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January 24, 2014
Transcript: Assistant coaches introductory press conference
James Franklin met with the media Friday morning at Beaver Stadium to formally introduce his new 10-person assistant coaching staff, including strength and conditioning coordinator Dwight Galt.Penn State head coach
Check out the complete transcripts from the official session, right here, courtesy of ASAPSports.com:
James Franklin: Appreciate everybody coming and spending some time with us today, and also appreciate everybody's patience with waiting until we had the staff completely put together before announcing anything. If my cheeks are a little rosie it's because this head was not made for this weather. Still adjusting.
But really, really excited about the staff that we've been able to put together. For me, what I was looking for is really familiarity; guys that I've worked with or known for a very, very long time, guys that I trust, guys that I know how they're going to interact with the players and these young men that we're working with. How these guys are going to be in the community, and also have a connection with Penn State from a lot of different perspectives.
We feel like we've got a really good plan based off our experiences, but you better have a plan that is specific and unique to the institution that you're at, and I think this staff is going to allow us to do that.
Also, recruiting is so important, so having guys that have strong ties not only to the state of Pennsylvania but this region as well, and I feel like we've done that.
The things that I'm always looking for, if you kind of look at the staff, what I'm looking for is I want to surround myself with as many smart guys as I possibly can. I think you hear that all the time in leadership. People talk about getting into leadership roles and surrounding themselves with really talented people, but then they don't do that. A lot of people get intimidated by that. I'm going to surround myself with as many talented people as I possibly can, and you're going to see that on the staff.
The other thing is I wanted to surround myself with guys that are loyal. When I say loyal, loyal to Penn State University, loyal to James Franklin, and are fired up about being here and this opportunity, what I think is one of the more unique opportunities in college football. So you're going to see that. The other thing is guys that are teachers. Guys that have a really, really good foundation and understand that coaching is teaching, and we're going to use every resource we possibly can to reach these young men. Whether we're giving them playbooks and things in writing, whether we're using the video and all the technologies out there, whether we have walk-throughs, practices, all the different things we do to try to get these young men to understand what we're trying to get done and why. So teachers are something that's very, very important.
Then, recruiting, I've been on a lot of staffs where you have coaches where the coach says well, this guy is okay because he's a really, really good coach, but maybe he isn't going to be the best recruiter and we're not going to ask him to recruit. We will not have one guy on this staff that I don't feel is going to be an excellent recruiter, and that is really what we're looking for.
So I'll go through the staff right now. Bob Shoop, our defensive coordinator, and will also be coaching the safeties. Bob is a Pennsylvania guy from the Pittsburgh area, was our defensive coordinator, is a Yale grad, very, very sharp, very, very intelligent. Has been very, very successful everywhere he's been. He's been able to put a top 25 defense together three years in a row for us at our last coaching stop.
John Donovan, our offensive coordinator was with us for three years as well at Vanderbilt. Before that I have long ties with John all the way back to our times at Vanderbilt. John's from New Jersey. Again, another guy with strong ties to this area. Went to Johns Hopkins.
Yale, Johns Hopkins, they're the first two schools you guys think of when you think of football powers. But, again, guys that are very intelligent and excited about being here.
Charles Huff is our special teams coordinator and coach our running backs. Charles was with us at the University of Maryland, then at Vanderbilt, left and went to the Buffalo Bills, and we were able to bring him back after his next coaching stop, and he's going to coordinate our special teams.
A lot of coaches talk about how important special teams are, but you look at the way they practice, you look at the emphasis they put on it, and it's more lip service. We are committed to being great on special teams and really excited about having Charles join our staff as well.
Brent Pry, our assistant head coach, co‑defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. I've known Brent for a very, very long time. Brent's father is from Altoona, Brent's father was my offensive coordinator in college. He's done a great job for us everywhere we've been. Had a big impact for us at Vanderbilt not only in recruiting, not only in dealing with the media and taking some things off my plate as well. Very, very sharp guy. Great coach, great recruiter.
Josh Gattis, our offensive recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach. You're going to see we're going to have a recruiting coordinator on both sides of the ball, that is something that we just want to make sure that we're emphasizing. Josh is going to make sure that from here on out we have one of the top recruiting classes on the offensive side of the ball that is going to get together with Coach Donovan and make sure that we're filling all of our needs and chasing the talent that we need to chase not only in our great state but this region and also nationally has done a great job.
You look at the people that he's worked with and the type of success that he's had with the wide receiver position.
Herb Hand will be our run game coordinator and offensive line coach. You guys will get to know Herb really well because he is a beast on Twitter and social media. He's a great guy, great personality. He's going to do a really good job working with our offensive line. He's got tremendous experience and was part of the Tulsa staff that was the number one offensive unit in the country if I'm correct on that. But you'll love to get to know Herb and his family as well.
Ricky Rahne our passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Ricky played at Cornell, was a graduate assistant for us at Kansas State, was fortunate enough to bring him with us to Vanderbilt. Did a great job developing the quarterbacks. Me and him coached the quarterbacks at Kansas State, helped develop Josh Freeman. A really smart guy, another Cornell grad.
I probably should have mentioned Herb Hand is a Hamilton grad. He gets upset when I don't throw him out there with Yale and those others as well.
But Ricky Rahne is a Cornell grad and does a great job. Him and his family are excited about being here. His wife is from Pittsburgh, so really excited about coming back home as well.
Terry Smith is our defensive recruiting coordinator. He's going to coach the corners. I got to know Terry years ago from recruiting and going into Gateway High School and was always so impressed with him, the fact that he was able to leave the high school ranks and get some college experience was very important as well. Then for us to be able to get a guy with really strong Penn State ties on our staff I thought was very important and excited about what he's going to bring to the table.
Again, all these guys so intelligent, great working with kids, passionate about working with kids and making a difference in their lives.
Then as you guys will get to know Coach Chaos, Sean Spencer, our defensive line coach. He's another PSAC guy, Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. He played at Clarion. Was together with us at Vanderbilt and putting together a really, really good defensive line, helps us in a lot of different areas. You're going to see the type of impact this guy has on the team as a whole in terms of bringing energy and relating really well with the players. If you've seen any of the videos and lot of the pregame speeches and stuff like that.
Really excited about the coaches. You'll also get to spend some time with Dwight Galt, probably the most important hire we've made, our strength coach. I've been with Dwight for over 13 years now. Think the world of him. He's kind of the Yoda of the program. You'll walk by his office, and there will always be players sitting in his room talking to him. A tremendous mentor for the players, same thing with the coaches.
You see the assistant coaches and myself, I usually bounce every idea I have off of this guy, and he's going to do a really good job of developing our guys off the field. I think that was one of the biggest changes that you saw in our program at Vanderbilt over the last three years is how much bigger, stronger, more athletic, and more explosive we got in a very short period of time.
So really excited about the staff. I feel like we've got great teachers. I think we have great coaches, and I think we'll have the most aggressive recruiting staff in America. So I open it up to questions.
Who will call plays? Will it be a combination of you and John? How does that go? How does that work?
Franklin: At this point me and John have had the discussion like we did going into Vanderbilt that we haven't decided that. We have the same philosophy. It's my offensive philosophy that me and John have evolved with over the last couple years. We'll see how this thing plans out. I am the CEO of Penn State football and there are a lot of things that need to be done. If I feel like that's going to give us the best opportunity to be successful, then I'll call the plays.
But more likely than not that will be John's role. John called every single play over the last three years at Vanderbilt. I did have recommendations and I did have input, but John called every single play, so we'll see how that evolves.
It's been crazy the past couple of weeks. Have you and the coaches had any chance to look at the personnel that Penn State has and have you been able to think about that and what you have here?
Franklin: Not really. I mean, obviously, you hear things and you have conversations and things like that. You've watched some film and we have done that, the coaches. We all downloaded film on to iPads and things like that so when we're traveling we can take a peek at it. But our priorities are finishing this recruiting class, getting the staff put together, which we were working hard on, and then after signing day, we'll buckle down and start watching film and start coming up with depth charts and things like that.
I think the most important thing is these kids all start with a clean slate and they have an opportunity to earn starting jobs. There are no returning starters at any position, at any position. Every single day these guys are going to wake up in the morning and they're going to earn their job. Obviously, we have guys that have tremendous experience and you guys all know who they are, but we're going to create the most competitive environment we possibly can.
I want these recruits to feel they have the opportunity to impact the program and earn a spot. So that's how we'll approach it through spring ball, and that's how we'll approach it going into fall camp.
We really won't even have a depth chart. We'll do a depth chart this spring that will be based on seniority, and we'll do a depth chart in summer camp that is based on seniority as well. But the players will have a good idea of where everybody's at. I want to make sure we create an environment where everybody knows you're going to have to wake up every morning and compete like crazy for your job.
How did the transition from the previous job go with respect to recruiting? I'm sure there was a lot of information to digest. On top of that, how difficult was it to get your head around all the different variables with the sanctions and the scholarship limitations and that sort of thing?
Franklin: Yeah, lot of discussions with the sanctions that all happened during the interview process. I was very comfortable with that. The specifics and the details to make sure you understand how that affects the recruiting class and how we were going to approach that, there were a few more conversations of compliance and things like that just to make sure we're all on the same page. But it's been pretty smooth.
It's been a scramble. We have not gotten much sleep. We've been ripping and running all over the country not only in trying to get to see the kids that were previously committed, but being able to try to close this class out the right way. It's a fine line. You're trying to fill needs, but you're also trying to bring as much talent as you possibly can.
We're kind of at the point right now where we still have a lot of needs and we're not going to be able to fill all our needs in this class. That's going to take a couple of years to do that. So you want to take the most talented players you possibly can, and the guys that are the best fit for Penn State. But that's a process.
We're going to end up turning down some really good players. We're going to have to turn down some four and five star players, but that's a good position that you want to be in.
You and your staff have been pretty active on social media. Your predecessor called it tweeter. He wasn't a fan of it. What are the benefits you see for your assistant coaches to use that?
Franklin: I'm not a fan of it either, to be honest with you, but it gives me an opportunity to reach an audience that I don't have an opportunity to reach other ways. I can get my message out there. We can start talking about things that are important in our program, our core values. It's a way to connect. I think that's one of the things, although this is a huge and passionate, unrivaled fan base, we want to connect. We want to have a very personal, intimate relationship with the fans and our alumni. I think that's very, very important.
Probably the one mistake that I've made since we've been here is talking about blowing up balloons in people's backyards and not turning down a speaking engagement. That was a mistake, obviously. But I do think that's important. We do want to reach out, we do want to connect, and social media gives us the ability to do that.
I'm always nervous because when I shoot out a tweet, I want to make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors in there, though I don't know if that's necessarily the right place to do that. You don't want to be the head coach of Penn State and shoot out a message that is incorrect. So I usually have two or three people proofread my work before I shoot it out.
Went to East Stroudsburg and got a degree in psychology, not English or grammar, so I want to do a good job with that as well. But it's a tremendous resource to get your message out there.
One other thing, have you given any thought yet to whether the names will be on the jerseys?
Franklin: That's the first time I've heard that. That hasn't come up from anybody. Yeah, we've had a lot of discussion and thought about that. As you guys know and I think you've seen it since we've arrived here, we are going to show tremendous respect for our traditions and for our history and for our past. That's very, very important that we understand our past so we can embrace the present and work towards our future.
But we'll make that decision, and we'll have an a announcement when the time is right. But I think it's so, so important that we embrace our past to know where we're going for our future.
How far along are you guys in terms of recruiting responsibilities with the assistants? What areas of the region of the country each of them will be handling?
Franklin: At this point we're not really doing it that way. We're recruiting by position to get to know these kids and get to know these young men so we can sit in their homes and have conversations with their families. They want to know who their position coach is. That's probably the most important thing right now.
But that's what our operation staff is working on right now. I've asked the coaches to all give us an idea of areas in the state. Every single coach will recruit a portion of the state. They'll also have an area that is a regional area that is drivable, and they'll have the ability to recruit nationally by position.
So we've started to have some discussions on that, but nothing's set in stone. We want to play to our strengths as much as we possibly can with staff.
Can you outline your plan for winter workouts at this point, and what are the advantages that Dwight Galt brings having a former connection to the guys he replaced here. The players have a pretty good connection with Craig Fitzgerald?
Franklin: Yeah, morning workouts will be the most miserable experience that they've ever been through. We believe in going and having shared sacrifice as a family. We talk about all the time that no different than your families, every time you go through some type of adversity as a family and you get through it, you become tighter and tighter as a unit, and that's what we want to do.
The morning workouts are about fundamentals and technique. Really they're about building mental and physical toughness and setting the tone of who we're going to be as an organization, which is a hard‑nosed, blue‑collar team. So that's really what they're about.
We're working on the calendar right now. We'll always have a calendar that is a year out. You'll know when our spring practice dates are. We'll get that out to you guys as soon as we possibly can. Camp dates, morning workouts, all those things that we'll get started now. But we're basically taking the academic schedule that we have here, when spring break is, when is summer, all those things, and coming up with a calendar basically for the next year. We'll announce those dates as soon as we have them so you're aware of them.
How important for you was it to have a guy with Penn State ties on this staff where you maybe add that perspective to the group you have.
Franklin: I think it's very, very important. But for me I wasn't going to hire a guy just because of that. It had to be somebody that I had a relationship with in the past and that I was comfortable with. But I think it's very, very important.
I think one of the things that makes this place so unique is the alumni. Not only the alumni of the university but the alumni of the football program. It's probably as unique as it is anywhere in the country. So we want to continue to build on that. I think the consistency that we had in this program for so long allowed there to be a connection for so many years, and guys to feel comfortable.
It's like the conversation that I've had with these gentlemen, the former players. There's not going to be a coach that's going to work harder to make them proud. I can tell you that. And they'll always feel welcome at practice, stopping by the office, games. We need to work hard with that because that's something that makes this place very, very special the connection with the past and the former players.
There are a lot of coaches that maybe see recruiting as an obligation or maybe one small part of it. But it's both your words and your actions and that of your staff seems like you guys embrace it and relish it, is that because you think that's a priority of creating a winning team or is that you just enjoy that part of your job the most maybe more than some people do?
Franklin: I love winning. Winning is fun. I like to be considered a good football coach, and it's amazing how those two things are affected when you have really good players. The plays work better with really good players. So we're going to do whatever we have to do to have as much success as we possibly can, and that's through developing. I don't think our staff got enough credit for that, developing the talent you have. Bringing in as much talent as you can, and making sure it's a great fit for that institution as well, academically, socially, the whole package.
It's something every single person on our staff knows. Every time we interview or I hire a guy I ask them, who is going to be the best recruiter on the staff, who is going to be the best teacher on the staff, all those types of things, and every single one of them should have the answer, me.
And we want to create a really competitive environment. Our practices will be that way. You might see the DB coach and receiver coach get into a fight during practice. I want that. The defensive line coaching the O‑line coach going after it. I want the players to see the most competitive environment they possibly can, and same thing on the recruiting trail.
It's not about numbers. Our coaches will understand. It's not about numbers. It's not about who can sign the most guys; it's about who is bringing the most guys into our program that make an impact? It may be one guy that has a huge impact. It may be two guys. But are you bringing the best fits and best quality people to the program? That's what we're looking for. It's not a numbers deal.
You'll also find we're not going to list guys who recruited who, because we recruit as a staff. The recruits should not know if the area coach, if the position coach, if the coordinator is his lead recruiter. He should feel like all of them are recruiting the same.
One of those guys have been on three coaching staffs as opposed to two, do you think this is an easier transition now because you brought in your team and you don't have a transition?
Franklin: Yeah. I do think the fact that 7 of the 9 coaches that we hired are coming with us. That hasn't changed a whole lot. They understand the offense. They understand the defense. They understand the special teams. They understand the recruiting philosophy. They understand how we meet the expectations, the offense, the environment, all those types of things. I think that helps. Lot of times I would say it's a lot easier to coach the players than it is the coaches.
So the fact that our core coaching staff has been together and understands how we do things I think is very, very important.
I do think this is a resilient group of players. They've embraced the change. They've been through it. Right now one of the things that's important for us to do is build that trust, build the relationships and the chemistry with them and create some stability for them, because I think that's very important to our program.
This program had stability for a very long time, and we need to get back to that.
Herb Hand in Nashville got involved with a child sexual abuse organization and evidently did some good work there. Would you like to see him continue that here?
Franklin: Yeah, he's on the board. We've had some discussions about him continuing to do that. Our whole program was a part of that. You're going to see really quickly community service is a huge thing for us. It has been. Looking at Penn State's program in the past. We'll continue to do that and would like to grow it even more.
You'll see not only our players, but our coaches, things in the community to connect and try to make a difference in people's lives. I think you've heard me say before at the press conference, we came here to graduate our players, number one, to win games number two, and number three, and most importantly, to have a positive impact in this community as well.
You have a lot of guys with multiple titles, I'm curious about three of them. First, with Brent Pry, what is his responsibility as co‑defensive coordinator in terms of what Shoop does as well? And then with Herb Hand and Ricky Rahne as pass game and run game coordinator, what are their responsibilities as it pertains to the offense.
Franklin: I think a couple things. The titles don't mean a whole lot to us. We have a bunch of guys that are going to put the program first and don't have egos and things like that. Herb is obviously going to be hand in hand with Coach Donovan putting the game plan together with an emphasis on run game and protections, obviously.
Ricky Rahne is the quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator who is going to be working hand in hand with Coach Donovan and putting the pass game together. But to be honest with you, so is Charles Huff and so is Josh Gattis. They just happen to have those titles.
On defense, if you look at Brent Pry's background, him and Bob have a similar background in terms of being successful, and he's going to be working hand in hand with Bob to put the game plan together, but that's also Sean Spencer and Terry as well, and the rest of our staff.
So everybody's going to have their hands in. Everybody's going to be pulling the rope in the same direction. It's not about who gets the credit.
As you'll find, when things go well, it's going to be because of the players. When things don't go well, it's going to be on me. That is my responsibility. When things don't go well, it's on my shoulders. When things go well, all the player credit goes to the players and assistant coaches.
Very proud of the fact this past year these gentlemen that have joined us here and come with us have five guys with head coaching opportunities last year off our staff. One guy actually got offered a job and turned it down to come with us here. But I think that shows the respect that this staff has nationally that they all had opportunities for head coaching positions, either interviews or offers.
Wondering, the reception of the former players, and also have you brought O'Brien's house yet?
Franklin: Yeah, the time with the former players was great. I didn't have a whole lot of time. I've seen him in the weight room walking through. I had my team meeting with him, which I think went well. I think the thing that you're going to find with me and with our staff is that we're regular guys. No different than you. We're genuine. I think the players pick up on that right away.
I think it helped that a large number of the kids in that room knew us, that we had recruited them before and things like that. So I think that helps.
House hunting, my wife is here right now house hunting. We had talked about our children staying and finishing out the school year. Don't know if that's the right thing to do anymore. So we've never been apart as a family, and getting them here is, I think, important. You can only Face Time so much with your kids. I think that technology helps, but there's nothing like being able to hug and kiss your kids every single day.
So my wife is here house hunting right now. We have looked at O'Brien's, and we will. If anybody else has a house for sale, we're happy to look at that as well, but that's going to be important for all of us to get our families here as quick as we possibly can.
That is a little bit of a tough thing we're going through right now with some of the coaches, because some of their kids are at a different stage. They're either 10th and 11th grades and things like that. They're cheerleaders or football or basketball players or whatever it is or athletes in general, and trying to make that decision, which is hard on families, about when are you going to move and try to get the kids comfortable with that as well.
So not only am I going to be recruiting these players that we're going to have here this weekend and in the future, but I'm recruiting the kids of our coaches and talking to them about what an unbelievable community this is to be part of as well.
Given you mentioned about the trust and loyalty and the familiarity that you have with the majority of your staff. Can you talk about your relationship and how it developed with Terry Smith and how you got to know him and how he became a fit for this staff?
Franklin: Yeah, you guys are going to find out really quick that I am a fiercely loyal person. These men and their families that came with us and decided to make the choice to come to Penn State and help us build something special, that means the world to me that they believe not only in me, but in Penn State and coming here.
Terry is a guy recruiting Gateway High School and going in there, some guys have a presence. You walk in and he has a presence. You see how the students interact with him. You see how the administration interacts with him, the pride, the respect that they have for him. The guy is special. I knew that right away. So I thought he was going to be a guy that has a chance to go to the next level and be successful.
I'm a guy that always keeps a list of people that I meet that I think would be guys that I'd like to hire at some point or at least get to know better. He was on that list for a long time ago. Also the fact that he was able to go on to Temple and have success there as well, we have buddies on that staff that we were able to ask questions to and see how he was doing there. Again, you will the feedback that we got from former players and talk to Wally and high school coaches in the Pittsburgh area and how they felt about him, guys that he was recruiting at Temple, coaches that he was working with at Temple. It was a no‑brainer. It was a no‑brainer.
So we tried to be as aggressive as we possibly can, and give him an offer that he couldn't refuse. To be honest with you, I think he would have come, whatever the offer was. But we wanted to make sure we were fair and respectful of him and his family so heed with come here and feel great about it. We couldn't be more excited about having Terry here, and he's going to be a huge part of what we're doing going forward.
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop: My name's Bob Shoop, and I'm the defensive coordinator and I'll coach the safeties. As many of you know I'm from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, more specifically Oakmont, Pennsylvania. Graduate of Riverview High School class of 1984, so to me it's like coming home. As I walk in here today my first official Penn State event, I see Bob White up there who was an idol of mine when Riverview used to play Freeport. It's pretty exciting and I feel like I'm home.
Really excited to be here. I truly believe we have the best defensive staff. I'll specifically talk about the defensive side of things in America. We have great chemistry in that room. I coach the safeties, Brent Pry coaches the linebackers, Sean Spencer is the D‑line coach. We're so excited to get Terry on board. He'll help me with the secondary, coaching the corners. Terry and I have known each other for a long time, and we spent a lot of time in the last week specifically getting him on board because the other guys certainly know what we do defensively and how we operate.
The identity of the defense. I believe when we talked‑‑ a mentor of mine once said a philosophy is who you think you are, an identity is who others see you as. Make no mistake, when we came here‑‑ at the end of the day there are a lot of good defenses, but at the end of the day there is only one championship defense, and we came here to build a Big Ten Championship and National Championship caliber defense. That is the only thing we know.
Our identity is we're an in‑your‑face style of defense that's going to be fun to watch and even more fun for our players to play, I promise you that. It is based on two premises, relentless pursuit and never‑ending pressure. First thing I say to the guys all the time is everyone has a game plan until they get punched in the face. We throw the first punch and keep on punching. We make sure it's not the last punch and keep on punching. That's who we are.
As far as the scheme, people ask a lot about the scheme. Is it a four‑three, a 4‑2‑5, a three‑four, what are you? Rather than recruit players to fit a scheme. I think we do a good job tailoring the schemes to fit our personnel. We'll recruit the best players we can. Identify their strengths and put them in the best position to be successful, whatever that means and whatever that situation dictates right there. That's what we believe in.
I think the three characteristics when we talk about the core values of our defense, and you'll hear me say this all the time throughout my experience here, passion, toughness, and team. I'm looking for players to play the game with tremendous passion.
I want to surround myself with guys who love to play the game of football. I'm looking for players with high football IQs. I'm looking for guys with interchangeable parts. I'm looking for physically tough, and mentally tough players. We're playing a championship schedule, and on the east side of this division to play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and the guys that are going to play week‑in and week out, you have to be physically and mentally tough for the demands of a student‑athlete especially at a school like Penn State. We look for team‑first guys. Passion, toughness, team.
We tell our guys all the time. Guys have to understand how their responsibility fits into the team concept, 11 men functioning as one. Anybody who knows me knows I respect the history of college football. I'm a fan before I'm a coach. We're so excited to be here at Penn State because I respect the tradition and history of Penn State football. But at one point in 1998 at West Point there was a famous coach at West Point named Red Blaik. He always talked about playing his best 11 rather than his 11 best. That is something we talk about all the time, putting our best 11 players on the field for what the situation dictates and understanding how your job fits into the team concept.
You'll hear me say all the time to the guys, do your job. Do your job, the system will work.
Our goals, I'm not big into a lot of goals, but these goals have stood the test of time in defensive football. Anybody that knows me knows this is how I feel. Whether it's Riverview Junior High or Riverview High School, whether it's Penn State or the Pittsburgh Steelers, successful defensive football teams stop the run, they don't give up big plays, and they take the ball away. Those are three things we're successful at the last three years at Vanderbilt.
We were fortunate we had really good players there and we finished top 25 in the country the last three years in total defense. We've had top 20 in the country in pass defense three years in a row. We've won many different ways. I think each defense has its own identity.
In 2011 we won one way. Every time somebody threw the ball, we intercepted it. In 2012, we couldn't buy an interception, but we stopped teams on third down and in the red zone. This year we were 3‑3 at the mid‑point of the season, and I took a look at the defensive coordinator, and said what is the identity of this group? We weren't good at anything. The second half of the year we loaded up the box on first and second downs, and said nobody is going to run the ball on us and we brought the magic show on third down.
We were 6‑1, second half of the year, had 23 takeaways the second half of the year, and played maybe the best defense we did in the last six or seven games right there.
The last thing I'll say, Coach talked about I'm that guy who loves being in the film room. I'll come in at 5 a.m. and stay till midnight. I love watching film. I have watched some of the Penn State film, and I have talked to some of the defensive players. I'm looking forward to getting to know some of these guys.
I've met a couple of them. I've talked to them on the phone, direct message. We've been all over the country recruiting. I think there are good players here. Specifically working with the safeties, I'm looking forward to working with Adrian. He has a lot of potential and tremendous player. Jordan Lucas I thought had an outstanding season last year. I talked to Mike Hull trying to recruit him out of high school out of Cannon‑McMillan, and I know there are good players up front. I'm looking forward to working with those guys and would building a Big‑Ten Championship caliber defense, and a National Championship caliber defense.
With the perceived lack of depth on the defensive side of the ball, your up‑tempo, aggressive style do you see any problems not having that depth on that side of the ball?
Shoop: Hard to say right now. There are no perceived starters right now. We came in as a defensive staff, I promise you and told all the defensive players I've spoken with, it's a clean slate right now. In recruiting it's the same thing. I have no hidden agenda. The best players play regardless of class. Regardless, if you're a walk‑on from Selinsgrove or four‑star from Los Angeles, California, whatever it might be right there.
We had the same sort of issue with the previous place we were. We found guys and found their niche and put them in a particular role and responsibility that enabled them to do that. But I think that is an issue. You saw that last year. Adrian went back and forth between corner and safety and things like that. We try to keep it as simple as we possibly can to allow our guys to play fast.
As I said, one of the things I think we do a really good job with is keeping our terminology easy and utilizing guys as interchangeable parts and stemming out of a 4‑3 to a 3‑4, and doing things like that and keeping the same guys on the field.
How did you and James first get connected? Have you known each other for a while before Vanderbilt or how did that come about?
Shoop: That is actually a funny story. Little over three years ago when coach got the job at Vanderbilt I didn't know him at all. I made a joke to a friend, I said get me an interview with Franklin and I'll get the job. I know maybe I wasn't his first choice at Vanderbilt. We met at the Dallas convention in 2011, and he sold me on his vision for building a championship caliber program, and I sold him on my vision for building a championship caliber defense.
I think what he's done an outstanding job of is assembling a staff that really complements him. He's the face of the program. He's awesome at that stuff. And you'll see with our staff we're grinders, blue‑collar guys and hard workers. When he hired me, it was funny. He hired me from William & Mary, a 1AA program, and Brent Pry from Georgia Southern and Sean Spencer from Bowling Green, and the article in the national paper said be prepared to be underwhelmed by these hires, and I promise you that still sits in my office today.
Offensive coordinator John Donovan: I'll say a couple things and you guys can take it from there if you want. Like we've all been saying, excited to be here. Being from New Jersey, like James said, I understand the tradition and history of this place. Excited to get back up in this region of the country and ready to go. Excited to work with the players, excited to recruit for this school and bring a championship to Penn State.
We have an unbelievable staff on the offensive side of the ball. We've worked together now for three years. Charles Huff is the new addition, but we've worked with him in the past. Unbelievable chemistry, unbelievable ideas that get thrown around, so that's going to be really fun, and I'm looking forward to working with those guys again. We'll have a heck of a time.
As far as the last three years, we're very proud as a staff. The last two years we've averaged 30 points per game. The two years previous to us getting there, they averaged 16 points per game. We have the school's all‑time leading rusher. The school's all‑time leading receiver, as well as the SEC's all‑time leading receiver and receptions leader. So we're very proud of that.
Offensively, we're personnel‑oriented, pro‑style offense. So we basically, we're pro terminology. The guys learn the system that's used at the next level. It has answers. We don't run dead plays. There are reasons to run in certain spots. If there is somebody coming free on a pass protection, we're either throwing the ball, breaking a route or the back's got to pick them up, the line's got to pick them up. We won't run dead plays.
We like smart guys that can think fast and process information, and I think they've got a good base the last couple years of learning a pro system, and look forward to seeing what they know and seeing how they translate to what we're going to run.
We're multiple, and we'll cater to our personnel. See what we have. Get our best players on the field, and take advantage of what we have and what the defense gives us.
The first thing we'll do when we meet with the guys, we'll teach them the base formations, the huddle, the snap count, the motions, the shifts, all that stuff, but then the next thing we'll do is get into defenses and have them understand defenses and why we do what we do to attack them. It's like taking a test every week, taking a test. If you know your opponent, you have a great chance of being successful, and from there we'll evaluate our personnel and decide which direction we want to go. Like HOPE hand, our O‑line coach always says, we want to be balanced.
Balanced means the ability to do both. Not just be 50‑50. You want to run the ball when you want to run it, and run when you have to run it. You have to run it at the end of the game when you're up. You have to run it when you're down and tight. You have to punch it in the goal line. You're going to run it when you want to run it, and run it when you have to run it.
Same thing goes with the pass. Pass when you want to pass it, and pass when you have to passion it. Two‑minute situation, third down, whatever it might be, that's what we mean by being balanced.
As a unit, we're going to be tough, we're going to be smart, and we're going to be prepared. We're going to be mentally and physically tough. That is the style we're going to play. We're going to be smart. We're going to play smart, we're going to understand situational football and do things that don't hurt the team. We're going to be as prepared as anybody in the country as far as what we're getting into each and every week. Like I said, that's about all I've got. If anybody has any questions. There you go.
I wondered if you had seen any film of Christian Hackenberg yet, have you talked to him, and what have you told him to expect before spring ball?
Donovan: We've seen some film. He's got a lot of talent. We're really excited to work with him. I know it's hard for him because he had such a tight relationship with Coach O'Brien. I was fortunate enough to work with Coach O'Brien in two spots, Georgia Tech and Maryland. So I've had communication with him and he loves that kid. I think he feels better about guys that he knows that are here now that will take care of that kid and teach him the right way and keep him progressing the way he will and should.
We're just excited to get to work. He's going to form his own opinion. We're confident in our abilities as a staff in what we're going to teach and what we're going to run. I think he's going to be excited about what we're going to do and the team that he has and the potential that he'll have.
How many points a game are we going to score next year?
Donovan: As many as it takes to win.
In terms of your role with the tight ends, have you talked to Adam Breneman, Jesse James, Kyle Carter and those guys? What are your expectations?
Donovan: I haven't met them. I've reached out over the phone to a couple guys. I heard they're a talented group. Tight ends are an awesome position to have on the field because they're extremely versatile. Defensive guys like Bob, they want to know what you're in. What is the personnel? How many wideouts have you got in the game, how many running backs?
When you have tight ends in the game that are versatile, you don't know what you're going to be in. You're going to be in a tight formation, spread out formation, you can shift to it, you can motion to it. You can do a lot of different things. We like to get creative on our side of the ball, and that is our advantage.
We have elements of no‑huddle, but we're a huddle team. But we like to dictate to the defense as far as disguising and getting into different looks and making them guess and keeping them on their heels. Tight ends gives you the ability to do that. So I'm looking forward to having a great group there and see what we've got.
It seems like as a coaching staff you're pretty tight‑knit. You're all coming in here new. How much easier does that make the transition?
Donovan: It's great. When we formed this staff at Vanderbilt three years ago we hadn't worked together before. We got together really quick and found out really quick that we liked each other and there were a lot of great ideas from a lot of guys from different stops. The fact that we're coming in here now together into a new situation makes it a lot easier. Like James said, you don't have to coach the coaches. Everyone knows what we do and how we do it. We've just got to figure out what we want to do exactly and teach it to the players. That is a huge advantage.
With Charles Huff coming to you guys as the one offensive staff member that didn't come from Vanderbilt, what does he bring to the table? Why is he a guy that you wanted to have come over here with you?
Donovan: We worked with Charles at Maryland and at Vanderbilt, so we've known him for two years. Just being around him and seeing the potential he had as a younger coach and whatnot, and knowing what we're getting in him and seeing how he progressed since we last saw him, that was the combination that won us over. It was not given to him. He got the job. The fact that we knew him on a personal level and working level helped.
But then seeing him go away for a few years and coming back and how much he's grown, that put him over the top.
Coach Shoop or Coach Franklin were talking about competitive on the staff and he wanted to be the defensive line coach and offensive line coach and everything. Do you embrace that too? Is that going to carry over to practice?
Donovan: Me and Bob got into a couple of fist fights, you know. I took him out (laughing). No, James can stir the pot as you can probably imagine. So we might get a play that we think is successful, and he might just to stir it up say it's not and then that gets our blood boiling, and it heats up everything.
Pry back there, I saw him walk in. Brent Pry is a big instigator. He likes to stir the pot from the sideline. We do the competitive drills a lot in practice. So we definitely can rile each other up and get under each other's skin. Once we're off the field though we get along great. So, there is some energy out there.
Special teams coordinator Charles Huff: Good afternoon. Thanks everybody for being here. Thank the administration and Coach Franklin for allowing me to be here. Just a little bit about the special teams. I've been asked numerous times what kind of identity, what kind of special teams are we going to be? Our special teams here at Penn State will have two distinct characteristics. One is a nekton mentality. I'm not sure how many science teachers are in the building. But a nekton is a living organism that can flow freely through water not affected by the current, and it's always attacking. The most reasonable example will be a great white shark. A great white shark will eat and eat and eat until it dies, and it won't say I'm full. That's how we'll be on special teams. We'll attack, and attack, and attack. Just because we block the punt first time out doesn't mean we're not coming after it again.
The second characteristic will be a pre‑Fontaine pace. Steve Prefontaine was a 1970s long‑distance runner who died a little before his time. But he coined the term of "suicide pace." So from the time the gun went off, he was sprinting. From the time we come off the mat, we'll be flying around. Any person that steps on the mat that is a special teams player here at Penn State will be flying around from the time, if we make a mistake, we're going to make it a hundred miles an hour.
Suicide pace, we'll be the first‑‑ and Coach Franklin talked about it a little bit‑‑ we'll be the first fast‑paced, no‑huddle, special teams you've seen. So that's how we're going to be. It will be fun and exciting. The fans will love it. Coaches will love it. I'll love it.
Coach Donovan told me I didn't have to work on punt because he was going to go 100% on third down, so that made it easy. Coach Shoop told me we didn't have to work on punt return because he was going to get picks and turnovers. So all we have to work on is kickoff and field goals, so it's easy. Any questions?
The last staff here didn't have a special teams coordinator. Why is that important and what element does it bring to have the benefit of having that position on staff?
Huff: I think having a special teams coordinator brings an identity to the special teams. When you break it up as a staff, it works for some people, but I don't know if you have a true identity. You have one voice speaking to every unit. Even though our staff here will be very involved, each coach will be very involved in helping with the special teams, I think you need one voice to stand up in front of the team and present whatever it is for that week to keep it consistent.
Our staff here is brand‑new, so that means our guys will be learning three different philosophies, offense, defense and special teams. So it's my job to keep it all simple so what they're learning on defense doesn't flow every on special teams and same as offense. So you need that one voice to present it at the front of the team.
Following up on that, how does that work? Will each unit have a coach working with them? Or will you be the only assistant coach working with each unit? How do you divide the time between units?
Huff: Each of our coaches on staff will be helping me. I'll oversee it all and start the base plan. Each coach will have a certain segment that they're responsible for. I do know offhand that Coach Pry and I will work closely on kickoff because that is kind of his deal. But I'll be responsible for making sure that the meetings are prepared. The film is broken down. The players have their scouting reports or books for the week. Then what I'll do is what once I've got what the other team is going to do, I'll get with each coach and come up with the best game plan for that week.
Can you describe your reaction when you were presented this opportunity? Why did you want to come here, not only for Penn State, but to coach with Coach Franklin again?
Huff: The first reaction was thank you, when can I start? I was overly excited. Coach Franklin and I have worked together before. Like I said before, he's kind of my professional dad. I respect him a lot. He's taught me a lot that I've learned over the past, then you put that together with the opportunity to work at such a great university here at Penn State, I almost dropped the phone when he asked me the first time. Then when I said if I drop the phone he's going to think I don't want the job.
But it was an unbelievable opportunity. I can't wait to get started. I'm champing at the bit just from being on the road the last week. The love for Penn State is unbelievable. I'm excited to take this program to the next level with the rest of this coaching staff.
You mentioned fast‑paced, no‑huddle special teams. Can you elaborate on it?
Huff: That's it. Get set, snap the ball, kickoff, get set, get ready to go. Play as fast as you can. Play as fast as you can. Try to eliminate the thinking, make it simple. You're out there for six seconds. Special teams is not where you get first down, second down, third down. You're out there for six seconds, come off the ball and make it happen. Flying around, trying to keep it as simple as possible to let these guys run around and have fun with being fundamentally sound and making sure they're where they're supposed to be.
Along those lines of aggressiveness, there might be decisions there that are more Coach Franklin's, but expect more maybe fakes and that type of thing and aggressiveness in that way too?
Huff: You're good. You're good. We'll have fun, I'll say that. We'll have fun. Part of having fun is keeping the guys interested. So all of the good plays and the fakes and all of that, if they're there, it will be something that we'll do. We won't force the issue. We'll take what they give us and make sure that they're fundamentally sound on the other side of the ball as well.
Have you had a chance to watch any of the film yet on the running backs? If so, what are your impressions? If not, when do you plan to get to it?
Huff: I have. On the road like Coach Franklin said, we did download some of the information. I had the opportunity. I was lucky enough to work with two unbelievable running backs with the Buffalo Bills, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Both Bill and Zach have some of those qualities. It will be interesting to see how far I can take them from where they are to where they're going to be. Coach Donovan and Coach Franklin's system is set up for these two type of acts. So it will be exciting once they get their feet wet and understand the system where they'll be.
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