Passionate PSU assistants thrilled for opportunity

You want to know one of the biggest reasons to be highly optimistic about the future of Penn State football?

The assistant coaches.


They’re hungry. And appreciative.

This is the opportunity they’ve been waiting for their entire careers. After working their way up the coaching ladder, most at multiple random places off the beaten path, they’ve finally landed at a true destination program.

They weren’t born with a silver coaching spoon in their mouths, nor did they play at prestigious schools that ensured them jobs there at some point.

These guys have scratched and clawed their way to Happy Valley, bringing with them long resumes where they’ve learned their craft far beneath the radar of casual college football fans.

James Franklin gets a ton of recognition as one of the nation’s best up-and-coming head coaches. But with the way he delegates and trusts the guys on his staff, there’s no doubt the assistant coaches’ efforts will be very instrumental in any success PSU enjoys under Franklin.

“In my opinion, it’s the greatest program in college football,” linebackers coach and Altoona native Brent Pry said. “I grew up with so much admiration for it. I think throughout my coaching career, I’ve always carried some of what Penn State is about with me. So a chance to come here has been a real blessing.”

“I’m from Pittsburgh, so representing the state university of Pennsylvania is a thrill,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “The history and tradition of Penn State football is just incredible. I respect and admire the history of the program like you can’t even imagine. I just really want to help do my part to take Penn State football to the next level.”

And perhaps the best for last …

“Growing up, I looked at people that worked here and said, ‘Wow, they work at Penn State,'” defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. “Now I realize that I’m part of the elite. I always wanted to be at Penn State, and I’m tremendously privileged to be able to work here.”

Pry worked at places such as East Stroudsburg, Western Carolina, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette.

Shoop worked at Northeastern, Villanova, Yale and UMass.

Spencer worked at Shippensburg, Trinity, Hofstra and Holy Cross.

Many of the other assistants have made similar stops, and as with any profession, sometimes it just takes the right connection in order to land the dream job. These guys made that connection with Franklin, who greatly values them and brought most of them along with him from Vanderbilt.

“I am fiercely loyal as a person in general, and I’m going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I’ve worked with in the past,” Franklin said about his assistants upon getting the job at PSU.

Loyalty can work two ways.

Joe Paterno was extremely loyal to his assistant coaches, to the degree where they not only had what amounted to lifetime jobs, but also an agreement for three years’ salary after his tenure ended.

That was whether they still could do the job at a high level or not.

Clearly, some of them couldn’t.

And the program suffered for it.

Penn State was fortunate to have tremendous assistants such as Tom Bradley, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden carrying the load for so many years, but there was so much other dead weight on the staff that it led to an obvious level of underachievement.

Bill O’Brien retained Johnson and Vanderlinden and upgraded the overall staff during his two years with the Nittany Lions. He brought in a group of assistants who had extensive success, many at high levels of college or the NFL.

Franklin’s assistants, by and large, don’t have the kind of resumes that O’Brien’s guys had, but again, this group already has displayed a tremendous amount of passion, enthusiasm and willingness to adapt to all aspects of modern-day coaching.

Just check Twitter.

We don’t know all the particulars about these new assistants yet – such as how they will react under different game scenarios – and in that regard the jury is still out on Franklin, as well. The pieces of the puzzle will start to fall into place in Ireland next weekend against Central Florida.

What we do know is this: Each member of the Lions’ current coaching staff has his job because he earned it and will be counted on to perform all aspects of the job at a high level every day.

You’d think that would be a given in major college football, but we all know that hasn’t always been the case at Penn State.

Cory Giger can be reached at (814)?949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.