Franklin’s new coaching staff could have PSU flavor
University PARK – James Franklin is expected to field a 2014 Penn State coaching staff that has a strong 2013 Vanderbilt flavor, but the door seems open, though, for there to be a few faces familiar to Nittany Lion fans returning.
At the top of that list are defensive line coach Larry Johnson and former linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden.
“They are both guys that we’re going to have discussions with,” Franklin said at his introductory press conference on Saturday afternoon.
Johnson and Vanderlinden were perhaps the two most successful assistant coaches in the last decade of the late Joe Paterno’s tenure guiding the Nittany Lions – both put numerous players into the NFL and were Bill O’Brien’s only holdovers. They also were probably the two most popular assistants.
Johnson received a lot of support from players and recruits in interviews and social media since taking over as interim head coach when O’Brien left for the Houston Texans. Keeping him has been high on the wish list of fans that frequent Penn State football message boards.
However, Johnson, who’d been in University Park for 18 years and had a pair of sons star at State College and then go on to play for Penn State, also was interested in becoming the Lions’ 16th head coach and interviewed for the position. When he was passed over, there were published reports that sources close to him said he was very disappointed, although he never made a public statement.
However, his youngest son, Tony, did late last week.
“It’s been a great 18 year run at PSU #weare #ontothenext Thank you to everybody for all the support,text,emails and phone calls,” read a post on Tony Johnson’s Facebook page.
The elder Johnson has been not only a developer of top-notch talent, but he has been the bane of opposing recruiters of defensive linemen and players in general in his home territory in and around Washington, D.C., as Franklin learned while an assistant coach at Maryland several years ago.
“I know Larry very well because he recruited the Maryland/D.C. area and had a lot of success,” Franklin said.
In fact, Johnson was the primary recruiter for seven of the 19 players currently committed to the Lions for 2014.
The bigger question might be where Johnson would fit in on the new staff. Franklin’s defensive line coach at Vanderbilt was Clarion University graduate Sean Spencer. Spencer is highly regarded as both a recruiter and pregame motivator.
Johnson did post on Twitter after Franklin was presented as the new coach.
“Congrats to James Franklin an his family !! Welcome to Penn State ! # next level,” Johnson said.
Vanderlinden, meanwhile, has even deeper ties with Franklin: He hired Franklin to work with the receivers when he was head coach at Maryland in 2000.
“Ron gave me my first opportunity, my first big opportunity,” Franklin said.
Vanderlinden resigned/was relieved of his coaching duties at Penn State by O’Brien last month but still hasn’t landed anywhere. Fans were upset at his departure, which seems to have been a result of just not meshing with O’Brien’s broader vision.
Again, there might have to be some staff juggling to fit Vanderlinden fit back at Penn State. Franklin’s linebackers coach in Nashville was Brent Pry, who also was his assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator.
Pry’s father is an Altoona native and they still have family in the area.
It seems clear, too, that Franklin will be bringing at least a few members of his Commodores staff with him to University Park.
“I am fiercely loyal as a person in general, and I’m going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I’ve worked with in the past,” Franklin said.
According to CBS Sports’ Jeremy Fowler, receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis already has been asked to join Franklin at Penn State. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, offensive coordinator John Donovan and quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne are among the other Vanderbilt assistants who seem likely to be moving north.
With the departure of popular Lion strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald, it also would make sense if Franklin can secure the services of his Vandy strength coach, Dwight Galt. Galt was one of Fitzgerald’s mentors, and Galt’s son was part of the Penn State program.
Offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and tight ends coach John Strollo also might be in a position to stay on.
“I’m a guy that for the last 12 years has been creating a staff. I have a list of receiver coaches and tight end coaches and offensive coordinators and defensive coordinators for the right job and the right fit and the right setting making sure that we’re always prepared,” Franklin said. “I also know that we’re going to sit down and have some discussions with some people that are here. I think there are some people that can help us in the transition, guys that have strong Penn State ties, guys that understand this place.
“We’re going to sit down and talk to current coaches. We’re going to talk to coaches that have Penn State ties,” Franklin added. “My job and my responsibility is to put the best staff together that I possibly can for Penn State University, and that’s what we’ll start doing.”