Tuesday was for Penn State’s defensive coaches, now is the time for the Nittany Lions offensive coaches quotable.
All were from Penn State’s introductory afternoon for the assistant coaches this past Friday at Beaver Stadium. Most were from the less formal sitdown sessions… but I couldn’t resist including Charles Huff’s drop-the-mic-and-exit-the-room-esque opening monologue while on the podium for his news conference. Only the three coordinators were given the “dais” treatment (Huff, in addition to being the running backs coach, is the special teams coordinator).
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/TIGHT ENDS COACH JOHN DONOVAN
“Offensively, we’re personnel‑oriented, pro‑style offense. So 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.”
“(Christian Hackenberg) has 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.”
RUNNING BACKS COACH/SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR CHARLES HUFF
“The second characteristic will be a Prefontaine 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 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.”
“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.
“Get set, snap the ball, kickoff, get set, get ready to go. 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.”
“I was lucky enough to work with two unbelievable running backs with the Buffalo Bills, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. Both Bill (Belton) and Zach (Zwinak) 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.”
OFFENSIVE LINE COACH/RUN GAME COORDINATOR HERB HAND
On his style as an OL coach: “Demanding… No one’s ever perfect all the time, but if you strive for perfection, you tolerate excellence. That’s what we do in everything we do. And we don’t say it as lip service; I truly believe that. If you hear me on the practice field… I want us physical, smart, tough and prepared. If we can do those things, we’ll be fine. We really will be.”
“What’s important to understand is that we are all invested in this thing, OK? As an assistant coach, all you want is a voice. Because no matter what – James may be in a different tax bracket than me, but I’m going to be as invested in this program as he will be. Now, ultimately somebody has to be the decision-maker and has to be the leader and is at the top of the sphere. And for this football program, that will be James. But he gives us a voice in our staff room, and really allows us that. We talk things out. And so you have an opportunity to say what you’re thinking – and openly. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re always going to agree. There are plenty of arguments, but at the end of the day, we walk out of that room and we’re going to walk out united in one direction. And under Coach Franklin’s leadership and all of us being in a support role, and that support is reciprocal because if you ask James, one of his definitions of being a great leader is to support us in our role and make our jobs easier. And that’s what we’re trying to do for him is support him in his role and make his job easier.”
QUARTERBACKS COACH/PASSING GAME COORDINATOR RICKY RAHNE
“(Franklin) hired a bunch of guys who are energetic and who are passionate about football… There’s no egos on this staff, we just want to win games. We want to win games and graduate players.”
“There has to be (energy) because Coach Franklin demands it. If he doesn’t feel like we are bringing enough energy, he’s going to let us know. It’s just something where he hired a bunch of guys who are energetic and who are passionate about football, and if you look at our staff, there are a lot of guys who have pretty good college degrees who can do go off and do other things and be pretty successful. But we chose football because this is what we want to do with our lives and what we’re passionate about, and I think that’s where all the energy comes from.”
WIDE RECEIVERS COACH/OFFENSIVE RECRUITING COORDINATOR JOSH GATTIS
“It’s an amazing staff. Our chemistry is immeasurable, our families are close, we are all close as coaches…. We love each other, truly, as coaches. This was an opportunity we’re really, really excited about… To get an opportunity to come here and be here with (Franklin) as a staff again (following him from Vanderbilt as a virtual entire unit) is something that’s tremendous opportunity and does not happen in college football quite a bit.”
“We’ve got a very diverse staff, age and backgrounds from all different areas. I think that’s what leads to the chemistry and success we have. One of the things that is very, very important in chemistry is we have no egos on our staff – we’re just a bunch of hardworking, blue-collar guys from all different backgrounds, as you can see. It’s funny – I’m the only one who played (FBS) football, but we’ve got a bunch of guys who worked themselves up to be in this position.”
“We compete in every area of our program – we’re going to compete on the field, we’re going to compete in the classroom, we compete as coaches in practice. So we have a very, very competitive aspect, and that is a part of us that truly leads to the success we’ve had. But it’s all about the relationships. You can’t compete at a high level without having those relationships and understanding that each man in that room cares about you as much as they care about themselves. And that’s what makes this staff special.”