At PSU, Roof move sign of times
A week ago, Bill O’Brien was preparing an extended statement to the media on his reasoning for interviewing with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns and his desire to remain the head football coach at Penn State.
During the session that was designed to clear the air but really served to fuel suspicion that O’Brien probably won’t be here long, the coach talked about the value of staff stability but countered that by saying, “It’s important for these guys to want to move up the ladder,” and concluded he didn’t expect changes this year.
Two days later, Ted Roof, his defensive coordinator and one of his best friends, took a similar position at Georgia Tech.
So get used to this offseason pattern of change, rumored and/or real, for as long as O’Brien is in the blue and white saddle.
Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing will be determined in time. What can be determined now is that this is obviously a much different approach to running a college football program than what Penn State has ever experienced.
In the short term, there’s an opening to fill, presumably for a secondary coach, and recruiting commitments secured by Roof to either solidify or replace.
O’Brien moved as decisively as he has since taking the job by naming defensive backs and special teams coordinator John Butler the new coordinator the same day it was announced that Roof was leaving.
Roof’s move isn’t all that surprising since he’s going back to his home state and alma mater, and Tech will be his fourth team (this is almost funny) since 2011, having left Auburn in ’11, landed for a month or so at Central Florida, hopped to PSU and now Georgia Tech. The guy’s a real-estate agent’s dream.
Then again, based on coming here as a favor to O’Brien, does Roof know that BOB may be on the move sooner than later and, consequently, want to land softly on his own terms? Time will tell there, too.
Some have wondered why Larry Johnson or Ron Vanderlinden weren’t selected as the new coordinator. Butler made a point to mention and praise both in a teleconference. By the way: After two defensive coordinators in 34 years, Butler is Penn State’s fifth in the last 14 months, dating back to Tom Bradley, interim co-coordinators Johnson and Vanderlinden and Roof.
The selection of Butler shouldn’t be too surprising in that maybe O’Brien didn’t want to pick one of the holdovers over the other, maybe he views Butler more as one of his own guys, maybe he wanted an up-and-coming coordinator in his early 40s (closer to O’Brien’s age of 43) than Vandy or LJ, who are in their mid-50s and early 60s, respectively.
Other than Stephen Obang-Agyapong and his fellow DBs not catching the ball early in the season, Butler drips enthusiasm and did a nice job with a young secondary, which improved as the season unfolded.
His desire to prove himself will have to balance his inexperience at quickly calling defenses against offenses that likely will not be as fast-paced as O’Brien’s NASCAR. Either way, there will be a learning curve, just as there was for O’Brien, especially in the early part of the season.
More top college programs operate this way than the way Penn State used to, with assistants, for better or worse, often in the same role for double-digit years.
It adds up to a totally different mindset, with fresh faces and new opportunities, and one in which the Penn State administration – current and new once the new president is in place – had better understand.
When the NFL’s interest in O’Brien crescendoed to the interviewing stage, acting Athletic Director Dave Joyner said last week that, contrary to reports, he had not, in fact, developed a short list of potential head-coaching candidates.
If that’s true – and it can’t be – Joyner is the last person to get the memo that times are changing at Penn State.