Hackenberg put in tough spot
Penn State has lost its coach, and now freshman quarterback sensation Christian Hackenberg will have a decision to make about whether he wants to remain a Nittany Lion.
Hackenberg stuck by his recruiting commitment to PSU despite the NCAA sanctions because of a strong bond he had established with Bill O’Brien. The prized quarterback prospect then enjoyed a superb freshman season in O’Brien’s offense, so it’s only natural that Hackenberg would be concerned about his future now that O’Brien is gone.
Hackenberg’s father, Erick, has not returned messages from the Mirror but did speak to the Patriot-News of Harrisburg on Wednesday.
“I’m not saying he will or won’t [return], and that sounds bad, but it’s neutral,” Erick Hackenberg said. “He’s still enrolled at Penn State.”
The prevailing notion is that if PSU hires an offensive-minded coach who can help Hackenberg continue to develop, then he would stay with the Lions. If he decides to transfer to another FBS school, he would have to sit out one season.
O’Brien has spoken to Hackenberg since the news broke, although it’s unclear what the coach said to his former quarterback.
What about A-Rob?
Star receiver Allen Robinson’s future already was cloudy as he’s been considering whether to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. With O’Brien gone, Robinson’s desire to return to PSU might have lessened.
“Welp, it’s been real,” Robinson tweeted Wednesday, with no elaboration on what he meant.
Robinson set school records with 97 catches for 1,432 yards this season and is projected to be either a late first or early second round draft pick.
Defensive line coach Larry Johnson is now the interim head coach until Penn State makes a hire. But what about the rest of the coaches on the staff?
Receivers coach Stan Hixon is expected to join O’Brien with the Texans, according to reports, and that’s the only other movement on the staff so far. However, new coaches usually want to bring in their own staff, so there’s a good chance most of the PSU assistants will be on their way out.
Johnson, however, would stand as good of a chance as any to be retained by the next head coach, just as he was retained by O’Brien from Joe Paterno’s staff. Johnson has produced numerous All-Americans and NFL players as a position coach, has long been one of the most effective recruiters on the staff and is highly regarded among his peers.
The decision to put Johnson in charge on an interim basis will help the football program maintain some level of consistency during this transition period, which is vital in recruiting and keeping the current players up to speed during the offseason.
Penn State won’t have the luxury this time around to take a long time to find its next coach, as it did when O’Brien was hired after a six-week process.
Typically in these situations, a coaching search can last anywhere from 10 days to two weeks, based on many factors. In this particular case, some of the coaches Penn State might be looking at – such as Vanderbilt’s James Franklin – still have a bowl game to play. The Commodores, by the way, play Houston on Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
There has been none so far, although that could change in the coming days or weeks leading up to national signing day based on who Penn State hires. Several recruits took to Twitter on Wednesday to say they remain committed to PSU, and none have decommitted.
A large number of current and former PSU players have taken to Twitter to express their thoughts since the O’Brien news broke late Tuesday night. The overwhelming sentiment from them has been positive toward O’Brien.
“Coach O’brien is a great coach and great person! Proud to have called him my coach. It was his dream to coach in the NFL, best of luck. #PSU,” linebacker Mike Hull wrote.
“Congratulations to Coach Bill O’Brien. Couldn’t be happier for him and his family,” former guard John Urschel wrote.
“It’s all a business. Don’t forget that,” tight end Kyle Carter wrote.
“Best of luck to Coach O’Brien. We will continue to move forward and fight through challenges as we have before,” tight end Adam Breneman wrote.
“Everybody has their own dreams. Who are you to judge?” former offensive lineman Adam Gress wrote.
Scott Paterno, Joe’s son, also had positive things to say about O’Brien.
“I get some are upset, but in the end Bill gave us two years where we able to just enjoy the games in the midst of all the other crap,” he wrote before adding, “And he helped transition us to post sanctions. The bowl ban is falling soon, the scholarships are coming back – we are on good ground.”