Rudel: Father’s pride: Jim Pry shares in son’s success

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Throughout his football coaching career, Brent Pry has never had to go too far for advice.

In the early years, it was across the kitchen table. Now, it’s still just a phone call away.

Pry’s father, Jim, is a lifelong coach whose mentorship of James Franklin as offensive coordinator at East Stroudsburg helped open the door for his son.

Franklin has often talked about the positive influence the Pry family — James, his wife Kathy and now Brent — has had on his career.

That career is currently at its peak as the Nittany Lions (11-2) stand as Big Ten champions, winners of nine straight and poised to take on USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2.

As fate would have it, Jim Pry has already been there. One of his 10-plus coaching stops was four years on the Illinois staff, including when the Illini won the Big Ten in 2007, led by running back (and future Steeler) Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Juice Williams.

“Our (Illini) season was much like what Penn State has had, sort of a Cinderella thing,” Pry, an Altoona native who is in State College for Christmas with Brent and his family, was saying the other day.

With one exception, Jim added, tongue-in-cheek: “We beat Ohio State when they were No. 1 — not No. 2, as I keep reminding Brent.”

The playful father-son rivalry is trumped only by Jim’s pride in the role Brent has played in nurturing the Lions’ vastly improved defense and the success Penn State is currently enjoying.

“I’m so proud of him,” Jim said. “It’s awesome, crazy about how those things happen. I refer to our season at Illinois. You start out, and you don’t know, and three-four games go by, and there’s still some doubt, but as the games get rolling, you do know, and you get into this groove.

“You could just see how (Penn State) was growing leaps and bounds. You could see the confidence just on the TV. Guys were playing faster, especially on defense, reacting and not just thinking. You can see what’s happening. They’re going to do phenomenal (n the future). I’m excited for when this recruiting class becomes playable.”

Jim is currently the offensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman in Florida, where he’s spent the last five years. Though his game times sometimes conflict, he’s kept a close eye on the Nittany Lions.

“I would tape them and watch them when I got home or when we were off, like for the Big Ten championship, I was able to see watch it live,” he said.

He and Brent “absolutely,” talk a lot of football, Jim said.

“When I watch the game, of course I’m on offense, I relate to what they’re doing, and when I see something someone is doing, I’ll bring it up to him,” Jim said. “We talk football and special plays and what happened in games, what turned the game.”

Just like everyone else, Jim has been mighty impressed with the Lions’ offense under Trace McSorley.

“I think McSorley is a great quarterback and will even be better next season,” he said. “Joe Moorhead has done a great job bringing him along. The offense is diverse, and in today’s football world, it’s what you need.”

Having known Franklin for more than 25 years, Jim is not surprised at Penn State’s ascension.

“Over the years, when you had a chance to hear James speak publicly, you could see his growth,” he said. “One thing about James: He’s always going to tell you like it is. There is no hidden agenda. He’s a great leader and a winner. There was absolutely no question, and that’s what’s with him right now — that will to succeed.”

Jim and Kathy did not attend the Big Ten final because their younger son, Jon, was coaching St. Thomas Moore High School at the New Orleans Superdome for the Louisiana state championship.

“They won, and the next day Penn State won the Big Ten,” Jim said. “It was a great weekend in the Pry household.”

A 1969 Altoona Area High School graduate, Jim has always kept in touch with his hometown. The difference now is the spike in excitement since Brent is in the middle of Penn State’s resurgence.

“It’s awesome,” Jim said. “Every place we go, there’s a lot of energy.”

Jim will watch the Rose Bowl on TV, and it will bring back fond memories. He said when the Illini pulled up to the Rose Bowl in 2008, he realized it wasn’t just another game but “the granddaddy of them all.”

And it gave him pause, a coaching lifer who had reached the top of the mountain.

“Dad knows as a coach how difficult it is to have a season like ours,” Brent said. “His was just as special — a surprise team with several exciting wins. But also, he and I, like James, came through small-college ball, so to coach in a Rose Bowl is a dream come true.”

Illinois’ Rose Bowl opponent was also USC, which rolled to a 49-17 win.

If the Nittany Lions can carry the Big Ten flag better this year, even though he might lose some bragging rights to his son, you get the feeling nobody would be more pleased about that than Jim Pry.

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

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