James Franklin describes himself as a “fiercely loyal” individual. He’s lived up to that quality in his brief time as Penn State’s head football coach.
Franklin formally introduced his assistant coaches during a press conference at Beaver Stadium on Friday. Eight of the nine coached with Franklin at Vanderbilt and seven were on Franklin’s last two staffs.
Joining Franklin are Bob Shoop (defensive coordinator/safeties), John Donovan (offensive coordinator/tight ends), Charles Huff (running backs), Brent Pry (linebackers), Josh Gattis (receivers), Herb Hand (offensive line), Ricky Rahne (quarterbacks), Terry Smith (cornerbacks) and Sean Spencer (defensive line).
Dwight Galt was named the team’s director of performance enhancement and Penn State’s strength and conditioning coach. He’ll be joined by Barry Gant Jr. and Chuck Losey. Meanwhile, Brian Bell and Dwight Galt IV, two holdovers from Craig Fitzgerald’s strength and conditioning crew, remain on the staff.
“What I was looking for is, really, familiarity,” Franklin said. “Guys that I’ve worked with or known for a very, very long time, guys that I trust, guys that I know how they’re going to interact with the players and these young men that we’re working with. How these guys are going to be in the community and also have a connection with Penn State from a lot of different perspectives.”
And those connections are numerous.
Three of Franklin’s assistants are Pennsylvania natives while another one is a former Nittany Lion. Shoop is from Oakmont while Pry is from Altoona.
Smith is from Monroeville and lettered for Joe Paterno’s teams from 1988 to 1991.
The assistants who followed Franklin from Vanderbilt all said they did not hesitate to join him in Happy Valley when asked. Likewise, Smith was eager to take the job at his alma mater when it was offered to him on Sunday.
“I’m tremendously excited about the opportunity to come back home,” said Smith, who was coaching at Temple.
Spencer also brings a Keystone State background to the staff. While Penn State’s new defensive line coach is from Hartford, Conn., Spencer played at Clarion and previously coached at Shippensburg.
Nearly all of Franklin’s assistants will handle multiple roles.
According to Franklin, Donovan, whose offenses have averaged 30 points per game over the past two years, will likely call plays with input from Franklin.
“Offensively, we’re personnel-oriented, pro-style offense,” Donovan said. “Basically, we’re pro terminology. The guys learn the system that’s used at the next level. It has answers. We don’t run dead plays.”
Donovan said he’s excited about the chance to work with quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who will enter his sophomore season having won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award after a breakout debut campaign under Bill O’Brien, now with the NFL’s Houston Texans.
“I know it’s hard for him because he had such a tight relationship with Coach O’Brien,” Donovan said. “I was fortunate enough to work with Coach O’Brien in two spots, Georgia Tech and Maryland. So I’ve had communication with him and he loves that kid. I think he feels better about guys that he knows that are here now that will take care of that kid and teach him the right way and keep him progressing the way he will and should.”
Meanwhile, Shoop will look to improve a Penn State defense that finished 48th nationally in total defense last season.
The Commodores finished in the Top 25 in total defense in each of the past three seasons with Shoop leading the unit. He plans to install the same aggressive schemes at Penn State.
A Yale graduate, Shoop described himself as a “guy who loves being in the film room.” He’s already watched film on Penn State’s defense from last season, and said defensive backs Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas and linebacker Mike Hull have stood out to him.
“Our identity is, we’re an in-your-face style of defense that’s going to be fun to watch and even more fun for our players to play, I promise you that,” Shoop said. “It is based on two premises: Relentless pursuit and never-ending pressure.”
Penn State specialists will have one voice to listen to for the first time in their careers. Huff will coordinate Penn State’s special teams in addition to his duties with the running backs. Multiple coaches worked with specialists on O’Brien’s and Joe Paterno’s staffs.
“I think having a special teams coordinator brings an identity to the special teams,” Huff said. “Special teams is not where you get first down, second down, third down. You’re out there for six seconds, come off the ball and make it happen. Flying around, trying to keep it as simple as possible to let these guys run around and have fun with being fundamentally sound and making sure they’re where they’re supposed to be.”
Franklin has also narrowed recruiting responsibilities among his staff.
Smith is the team’s defensive recruiting coordinator while Gattis takes on the same role on the other side of the ball.
“Every single coach will recruit a portion of the state,” Franklin said. “They’ll also have an area that is a regional area that is drivable, and they’ll have the ability to recruit nationally by position. So we’ve started to have some discussions on that, but nothing’s set in stone. We want to play to our strengths as much as we possibly can with staff.”