Technically speaking, there is still only one head coach at Penn State.
But James Franklin made it very clear at Thursday morning’s media day press conference that offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and defensive coordinator Brent Pry carry the same weight within their respective units.
“Joe Moorhead is the head coach of the offense,” said Franklin. Moorhead, of course, was Fordham’s head coach from 2012-15, during which he turned the Rams into one of the most prolific offensive threats in the FCS.
“The biggest thing that jumps out to me right away is that you have a (former) head coach that is running the offense like a head coach. He has that type of experience. Not only does he have the knowledge of the X’s and O’s and schemes, but he’s also motivating and he’s leading,” he added.
“The assistant coaches are the head coaches of their position. But I think it’s different when you’ve actually got a guy who has coached before, and is bringing those experiences now back to this role.”
Pry, also referred to as “the head coach of the defense” by Franklin, entered his new role this season after the departure of Bob Shoop to Tennessee. Franklin said that the defensive players “lobbied” for Pry to be promoted internally, which sweetened the situation for the head coach.
The defensive coordinator said he’s essentially taken the same principles he’s used on a micro level when coaching specific positions, and expanded them to fit the entire defensive system.
“I keep getting asked the question, ‘What’s changed for me or what’s different,’” said Pry, who previously coached Penn State’s linebacker unit and will continue to retain that role as well as that of defensive coordinator. “Whether it’s been (by position) or as a coordinator, it’s always been the same: You’re the leader in that room.
“What changed for me, when I became the coordinator, yes there are some leadership things in that staff room … some decisions that ultimately rest with me, there is some planning that is initiated by me, but probably the biggest adjustment is instead of 12 or 13 guys, I’m leading a room full of 45.”
Linebacker Jason Cabinda, who has a special bond with Pry, said later that afternoon that he’s seen almost a seamless transition from his coach.
“Obviously coach Pry has been my guy, been my coach since I got here,” he said. “He brings a great amount of leadership to the defense and the transition was so smooth because we had already built that trust with him. That’s a dude who has really earned his position.”
Franklin said that while Pry was an “ideal” internal promotion, it has been good for the program to have new faces with new ideas that still align with the big picture he sees for Penn State.
So, enter Moorhead.
The coordinator said he believes he and Franklin are “philosophically similar” and that was noticed by both he and the head coach early in the interview process last winter. And, he is able to run his unit like that of a head coach, according to Franklin.
So instead, the biggest challenge Moorhead has faced has not been adapting to becoming a coordinator again, but installing his uptempo spread offense within the time limits provided him by NCAA regulations — 15 practices in the spring, thus far. Coaches are not allowed to run official practices outside of that allotment. Franklin and the staff were also on the road for most of June at various satellite camp stops.
“It’s gone very well throughout the spring, in all the installation meetings. … We are 100 percent on the same page,” Moorhead said of the rest of the coaching staff adapting to his scheme.
“Just the time more than anything (has been a challenge). There’s a ton that you want to get done. … You’re always looking for more time.”
New offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and defensive backs coach Tim Banks have also lent external voices and experience in coordinator positions to the development of the staff.
“(Matt) being a coordinator before and going back to being assistant coach (both at the University of Minnesota), I think you’re a better assistant coach after being a coordinator,” said Franklin. “I think very similar to how coach Moorhead, I think is a better coordinator now after being a head coach, he’s a better assistant after being a head coach. Whenever you have those experiences where you’re able to look at things from a different perspective; help in growth. I think Matt’s brought all those things to the table.”
So, staff transitions aside, Franklin enters fall camp with confidence he has found the right mix entering his third year at Penn State.
“I love our staff,” he said. “I’ve loved all the staffs that I’ve had over the last five years, but I think this staff is really specific to Penn State and I’m excited about it.”