For most of James Franklin’s tenure at Penn State, the only constant seemed to be that the Nittany Lions would enter the season with a brand new offensive coordinator. And for the first time since 2019, that will not be the case. When it comes to Sean Clifford, that would mean he’ll have the same offensive coordinator in two consecutive seasons for the first time in his Nittany Lion career.
To make up for the stability on offense, of course, Penn State now replaces its defensive coordinator this year. Brent Pry, who had led the defense since the 2016 season, became the head coach at Virginia Tech. Pry had been with Franklin since his days at Vanderbilt, so leaving for greener pastures was long overdue.
A few other coaching changes took place in the offseason, but none of them will be as impactful as both the hire of Diaz to lead the defense, and retaining Mike Yurcich on the offensive side. Diaz will have the tools at his disposal through years of adequate recruiting on the defensive side of the ball*, so maintaining a certain level of performance on that side shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility.
Keeping consistency on offense, however, has been something the Nittany Lions have sorely needed since, one could argue, the departure of Joe Moorhead after the 2017 season. Having lost no coaches on the offensive side of the ball means the Nittany Lions can focus on refining what works and fixing what doesn’t, as opposed to learning a new playbook, techniques and terminology, and everything that comes with a change in leadership.
With the offense remaining largely the same coming into the season (for a numbers breakdown feel free to read this old post from when Yurcich was hired), let’s focus on the staff changes on defense:
The aforementioned longtime assistant under James Franklin, Pry left to become the head coach at Virginia Tech. Not unlike Franklin himself, Pry has had his name thrown around for head coaching vacancies for the better part of four years at this point, and it was only a matter of time before he got an offer he couldn’t refuse. Usually removed for jobs in the Group of 5 (and of those mostly southern, Sun Belt schools), it’s clear that Pry wasn’t looking for just any job, but one where he could make a big impact. He will certainly have that opportunity in the ACC.
Lorig spent three seasons on the Penn State staff as the special teams coordinator, after spending time in Memphis, Utah State, and Arizona State during his most recent coaching stints. Lorig hasn’t spent more three seasons at any given stop in his entire career, so it makes sense for him to have moved on (to Oregon this time) after matching his longest tenure with the Nittany Lions.
Another longtime member of Franklin’s staff, strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt retired at the end of last season, after spending most of his 38-year career working alongside Franklin (at Maryland, Vanderbilt, and Penn State). Galt was widely considered one of the best in the business, leaving big shoes to fill for his replacement.
Manny has plenty of experience on the defensive side of the ball, spending the initial part of his career at a pair of ACC schools in Florida State, where he was a GA, and NC State, where he was a linebackers coach then special teams coordinator.
He got his first break as a defensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, where his defenses finished at or near the top of the conference every season he spent with the program.
After that successful run with Blue Raiders, Diaz’s stock rose dramatically, and he saw himself being the defensive coordinator at Mississippi State, Texas, Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State again, then Miami, where he ultimately got his first shot at a head coaching gig.
With the surprising, yet unsurprising exception of Texas, Diaz’s defenses have consistently been aggressive, ball-hawking units not too dissimilar from what Pry ran at Penn State the past six seasons. If the defense can continue its aggressiveness while maintaining its efficiency, and turnover rate, the coaching change should see little to no transition periods from Pry to Diaz. Besides, the architect behind the “Turnover Chain” probably knows a thing or two about generating turnovers.
Not to go unsaid, Diaz is also a standout recruiter, and being able to pull players from Florida is of utmost importance, so a coach from the area, and one who is already a good recruiter, can only help in keeping Penn State relevant in the state.
Prior to Penn State, Stacy Collins spent his entire career in the western side of the country. While Collins has had a varying number of responsibilities in all his stops throughout the years, special teams has been a parallel responsibility at just about every stop he’s been, with the lone, but glaring exception being his stint with the Vienna Vikings of the European League of Football, where he was their defensive coordinator.
He most recently coached in the Mountain West, where he spent five seasons at Utah State and another at Boise State, prior to coming over to coach special teams and outside linebackers with the Nittany Lions.
Collins, like Diaz, also has head coaching experience, having been the coach of the Division II South Dakota Mines team from 2012 to 2015.
Luckily for Penn State Dwight Galt’s replacement is another widely respected coach in the strength and conditioning business. Losey III has also been with Franklin (and Galt) for a long time, having been a member of the S&C staff at Vanderbilt.
For more on both Losey and Galt, read this piece from The Athletic.
*Please ignore the gaping hole at linebacker, thanks.