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Penn State Potluck - Pasta Course

On Sunday afternoons, we sat down to a long, multi-course Italian dinner. After appetizers came pasta. That's when the real discussions began. In this edition of the Potluck, we're going to talk assistant important are they and when is it okay to part ways?

Here in the east, when we sit down to a big meal, pasta comes next. Starchy goodness that sets the tone for the rest of the meal... so let's talk assistant coaches.

At the end of last year, we canned our OC, John Donovan. From the time he showed up with James Franklin, Donovan appeared lost. He struggled to adapt his system to his players. He forced his plays on the players...a group that was moving to its third system in three years.

As we saw last year, it was barely successful. That Jet Sweep though...ugh.

So he got canned, but not without some controversy.. According to one local news source, "John Donovan was Scapegoat for Rebuild that will Take Longer than Penn State Fans can Accept". He goes on to say that not only was Donovan's firing unnecessary, it wasn't good.

He also jumps on his soapbox with this line, "Joe Paterno would not have simply tossed an assistant to the curb under pressure."

I say this guy is full of shit. Donovan needed to go. I mean, who can forget two years of this?

He was outclassed by the defenses in the B1G. His play calling was atrocious, as was his time management. If you watched any of the PSU games this year, you know what I mean. Hackenberg clearly wasn't getting the calls in time to get to the line and change his protections.

So, what's your take? Can you separate the success or failure of an offense from the OC? Did the sanctions mitigate the severe underperformance of the offense under Donovan? Would you throw a coordinator under the bus if his group sucked?

Aaron Yorke: I don't get all the hate for John Donovan. His play calling wasn't perfect, but fans from every school complain about play calling. It's the one part of the coaching process we can visualize and see the result of right away. What made Donovan's job so difficult last year and the offense's execution so poor was that the whole operation was run by a quarterback who threw a gorgeous deep ball but couldn't complete a six-yard pass on 3rd-and-5. Maybe once or twice against Illinois, but not consistently enough to move the chains against the top opponents.

But maybe that was due to the play calling? Who really knows? I know that Donovan did a great job calling plays against Northwestern, when a trick play resulted in a touchdown along with two "Wildcat" plays that he used in the red zone because Christian Hackenberg's accuracy is probably worse when the defense doesn't have to worry about the deep ball. Penn State lost that game because Hackenberg threw a brutal interception in field goal range and the line couldn't get enough push to melt the clock on 3rd-and-1 late in the fourth quarter.

I can't totally separate Donovan's job from the offense's as a whole, and that's why it was silly to fire him after two years. To properly judge a coach, you have to see him with more than one group of players. The group we just saw graduate or enter the NFL Draft wasn't good enough to beat Ohio State or Michigan State even with a brilliant coach running the offense. That can't be proven, it's just my best educated guess.

Here's another educated guess: David Jones is right and Donovan was indeed fired as a scapegoat. The fans wouldn't stop whining about him and the athletic department heard them and put pressure on James Franklin to make a change. At least that's how I imagine it went down. Maybe Franklin just reads Twitter too much, but I'm thinking the head coach and coordinator were together too long to force a split over a couple of lousy seasons with a stiff quarterback behind a lousy offensive line.

Oh well. Just because the Donovan firing was stupid doesn't mean that Joe Moorhead won't be better at the job. I can't wait for Penn State to score points this year and for everyone to say "OMG if Hackenberg had Moorhead, he would have been a top draft pick!" You heard it here first.

GF3: If OSU's experience taught us anything over the past two years, it's that the OC makes or breaks the offense. Without a doubt. If Tom Herman had remained in Columbus, OSU would have been back to back national champs. Nobody had more talent, and in the absence of Herman, nobody squandered more talent. PSU was absolutely hamstrung by the OC. A team with Hackenberg and a stable of decently capable backs put up 20 points against Army. Army! My Army team that loses to FCS squads! That was an atrocious showing and it almost got away from Penn State. There's simply no reason for a team with the good-not-great-but-good-nonetheless talent PSU had to put up such shameful outings over and over. Hold on--ok, sorry, I had to pause to watch Penn State run another bubble screen for 1.5 yards.

Donovan wasn't "thrown under the bus." He was fired for failing to perform his role effectively. That's how life works. Sanctions? Sanctions-shmanctions. He had talent on the field. He lacks talent between the ears.

DJ: Donovan was clearly out classed as an OC as the likes of Randy Edsall were able to find ways to defend his offense.  It appeared that PSU's offense was at its best when Hackenberg was making the plays up as he went as opposed to the short, quick passing game that Franklin and Donovan prefer. That being said, it's also hard to know what he was calling at times because the offensive line was so inept that I doubt there was much time for anyone to make progressions through routes and make a play.  It's hard to make a read on the situation with a lack of OL talent to allow for plays to progress, especially when only two rushers can take on seven pass protectors and still manage a sack.

Stew: OC's matter, no doubt, but they really should just be an extension of the head coach.  The head coach sets the terms and dictates the style and strategy for the OC.  Donovan may not have been capable, but some of that falls on Franklin, too.  At some point, it's a mix of what the OC does, the HC's vision for the team, the players' fit for the system, and the players' talent and ability to execute.  I think there was legitimate deficits in all areas.  That Donovan was fired is unsurprising and justified.  However, that doesn't mean a new OC is going to be a panacea to fix the rest of the issues.

C4B: Would I throw a coordinator under the bus if the unit he was coaching failed to live up to its promise? Uh, yeah. It doesn't always work out, but sometimes, you have to keep trying different things until something good happens (aka the story of Indiana's defense).

Brian: Coordinators are absolutely critical to a team's success. But having said that, the competency of coordinators is often a product of the competency of the head coach. Successful head coaches tend to employ capable assistants and further, tend to replace assistants when they move on to bigger and better things (think OSU's Tom Herman and MSU's Pat Narduzzi) rather than as last ditch effort to shake things up when things aren't going well - the organizational equivalent of a Hail Mary. The fact that a coach has to replace a floundering coordinator says as much about the head coach, in most cases, as the coordinator. Did Michigan's defense improve when it replaced Scott Schafer with Greg Robinson? Did its offense improve when it replaced Al Borges with Doug Nussmeier? There are exceptions, it didn't hurt Mark Dantonio when he replaced the embattled Dan Roushar (who wasn't let go, but whose departure was not exactly mourned in East Lansing) and Lane Kiffin didn't exactly derail Nick Saban's Crimson Tide, but more often than not, replacing coordinators is an act of desperation that, like the Hail Mary itself, is more than likely to fail. I'm not suggesting James Franklin is on his way out of Happy Valley, just don't expect miracles with the new OC.

AlNamiasIV: John Donovan had to go, but canning coordinators is the last refuge of a coach who is desperate. The coordinators are an extension of the head coach. The head coach initially liked what he saw, he hired the coordinator, and whether the head coach is a micromanager or a delegator, the coordinator is carrying out his orders.

And no, the sanctions did not mitigate the underperformance of the offense. Bill O'Brien's offense did fine with the sanctions more severely in place.

As an aside, I will note that the writer of the article is still doing exactly what caused Bill O'Brien to want out of State College: to continue to hold the coaches to the Joe Pa standard, a standard which, yeah, has been tarnished to the point of irredeemability.

Speth: (at 4 am local time, is a level of drunk only a Wisconsinite could understand) Dear God, I deserve a raise for remembering I swore to do this potluck. Oh it's a pasta course? IDGAF. What's the question? IDGAF. Penn State pisses me off more than any other Big Ten team I barely have passing interest in. Why? Because your sanctimonious fan base acts like you're better than you actually are. In my memory you're the 7th best team in the this conference. And guess what? I'm 6 plus years older than the average high school recruit. In my memory Wisconsin, OSU, MSU, Nebraska (I remember Eric Crouch), Michigan (remember that time Brady Hoke won the Orange Bowl?), and Iowa have been better than you. And understand how much it makes me ill to admit that Iowa has good seasons the last 15 years. And yet you piss on Maryland and Rutgers. I remember Maryland won an ACC title under the Fridge. Guess how many outright B1G titles I remember PSU winning? Less than 1. Congrats, you were good before I was born under a coach who is dead. Wisconsin's won 3 conference titles since the coach who is the current AD "retired". Get a grip PSU fans, you're a wannabe decent B1G East program. You're the B1G equivalent of Arkansas. /rant over