The Bill O'Brien experience was a brief one for Penn State fans, but it wasn't without its fun moments. After years of conservative play calling and punts on 4th-and-short, the former Patriots offensive coordinator brought an aggressive brand of offense to Happy Valley. He trusted his quarterbacks to make tough throws and was always willing to take the risks necessary to give his undermanned team a shot at victory.
With the Lions refusing to be the doormat they were supposed to become following the NCAA sanctions, O'Brien saw his stock soar through the roof. In seemingly no time at all, he was at the top of many NFL coaching lists. Perhaps fans should feel grateful that he didn't leave after just one season at Penn State.
O'Brien did, of course, leave for the NFL job in Houston after his second year in State College. Penn State didn't waste much time finding a replacement, luring Pennsylvania native James Franklin from Vanderbilt just 12 days after O'Brien departed.
Head Coach James Franklin
Carpe Diem, if you do it right, this is how u should feel at the end of the day! #107kStrong pic.twitter.com/ZBZItUbBTo Great job today guys!— James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) June 22, 2014
The hire of Franklin is paying immediate dividends for Penn State, as the energetic recruiter has quickly built up the fifth-strongest 2015 class in the nation according to Rivals. Franklin attended high school in Langhorne, PA before playing quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, so he's familiar with the Nittany Lion recruiting grounds. I'm still impressed by how well he's recruited in New Jersey, though, especially with Rutgers joining the Big Ten one week from now. Five of Franklin's 17 recruits for 2015 come from the Garden State, and five more come from the Maryland/Washington D.C. area, where Franklin has experience thanks to his days as Maryland's offensive coordinator.
It's clear by now that Franklin is an enthusiastic recruiter who can relate to young athletes, but how will he fare as an in-game coach in a conference full of smart defenses? At Vanderbilt, he was able to recruit enough skilled players to compete with SEC powerhouses, but his teams relied a lot on defense and the running game. Although O'Brien left a fresh stable of halfbacks behind, it's unknown right now if Franklin will be able to fully tap the potential of quarterback Christian Hackenberg and O'Brien's pass-catching tight ends.
That unfamiliarity with O'Brien's pro-style attack is part of the reason Franklin was hired, though. The new coach is supposed to be more of a "rah rah college guy" who won't immediately set his sights on the NFL after his first season above the .500 mark. With expectations rising at Penn State, even if Franklin does look towards the pros as quickly as O'Brien did, it's more likely that the NFL would at least wait for a division title before drooling over him.
Unfortunately, Franklin's relative inexperience as a head coach (just three seasons at Vanderbilt, but he did make it to a bowl game in all three) and style of offense were not the most controversial aspects of his hiring. He was connected to an alleged gang rape at Vanderbilt involving four of his players. Franklin hasn't been charged with anything as of yet, but the shadow of the case will loom over him until it is closed.
Offensive Coordinator John Donovan
Seeing as how he's a serial retweeter who rarely posts anything of his own, it's hard to get a read on Donovan's personality via the internet. What we do know is that he first worked with Franklin at Maryland as the running backs coach before following being promoted to offensive coordinator when he followed Franklin to Vanderbilt. Donovan is working with tight ends in addition to calling plays and running the offense this season. What's interesting about that is that Vandy was such a run-heavy team under Franklin and Donovan, but the Penn State's tight ends aren't used to doing a ton of run blocking.
Penn State has the halfback depth to run all day, but O'Brien and Franklin just combined to bring in four wide receivers to the 2014 class. Will Donovan shift his play calling to better reflect what the offense was like under O'Brien, or will he call a more conservative game like he did at Vanderbilt, when he didn't have a talent like Hackenberg under center?
Defensive Coordinator Bob Shoop
I'm fiercely competitive n wanna win BIG 10 CHAMPIONSHIPS..But Father's Day reminds me that coaching is WHAT I do not WHO I am. #TEAMSHOOP— Bob Shoop (@Coach_ShoopPSU) June 15, 2014
Thanks to Shoop's Twitter account, I imagine him YELLING at everyone, ALL THE TIME. Another guy who worked with Franklin at Vanderbilt, Shoop improved the Commodores' defense drastically during his three seasons with the program. As the safeties coach, his specialty is the secondary, an area for Penn State that has historically been weaker than its talented front sevens.
At the very least, Shoop should be able to keep his players focused on their studies as well as their football duties. After graduating from Yale, he's worked at several institutions where education is a priority, including Army, Boston College, Vandy, and Columbia, where Shoop was head coach for three seasons from 2003 until 2005.
Offensive Line Coach Herb Hand
Quick stop at @PSULionsPride to pick up some swag for my kids followed by lunch at @CanyonPizzaPSU(get the General Tso's slice&thank me L8r)— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) February 3, 2014
You know you're new to State College when you're going to Canyon Pizza at 12:00... in the afternoon.
As the offensive line coach and run game coordinator under Franklin at Vandy, Hand has been a busy man lately, and his job is a very important one in 2014. The Penn State offensive line is going to be very raw no matter which players get starting nods in the season opener, and it is up to Hand to mold the young group into a unit capable of protecting Hackenberg and moving the ball on the ground.
What's really fun about Hand, though, is his Twitter interaction with people who ask for his daughter's phone number, as well as his appearance on a popular Food Network show. Yes, it seems we've got a social media juggernaut in town. Penn State fans can only hope Hand's linemen grow just as powerful as his online presence.
Monday: Cocktail Party Preview
Tuesday: Smartest Guy in the Room
Wednesday: Potluck Part One
Thursday: Potluck Part Two/Smoking Room
Friday: Keeping the Enemy Close