-time great college linebackers, and has been in charge of PSU's linebackers since 2001.
One of the biggest differences between the Nittany Lions and Ohio State this season is at the linebacker spots. Penn State has stars Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, along with a solid player in Glenn Carson, while the Buckeyes have had trouble there and even had to move a fullback (Zach Boren) to linebacker.
Vanderlinden, who went 15-29 as Maryland's head coach from 1997-2000, addressed several issues during a teleconference with reporters Thursday.
Q: You and defensive line coach Larry Johnson are the only two holdovers from the previous PSU staff. What's the relationship been like for you two with defensive coordinator Ted Roof and the other new coaches?
A: From day one, Larry and I were both fortunate and appreciative for being given the opportunity to be a part of the new staff at Penn State, and we both accepted our role very well plugging into Coach Roof's defensive structure and system. We both had to learn all the nuances of the defense, and I think we have and continue to grow together. ... I think we've all adjusted well, and both of our roles are to support and implement the defensive structure that Ted's putting in week to week. I think we've both really had a great attitude about doing that and doing it to the best of our ability and will continue to get better at it as time goes on.
Q: How long do you want to keep coaching, and do you still have aspirations to be a head coach?
A: I think any assistant coach would love to be a head coach. However, I enjoy the role that I have and enjoy what I'm doing, and I hope to coach another 10 years. I feel like I'm still a young man.
Q: With all the success of Penn State linebackers in the NFL, what does that say about PSU continuing to be "Linebacker U?"
A: I just feel great that we've had the success we've had, and I think the credit goes to the players and the character and industriousness and hard work of each individual that's made it and gone on to the NFL. Each has their own story, and I think it's just great for Penn State and it's great for the young men. I've been fortunate to coach them, which makes me look good, but you're only as good as the players you coach, so I've been very fortunate to have coached great guys and great players.
Q: What are you most concerned about with Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller?
A: He is a tremendous athlete who can create on any play and take a broken play and make it into a big play. We're concerned about when he gets outside the pocket and he scrambles to throw, finding receivers downfield and/or just scrambling, and he's just so quick and elusive and can make a huge play running the ball. So he's really a dual threat, and you've got to defend him every single play. You've got to be so alert. Any time the quarterback becomes the ballcarrier, they have an extra hat, so you're really a man down.
Q: How was Gerald Hodges able to transition from safety to linebacker and become such a good player?
A: We moved him to linebacker and played him as a freshman knowing that he was very talented and that he probably wouldn't be here for five [years]. We started the learning process his freshman year, and each year he grew and got better and better, to the point now where he's become a very good linebacker. I think still, though, he's got a lot of growth yet to come and will continue to only get better.
Q: Is there any downside to the incredible enthusiasm and intensity Michael Mauti shows?
A: He's got the right blend of enthusiasm at Penn State, a lot of energy, but he doesn't go overboard where he loses his focus. I think that would always be a concern, somebody is not so revved up that they're just kind of running around crazy, and Mike doesn't do that.
Q: Have you talked to the Cowboys' Sean Lee this week after he went down with a season-ending injury?
A: I was made aware of Sean's injury, but I have not talked to Sean, and hopefully he'll be back soon. I know that's a big loss to his team.