Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry sat down at the Beaver Stadium media room dais with an aware grin, looking up at the TV cameras and recorders surrounding him. He knew what was coming.
Are you staying at Penn State?
Pry — who was rumored to be leaving Happy Valley — clasped his hands, hesitated for a brief second and set the record straight.
“Yeah, I’m staying at Penn State,” Pry said. “Looking forward to the bowl game and excited to be off the road and get into practice mode, big time.”
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The practice field ought to be a welcomed sight for Pry, coming off a whirlwind couple of weeks filled with recruiting and reading headlines about his future whereabouts.
On Dec. 6, it was reported by Sports Illustrated’s Bruce Feldman that Pry was “getting consideration” for the head coaching vacancy at Louisiana-Lafayette. On Thursday afternoon, Ben Love of 103.7 The Game in Louisiana said he was “the guy” for the job and that it would be announced the following day.
Pry — who served as the Ragin Cajuns’ defensive coordinator from 2002-06 and won a Sun Belt title in 2005 — said there was “mutual interest early in the process.” He called Lafayette a “special place,” with his wife originally being from the area.
But Penn State’s defensive coordinator said he, his wife and his daughters love Penn State and the family environment.
“You can’t read too much into what’s out there on social media. It’s that time of year,” Pry said of the wild coaching carousel that dominates college football’s pre-bowl landscape. “It’s normally a smidge twisted one way or another. ... You’d like to have discretion, but it’s hard. So much of what’s out there is inaccurate. It’s tough ground to maneuver. You don’t want misconceptions and you don’t want feelings hurt and you don’t want people thinking or believing the wrong thing or inaccurate information. It’s difficult waters to tread. But like everything that we do, we want to hit things head-on, be up-front, be mindful of others and do the best we can that way.”
That includes keeping current players in the loop and, perhaps more importantly, being straight-forward with recruits when taking in-home and high school visits.
Pry and head coach James Franklin, oddly enough, spent Thursday in the car together checking in on prospects in the region. Franklin said during that time, he spoke with Pry about family and career opportunities.
Franklin said he “kind of feels split” about Pry someday moving on and becoming a head coach.
“Brent’s my guy. Brent’s obviously been a valued part of our staff since Day 1 for seven years. He’s one of my best friends,” Franklin said. “I want what’s best for Brent Pry and his family, but I also want what’s best for Penn State and Penn State football. I’m kind of conflicted on that, personally and professionally.
“Whenever you have really good people who are talented at what they do, people are going to pursue them and, in some ways, try to steal some of our success that we’ve had the last couple of years.”
Pry’s defense has certainly contributed to that success.
This season, Penn State ranks No. 7 nationally in scoring defense, allowing 15.5 points per game. The Nittany Lions are fourth in college football in fumbles recovered (14), eighth in sacks per game (3.17), 17th in rush defense (119.2 yards per game), and 26th in both third-down conversion defense (33.5 percent) and tackles for loss per contest (7.1). In 2016, Pry’s unit ranked ninth nationally in tackles for loss per game (8.1) and helped guide Penn State to its first outright Big Ten title since 1994.
“We get to keep this thing rolling,” redshirt junior cornerback Amani Oruwariye said.
As Franklin hinted at, though, it is somewhat of a double-edged sword for the program. That kind of success is surely craved, but the natural side effect — coordinators leaving for bigger and better — is less-than-ideal.
“I know ultimately that’s any coach’s dream,” senior linebacker Brandon Smith said. “One day, he’s going to deserve that shot.”
But at least for the Fiesta Bowl and 2018 season, Pry is a Nittany Lion.
Despite interest from Louisiana-Lafayette, he isn’t going to make that head coaching step. Not yet.
And Pry is just fine with that.
“I don’t sit behind my desk thinking about being a head coach. I’ve never thought about the next job to be honest. Things have kind of worked out, and I’m going to stick to that philosophy,” the defensive coordinator said. “This is a very special place. I’m not sure I could be anywhere better than the job I’m sitting in right now.”