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Change part of new normal for PSU football

Commentary

December 5, 2013
Neil Rudel (nrudel@altoonamirror.com) , The Altoona Mirror

One of the hallmarks of the Joe Paterno era was the stability of his coaching staff.

In fact, in the twilight of his career, after the 2009 season, in making a point about how fortunate he was to keep his staff together, Paterno said during his entire tenure, he had pushed out only two assistant coaches.

That's why Tuesday's confirmation of a Monday night report that Ron Vanderlinden and Charlie Fisher would no longer be part of the Nittany Lions' coaching staff took most off guard.

The departures were termed resignations, and Bill O'Brien thanked Vanderlinden and Fisher for their efforts and wished them the best. Vanderlinden and Fisher did the same.

The point here is not to split hairs on whether the resignations were entirely voluntary.

The season, which ended on a major high note at Wisconsin, was wrapped up less than 48 hours before news broke so logic would suggest some pre-meditation was involved.

At the same time, we are not privy to hiring arrangements, previous understandings, behind-the-scenes assessments both in scheming and recruiting, shared vision and passion, contentment or individual future plans.

In my dealings with both Vanderlinden and Fisher, both were quite professional, and their respective positions - linebacker and quarterback - were very well coached.

Vandy had a great track record and can boast products such as Paul Posluszny, NaVorro Bowman, Sean Lee, Dan Connor, Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges.

Though O'Brien is extremely hands-on with the quarterbacks, Fisher deserves credit, too, for the success of Matt McGloin and now Christian Hackenberg.

All eyes will be on their replacements, and with recruiting in high gear, don't be surprised if the voids are filled sooner than later (unless one or both of them have an NFL season to complete.)

O'Brien has an open-door policy, and he prides himself on communication so even if he didn't initiate this, it's likely that he's been preparing for this possibility.

The former head coach at Maryland (1997-2000), Vanderlinden stayed at PSU longer than he had been anywhere else. He had been involved with a couple of head-coaching openings in the past and was also bypassed in favor of John Butler for the Lions' current defensive coordinator role after Ted Roof left a year ago.

In an interview before the season, Vanderlinden said he was content as a position coach, but having been a head coach and a coordinator may have created a tougher transition this year.

Plus the defense didn't play well until November.

In that regard, change can be positive. As we look back at JoePa's reign, obviously the staff became complacent, needed a periodic influx of new ideas and lost its collective recruiting edge.

Most coaching staffs at all levels endure movement, voluntary or otherwise, and while it may be a departure from past practices, that doesn't make it wrong.

As with all coaching hires and maneuvers, it will take at least through next season to assess, but with three changes in two years, what we're seeing now is the new normal.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

 
 

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