Todd Blackledge will be a busy man this fall and into the winter.
In addition to his duties as a broadcaster and college football analyst for ESPN, the former Penn State quarterback will be coaching his high school alma mater’s boys basketball team.
He won’t be running Penn State’s athletic department and despite reports and speculation on the contrary, was never a candidate to succeed Dave Joyner as Penn State’s athletic director.
Blackledge said Monday that he was never contacted by anyone on Penn State’s search committee about the opening. Instead, Penn State hired former University California AD Sandy Barbour and introduced her at a press conference on Saturday. She officially starts on Aug. 18.
But Blackledge said a group of fellow Penn State alums reached out to him to gauge his interest in the possibility of joining the Nittany Lions’ athletic department. Blackledge said none of them were connected to the national search.
“I did think about it and consider it but not to the point of putting my name in the hopper,” Blackledge said. “I never really would’ve thought that or thought that that was something I wanted to do.
“And had I not (taken the basketball coaching job at Hoover High), I might’ve given it more serious consideration,” Blackledge said. “But I just felt like I had already made that decision and wouldn’t be right to go back on that at that point.”
Blackledge was humbled by the thought he would be considered for the job at least by followers of Penn State athletics.
“I love Penn State. I feel very passionate about the school, about the football program, about everything about Penn State,” Blackledge said. “So if it would’ve made sense as something for me to do to help our university go forward, I certainly would’ve given it consideration.”
For now, he’s quite content with his current career path. It’s one that has led him to stints at nearly every major network including two runs with ESPN. And it’s what he envisioned himself doing since he earned a communication degree from Penn State in 1982.
Then, Blackledge traveled to New York City working on an independent study. He interviewed network executives from ABC, NBC and CBS in order to find out what they looked for in a broadcaster. Eventually, he developed his skills enough to fit that mold.
“It takes a lot of preparation if you want to be good at it,” Blackledge said. “You can only fake your way through it or just go based on the fact that you played so much. For me, I’m always looking for, what can I do to take what I do to the next level? How can I get better? What area can I grow in? Like any job.”
This offseason he’s worked to better familiarize himself with two of college football’s powerhouse programs. He spent time in Alabama with the Crimson Tide defensive staff to get a better understanding of what they are doing to consistently produce the strong defensive teams that have helped net them three national championships in the last five years. Blackledge also did some of the same with Auburn’s offensive coaches.
For him, Blackledge said, it’s about bringing the game to the audience as best he can.
“I don’t want to be the story,” Blackledge said. “The story is the guys playing, the guys coaching. That’s the story and I want to try and anticipate the game and feel the game the best way that I can.”
Franklin tempers hype for Hackenberg
Like most of college football observers who follow Penn State closely, Blackledge is especially interested in seeing quarterback Christian Hackenberg’s development this season.
“He’s a fun guy to watch,” Blackledge said. “He’s got all the intangibles, all the measurables — the size, the arm strength, the mobility. He loves the game and he wants to work at it to be great. It’s going to be interesting to see.”
Hackenberg will enter his sophomore year with a record-setting freshman campaign to his name in which he won the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award. But Penn State coach James Franklin has been quick and consistent in tempering expectations for his talented – but young – quarterback.
Franklin — who played quarterback at East Stroudsburg — was asked straight up if he thinks Hackenberg is the best quarterback talentwise in the country. Franklin chuckled from behind the podium and offered a few observations while acknologing the hype his quarterback’s received since his days at Fork Union Military Academy.
“The thing that I’m most impressed is how humble and how hungry and how open he is to coaching,” Franklin said. “I think Billy O’Brien and our staff did a really good job of teaching concepts. That’s kind of what we believe is you teach the game from a big picture perspective. So now we come in, there’s a lot of similar philosophies, but he understands concepts of football. But I’ve been very impressed with him.”
Franklin said one of the focuses during the team’s training camp that starts on Aug. 4 is to develop some depth and skill around Hackenberg. The team’s dynamic, record-breaking receiver Allen Robinson is gone and Penn State will have to break in a whole new group of targets other than Geno Lewis.
In addition, Hackenberg will be protected by an offensive line that is likely to feature four new starters with only left tackle Donovan Smith returning. Originally very close with O’Brien, known for his ability to get the most from his quarterbacks, Hackenberg will now take his cues from Franklin and new offensive coordinator John Donovan. He’ll also be instructed by new position coach in Ricky Rahne.
That much turnover can test a quarterback trying to avoid a sophomore slump, Blackledge said.
“I don’t think he’ll struggle but he’s got some adapting to do,” Blackledge said. “New coach, coordinator, young offensive line, no more Allen Robinson. It’ll be interesting to watch his development. I really enjoy watching him play.”
Meyer, Buckeyes happy
to have Larry Johnson
Urban Meyer knew exactly what he was getting when he offered former Penn State mainstay Larry Johnson a spot on his coaching staff.
In Meyer’s words — a “top-shelf coach” who commands “great respect” and is a “very good recruiter.” They are all qualities that led Meyer to give Johnson the title of assistant head coach in addition to his responsibilities coaching defensive linemen.
“The players love him already,” Meyer said. “There’s an incredible trust and esprit de corps in the D-line room right now. He walked into a good situation. He’s got a good mix of young and old players in that room.”
Johnson coached at Penn State from 1996 until this past winter. Johnson was named interim coach after Bill O’Brien left for the NFL’s Houston Texans and eventually interviewed for Penn State’s coaching vacancy. Penn State instead hired James Franklin and Johnson surfaced with Ohio State in mid January.