Franklin, Moorhead need to be on same page
Head coaches make the huge money in college football, just as CEOs get the big bucks in corporations and, for most of us, the manager of your office makes a lot more than you do.
But who does the actual work? The grunt work. The daily grind. The nuts and bolts. The stuff that makes the whole operation go.
It’s not the CEO of a corporation. His job is to oversee everything while looking at big-picture stuff. And for many businesses — dare I say the vast majority — it’s not the office manager, but rather the worker bee employees who handle the most essential daily tasks (for lesser pay, too).
That’s how college football works nowadays, too.
The head coach has the big contract and makes millions per year. He’s the face of the team and of the school, really, at most places. He oversees all aspects of the operation.
But the assistant coaches, by and large, are the ones mostly responsible for the finished product we see on the field each week. Not everywhere, mind you, but certainly at places where the head coach is more of a CEO and delegator.
Penn State certainly falls into this category, as James Franklin allows Joe Moorhead to be the head coach of the offense and Brent Pry to be the head coach of the defense. The other assistants also have great responsibility within their areas.
When things are going well, everyone receives praise.
When PSU’s offense was clicking on all cylinders, Moorhead was considered a genius, and we all were wondering when he might leave to take a head coaching job elsewhere.
When it looked like the offensive line would be a strength this season, line coach Matt Limegrover was praised for his work.
Things have changed.
Penn State’s offense inexplicably cannot run the football. Even with Saquon Barkley back there.
Barkley was held to a season-low 35 yards rushing on 14 carries Saturday against Rutgers. And for all intents and purposes, his Heisman Trophy hopes are gone.
Whose fault is it?
Opinions differ. Some say it’s Moorhead’s scheme. Some feel it’s because the offensive line has been pretty awful in run blocking, which ultimately falls on Limegrover, even if the team has dealt with injuries up front.
Like with anything in life, there’s no black and white answer, but instead plenty of gray.
Moorhead’s scheme has flaws. Limegrover hasn’t been able to get the most out of his linemen. Opponents are loading up to stop Barkley, and for myriad reasons, PSU’s coaches haven’t been able to adjust appropriately.
This is where Franklin is put in a difficult spot as the CEO head coach.
Do we know for sure that he’s fully sold on what Moorhead is doing with the run-pass option? Maybe he was a month ago, after a year and a half of great success. But after what’s transpired of late, no one should be surprised if Franklin himself is questioning parts of the scheme, with plans to make changes in the offseason.
Do we know for sure that Moorhead would want to make such changes? He has had great success with his system and has been lauded for it, so it would stand to reason that he would want to stick by it, placing blame for the running struggles on the weak line and/or defensive philosophies as opposed to the shortcomings of his scheme.
There should and probably will be some difficult conversations this offseason between Franklin and Moorhead. That’s if Moorhead is still around, because the possibility of him getting a head coaching job somewhere does remain.
How much can Moorhead push back on whatever changes Franklin might want? Franklin makes $6 million a year and has a new contract extension, but many who follow the PSU program — and Franklin has to know this — believe that Moorhead, above anyone else, is the biggest reason the Lions had the their breakthrough 2016 season.
If Moorhead does return to PSU next season, he must do so with iron-clad ideas to improve the running game by putting the tailback in a better position to succeed, even if the O-line is struggling. He tried a pistol formation for the first time this season Saturday, and it didn’t work.
If Moorhead were to leave for another job, Franklin certainly would be able to hire another good offensive coordinator. He’s always talking about the long list of coaches he has in case he needs to hire somebody, and chances are he already has some people in mind, in case Moorhead does leave in the next year or two or three.
Assistant coaches come and go in college football. Been that way forever. Well, except for at Penn State, where getting a job on Joe Paterno’s staff pretty much meant a lifetime contract.
Keeping the same guys around forever can be problematic, because you wonder if they get too comfortable in the job and lose some desire or work ethic.
But having to bring in new assistant coaches for key positions every few years also can be problematic, too. Especially when the head coach is a CEO type who places an enormous amount of faith in his assistants and gives them great leeway to do their jobs.
If the coaches aren’t quite up to the task — particularly in a grueling division such as the Big Ten East — their shortcomings can leave the head coach vulnerable.
That’s where Franklin now finds himself. He’s done a great job at PSU, and the team is heading to a 10-2 regular season, so anyone calling for changes at the top needs to undergo a reality check.
Still, some changes have to be made within the program, and only time will tell if everyone is on the same page about what needs to be done.
Cory Giger may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org