Penn State head coach James Franklin has been the recipient of a lot of criticism during his tenure in Happy Valley, and much of it is certainly justified. The proud program has endured back-to-back 7-6 seasons under his leadership and saw a significant regression from highly-touted quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Blame didn’t fall completely on Franklin though, as fans were calling for the replacement of offensive coordinator John Donovan throughout the entire season. The head coach obliged, firing his long-time assistant and friend following the team’s embarrassing 55-16 loss to Michigan State in the season finale. His replacement: Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead.
Moorhead posted a record of 38-13 in four seasons at Fordham, which included a Patriot League Championship and three bids (two at-large) for the FCS Playoffs. He’ll be bringing a spread offense that should help Penn State recruit both pocket and mobile quarterbacks.
Moving forward into 2016, Penn State should have a three-way competition between mobile passers Trace McSorley and Tommy Stevens, as well as incoming pro-style passer Jake Zembiec.
The Nittany Lions also needed replacements on the defensive side of the ball, but for immensely different reasons. The team’s defensive coordinator, Bob Shoop, put together a defense that ranked 15th in the country by season’s end, and boasted arguably the most intimidating pass rush in the nation.
Shoop attracted interest from multiple programs, but after turning down the coordinator position at Auburn, it seemed he would remain at University Park … until he didn’t. Reports surfaced that Shoop might take the same job at Tennessee, and this time it was real.
Following his surprising departure, Franklin decided to promote from within, naming linebackers coach Brent Pry as his successor. He doesn’t quite have the resume that Moorhead has, but current and former players expressed their admiration for and approval of the new defensive coordinator. It would be pretty bold to say there won’t be a drop-off, especially with key players leaving, but people close to the program seem to think it was a great hire. It’s also worth noting that Pry also attracted attention elsewhere, reportedly interviewing for the head coaching vacancy at Georgia Southern in December.
Other significant hires include the additions of offensive line coach Matt Limegrover and safeties coach Tim Banks. Limegrover served under Jerry Kill at Emporia State, Southern Illinois, Northern Illinois and most recently, Minnesota. He’s been the Gophers’ offensive coordinator and offensive line coach since 2011 and prior to 2015, the team’s points-per-game average increased each season.
Banks had been the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Illinois since 2012. He’ll assume the same positions with the Nittany Lions. Franklin and Banks were on Maryland’s staff together over a decade ago. The Illini defense ranked 29th in the country in 2015.
It’s still a long time until September, but the new staff passes the eye test and may help the Nittany Lions exceed expectations in 2016.