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January 28, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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“I’ve got ‘Chaos’ on my business card”: Penn State defensive coaches quotable

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As I’ve written already, I can’t promise you how many games James Franklin and the new Penn State coaching staff will win — but I can tell you that they’ll be people who will be fun to watch, follow and listen to.

 

They’ll be good quotes, for instance. As such, some of the best/most entertaining/most enlightening things they said didn’t make it into any Trib stories.

 

Here’s some of what’s leftover from a reporter’s recorder from the day Penn State’s assistants were introduced. And these are just the defensive coaches…

 

 

 

DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SAFETIES COACH BOB SHOOP

 

“(James Franklin) does a great job as the face of the program. He’s great at that stuff. He’s a great football coach, and he’s great at that stuff. He’s hired a defensive coordinator in myself and an offensive coordinator in John Donovan, guys who complement him. We’re not looking for the spotlight; we’re not looking for stories to be told about us. We just want to recruit players and coach football, and we’re happy just being in the film room and doing the gameplan and going out and preparing guys the best we can to be successful.”

 

“You’ll see with our staff we’re grinders: blue‑collar guys and hard workers. He hired me from William & Mary, a I-AA 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. I promise you that still sits in my office today.”

 

“A t 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.”

 

 

 

DEFENSIVE LINE COACH SEAN SPENCER

 

On James Franklin: “The dude’s intense. The dude’s intense. He wakes up, he does a back handspring out of bed. He’s fired up. I tell him to stop drinking those energy drinks; ‘you don’t need any.’ He’s the fastest walker I’ve ever seen in my life. I try to keep up with him, and I can’t keep up with him. He’s the fastest walker I’ve ever seen in my life. He brings an unbelievable energy and a passion to his job. A passion for the kids and a passion for people that work with him, and I think that’s what made us special at Vanderbilt. I’ve always talked about not having a special formula – it was about what we believed in. We believed in the guy next to us, the guy in front of us and the guy behind us, and that’s what made us special.”

 

On his nickname of “Chaos”: “Oh my god, I can’t tell you that! I’ve been coaching D-Line since I started D-1 at UMass, and it’d always break down on chaos all the time and I’d be running around the field and I’ve kind of got a lot energy, if you can see that, right? So when I got to Vanderbilt, (strength coach Dwight Galt) would just throw it out there. One time, he said ‘Go follow Coach Chaos,’ and all of a sudden, it just became my nickname. It’s pretty cool, I got it on my business card. Kinda cool when you hand that to somebody and they look scared when they see that…”

 

On how he ended up at Clarion University his playing days: “I didn’t know, man, they tricked me. They tricked me on my official visit. They said, ‘Hey, this place is right near Penn State.’ Only it’s really not near Penn State. We kind of tried, and we got to Du Bois and the car broke down and somebody had to pick me up.”

 

“Very proud to represent Western PA, very proud to say I was a member of the Clarion Golden Eagles. I told everybody I got used to big crowds. It was 6,000 at Clarion; now it’s 107,000 here. I’m used to it. We pretended it was really louder than it was, so…”

 

“I want guys who attack. I want guys who are hungry. We play multiple players to keep players fresh, and I want them to play every down like it’s their last down. That’s what I want. I want them to play with their hands, I want to play with their feet and I want a malice mentality in there.”

 

On meeting his predecessor as Penn State’s defensive line coach: “A kid we were dealing with at UMass that was going to transfer there from Penn State, and Larry Johnson was the most professional person I ever dealt with. He gave me a glowing recommendation for the kid and told me that he just felt like the kid (wasn’t going to play at PSU) and the kid needed to move on but that kid was like his son. So that gave me the ultimate respect for him, the way he handled that.”

 

 

 

DEFENSIVE RECRUITING COORDINATOR/CORNERBACKS COACH TERRY SMITH

 

On James Franklin: “Not everyone is made to be a head coach, and not everyone is made to be the head coach at Penn State. But he has that engaging personality. We’re gonna do great things here.”

 

“I’m a faith-driven man. I believe in God. Even through the trials and tribulations I went through at Gateway, I knew that God had a plan for me and something good was going to come of it. When you’re in the storm, you don’t always think it’s going to come through. But I trusted.”
“I want to be great. I don’t want to be just another coach on the staff. I don’t want to just be where Coach Franklin says, ‘Here’s another one of my staff members.’ I want to be the guy coach Franklin comments on. That’s my life mission. I don’t want to be good. I want to be great.”

 

“I was instrumental when Justin King came here with Lydell Sargeant and Sean Lee and that crew… You try to piece the generations together. We’re all Penn State, whether it’s from 1950s or ’60s to here we are in 2014. We’re one family. We’re trying to get that one voice again. It can’t be underestimated. It’s very important.”

 

“When I was coaching at Gateway, I thought I was going to coach there forever. Then an opportunity came with Temple’s staff under Matt Rhule. I didn’t know how I would adjust. I didn’t know how I’d take coaching in Division I. … It was a great experience. I embraced it. I loved it. Now I’m all in with Division-I coaching. I’m just excited to be here. It’s a dream come true right now.”
On coaching at Penn State: “It means everything to me. It’s not just a job for me. It’s a passion. It’s something I love to do. … I represent a lot of voices. I represent a lot of alumni. For me to have this opportunity, I’m tremendously blessed. I’m fortunate. … I think it’s important because history is important, to know where we’ve come from and where we want to go. A lot of times, staffs don’t know the history. I can give them some input on how things were.”

 

“Joe Paterno was instrumental in my life. He recommended me for both positions. He called the administration at Gateway on both occasions. He changed my life. When we were here from ’87-91, you don’t always understand the lessons but when you’re older and more mature, you absolutely understand the lessons that were being taught. The way I coach today is very similar to him. You want to be caring and nurturing and getting to know your players, and that’s one thing he did.”

 

“Penn State football helped to build this university, build the mystique of Penn State. I played here from ’87 to ’91, and those years are important to me. Those years molded my life and shaped my life. It’s important to alumni that they’re recognized, that they’re important and it matters. It’s great that he’s embraced it. We’re still in the process of healing completely and looking to move forward.”

 

On recruiting in the WPIAL: “We’ve lost some ground there. There’s guys each year going to other Big Ten schools and ACC schools. We want to go back to Western Pa. and get the guys we want. That’s priority No. 1. Tom Bradley had that locked up pretty well, so I have some tough shoes to fill. But I look forward to that challenge.”

 

 

 

ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/LINEBACKERS COACH BRENT PRY

 

“Everything that I believe in as a coach — the fundamentals, the mentality, the attitude, the trust, the maturity… all those things – these guys embody. So I’m excited to work with them and help grow those traits.”

 

On linebacker Mike Hull: “I appreciate him already. He’s kind of square-jawed, no-nonsense. I actually tried to get him to crack a grin a little bit – it didn’t happen. He’s very serious. He’s a great student, he’s going to be the leader in that room, I feel, for sure. I’m thankful that he’s in place.”

 

On James Franklin: “He was a real competitor. The drive and determination that he demonstrates is something that you’ll come to recognize fully as the head coach of this program is how he ran the football team at East Stroudsburg… Coach Franklin has been a family friend for 20 years with my mother and with my father. There’s a real commitment to one another and a real fondness for each other. We’ve always pulled for him – whether it be for a job at Kutztown or whether it be the head coach at Penn State, we’ve always pulled for him and wanted the best for him. It just worked out when he want to Vanderbilt, he had opportunity for me to go with him.”

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow, some of the best of quotes from the offensive assistants.

 

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January 27, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Penn State’s “dominating” recruiting since arrival of Franklin apparently continues

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A day after a Rivals 4-star recruit announced on Twitter he was making a verbal commitment to Penn State, another followed suit Sunday.

 

Joining California safety/linebacker/athlete Koa Farmer was New Jersey receiver Saeed Blacknall, who “flipped” from his commitment to Rutgers. Blacknall, as “the kids do nowadays,” used social media to alert the world of his decision.

 

These were Tweets on his Twitter page Sunday night:

 

 

(That final link is an Instagram photo of Blacknall on the field of Beaver Stadium during his official visit last week).

 

And, this being 2014, we got something of a “confirmation” from Penn State’s coaches via Twitter. NCAA regulations forbid coaches from speaking publicly about any specific prospects. But references to “Jersey” and “Big One” (one prominent scouting service, 247, ranks him as PSU’s top verbal commitment of the class) are among the reaction from head coach James Franklin and assistants Josh Gattis (the wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator who would have been prominent in recruiting Blacknall) and running backs coach Charles Huff.

 

Blacknall is the fourth receiver among the 23-player class, joining fellow Rivals four-star prospects De’Andre Thompkins (who’s already enrolled) and Chris Godwin and three-star Troy Apke. Apke, of Mt. Lebanon, might be moved to defense, however.

 

Blacknall also is Penn State’s fourth commitment to the 2014 class who is from New Jersey, including three of Rivals’ top 14 from NJ. Dominate that state?

 

 

 

(Note: This news means I’ll postpone posting the promised “quotables” from Nittany Lions’ assistant coaches until later Monday. Have a good one)

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January 25, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Thoughts/observations from meeting Penn State’s new assistant coaches

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After spending a total of six hours driving roundtrip, about three hours in Beaver Stadium and roughly another three hours transcribing and writing, all I was afforded the opportunity to convey about my impressions of Penn State’s new coaching staff needed to presented in a 500-word package.

 

When trying to communicate the overall philosophy and personality of a group of 10 men, that barely scratches the surface. Luckily, my talented colleague Kevin Gorman accompanied me and did a fine column on Terry Smith.

 

Just as fortunate is that, even with the realities of shrinking news holes for modern newsprint, this particular forum exists that did not even a decade ago. So I can attempt to present a more thorough picture of what this new James Franklin staff is like (as well as sprinkle in some personal observations) on this blog.

 

 

Here goes:

 

I’m probably just a cynic, but I typically tend to subconsciously give a figurative roll of the eyes to talking points such as how “energetic” this group of men is or how much “chemistry” they have amongst each other or how they set out to foster “positive relationships.” I’d like to think I see through hollow buzzwords.

 

Perhaps my cynicism has been surpassed only by my naivety, but I’m here to tell you I have bought in that these aren’t merely corporate catchphrases. Holy cow, walking up and down the Beaver Stadium recruiting lounge (a panoramic view of Mt. Nittany providing the background), the “energy” of this staff isn’t just palpable – it practically slaps you in the face. I made sure I spent at least five minutes or so with every single assistant (other than Smith, whom Gorman was with, and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, with whom I had talked to extensively over the past week). In their own way, you can’t help but be drawn to each. From defensive line coach Sean “Chaos” Spencer’s constant standing to running backs coach Charles Huff’s lessons in marine biology to strength coach Dwight Galt’s charm to the presence offensive line coach Herb Hand has in engaging a captivated audience in simple conversation… these guys have an it when it comes both to having a motor running that leaves them constantly on. An innate ability to connect with people. I suppose a skeptic would protest by trying to portray them as “phonies,” and I’ll concede I don’t know them enough to flatly contradict that. But – take it from me – you can’t help but want to like these guys. At least, if first impressions are any indication.

 

And don’t underscore the importance of that when it’s considered what a priority the staff places on recruiting. I’m not smart enough to know how many games or Big Ten or national championships Franklin & Co. can lead Penn State to, but I will confidently predict that they will consistently produce top-10 national recruiting classes.

 

An assistant told me, with a resolute tone, they will have a top-five class. Seeing as how we’re in mid-January, the recruiting turmoil usually associated with a coaching change is upon us and the school is in the final year of annual scholarship reductions, I instinctively assumed he meant 2015 (and beyond) when he dropped the “top-five class” line. When I said so, he quickly interrupted and assured me he meant right now. In 2014.

 

I don’t know if that’s possible with a 20-player maximum class… but after meeting these coaches and recognizing the premium they place on recruiting, I’m not going to outright dismiss their chances. Behind the scenes, they are working on some very big names – ones that previously were thought to have not even given Penn State a thought. You might be surprised if/when you hear who. I know I was.

 

Now, does all of this energy, youthful enthusiasm, genuine chemistry among each other and emphasis placed on aggressive recruiting mean The James Franklin Staff Nittany Lions will beat Ohio State come October? That they’ll be in the new College Football Playoff come each and every January? That remains to be seen. It’s still a young group (average age of 39.6) with scant full-time FBS coaching experience (45 seasons among the nine on-field assistants… or one fewer than Joe Paterno was head coach alone) – and no experience whatsoever of coaching in the Big Ten.

 

Youth is both a strength and a curse, though. And about the relative dearth of “big-name” schools on their resumes? Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop told me, “The key is we keep that chip on our shoulder. Our defensive staff, I promise you, we’re just a bunch of I-AA guys who worked our way up, keep our mouth shut and do our job.”

 

You can’t argue with what these guys (sans Smith) did together at Vanderbilt. Arguably, there isn’t a Power Five conference school in the country in which it is harder to win. Yet these coaches guided the Commodores to a better record over their final 20 games there (16-4) than SEC team other than Alabama.

 

The first game for this coaching staff at Penn State remains seven months (and entire continent) away (Aug. 30 against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland). There’s no guarantee, of course, Franklin & Co. will be a success in leading the Penn State program out of the NCAA sanctions abyss and back onto its perch among the hierarchy of the nation’s elite programs. We’ll find out beginning this fall, and that will play out over the coming years.

 

Big Ten titles aren’t won over a two-week span of mid-January. What James Franklin and his 10 lieutenants have shown so far (selling the program – both to fans/alumni and prospective recruits) is their strength. It’s what they do best. This is their star turn – both in their actions and while viewed through a prism of a so-called “honeymoon period.” They’re still undefeated, after all.

 

But all we know is what we’ve seen so far.  You can’t get too carried away in evaluating a staff that hasn’t even so much as presided over a practice yet. That said, the James Franklin-led staff is off to quite the start in leading the football program at the Pennsylvania State University.

 

 

 

Tomorrow, I’ll post a collection of quotes from Penn State’s coaches. As you might expect, this gregarious staff is quite quotable.

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January 14, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Bill O’Brien on ESPN Radio: ‘Not accurate at all’ that lack of support drove him away from PSU

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Bill O’Brien was on at least two high-profile national radio shows Tuesday, and his thoughts about Penn State were prominent in the interviews with “Mike & Mike” on ESPN Radio and Jim Rome of CBS Sports Radio.

 

During he ESPN appearance, almost the entire first half of a nearly eight-minute interview was specifically about Penn State. I have that transcribed below. O’Brien also talked to Jim Rome. He said similar things on both shows, so I won’t type that all out. Just a couple highlights at the bottom.

 

Of course he went on to answer questions about his new gig with the NFL’s Houston Texans. But the way that the Penn State answers went first make you wonder — and I’m speculating here; maybe I’m way off — if this was O’Brien’s concerted effort to “make good” with the Penn State community.

 

 

(Asked what his biggest takeaway is from his time at Penn State)

I’d say the biggest takeaway was the players. I really enjoyed coaching those players; they were great kids. They practiced hard, they played hard and they meant a lot to our staff and to myself at Penn State.

 

(Asked if he always wanted to go back to NFL?)

I loved Penn State, Mike, I really did. I enjoyed the players. I think it’s a very special university. I think they’ve gone and hired a fantastic coach in James Franklin, but there were many parts of the NFL game that I missed and then the other thing that is important to note is my family. When Houston came around and was interested in talking to me and I met the McNairs and I met Rick Smith, I just felt good about this opportunity. It was also the fact that in the city of Houston they have a great medical facility here for my oldest son. It’s just a fantastic facility and I think that’s something that meant a lot to my wife and I, and the McNairs really  helped us with that and talked to us a lot about that. And obviously, the opportunity to come here and be the head coach of an organization that to me is a first class organization had a lot to do with it, obviously.

 

(Asked if Paterno supporters played a factor in leaving, as a Harrisburg Patriot-News reported asserted in citing month-old quotes from O’Brien)

No, that’s not accurate at all. I felt that I had a ton of support at Penn State and my staff had a lot of support at Penn State. I regret that that conversation even took place; I regret that, I do. I know that I ton a ton of support there. Penn State is a special place I believe in what we did at Penn State. I think Penn State, the football program is in a better spot now than it was two years ago. I think our staff, myself, ourplayers are very proud of that, and I think they’re going to take off. I think that Penn State is a place where you can win national championships, and Big Ten championships, so I felt really good about the support I had there, and I apologize to anybody that took that conversation, obviously, the wrong way. I regret that conversation – but again, Penn State is a special place, and they’re going to be in great shape in the coming years.

 

 

Later in the day Tuesday, O’Brien was on Jim Rome’s show on CBS Sports Radio. He answered four questions about Penn State — again, roughly half of an almost nine-minute interview. I won’t type out all of it (too much more important stuff to do), but O’Brien says much of the same positive things about PSU and his former players as he did on ESPN Radio. He said he attempted to reach every player and recruit before word leaked that he was leaving and that some weren’t happy but that overall they were supportive.

 

Here is the part about the Harrisburg Patriot-News column:

 

I can tell you, No. 1, is I feel bad about that conversation. I regret that conversation. I felt that we always had support at Penn State, especially from the student body. The student body was fantastic there, and there were so many nice people in that community that were supportive of the football program and our team and our family. I feel bad about that conversation. I apologize to people about that conversation and I wish it never happened but it did and I’ll leave it at that. I know that Penn State is a very special place and they just hired an excellent football coach in James Franklin.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, four Penn State players were made available to the media today for the first time since O’Brien left. In Wednesday’s Trib, we’ll hear from them — on O’Brien, on new coach James Franklin, on departing assistant coach Larry Johnson and on all the craziness of the past three weeks through their eyes. Pittsburgh area standouts Miles Dieffenbach and Mike Hull are among those who talked.

 

 

Enjoy the day!

 

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January 5, 2014
by Chris Adamski


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Getting to know Al Golden from a reporter who’s known him best

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While Penn State’s coaching search is far from over, Miami’s Al Golden has perhaps emerged as the favorite.

 

Golden’s eight-year head-coaching resume includes impressive turnarounds — for vastly different reasons — at both Temple and Miami. A PSU alum, Golden wears a shirt and tie on the sidelines. He married a Central PA girl. In short, he “looks” the part of Penn State’s next coach.

 

But how well do we really know him? In setting out to learn more, I turned to John Di Carlo. Di Carlo has spent more time covering Golden as a head coach than anyone, and no reporter during his head coaching tenure has been closer to Golden, his staff and how he runs a program than him.

 

Di Carlo has been covering sports in the Philadelphia area for 16 years, and for the past eight years he has been the editor at OwlScoop.com, a Rivals.com site that, bar none, provides the most exhaustive and inside coverage of Temple University athletics. During Golden’s five seasons at Temple, OwlScoop.com was (and remains) the most comprehensive source for Owls news.

 

In short, there’s probably no reporter on the planet who knows Golden better. Di Carlo was kind enough to take some time to answer questions about Golden. He was our sounding board for “Everything a Penn State Fan Would Like to Know About Al Golden But Didn’t Know Who To Ask,” and he has some interesting insights.

 

 

 

Trib Total Media: When Al Golden left the school for Miami, Temple athletic director Bill Bradshaw called his job “one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Division I history.” Can you give us an indication of where the Owls were as a program when he arrived compared to where he took them?

 

John Di Carlo: Al took over what was arguably the worst FBS program in America when he arrived at Temple. The Owls went 19-71 under Bobby Wallace from 1998 to 2005, including 0-11 in Wallace’s final season, the program was asked to leave the Big East following the 2004 season and got trounced as an independent in 2005.

 

Then you have the fact that former Temple President David Adamany admitted that he considered dropping the football program together when things got bad in 2003 and 2004 and the team went a combined 3-21. With uncertainty surrounding the program, Wallace was faced with the task of trying to recruit to a program that may or may not exist by the time these prospective players were finished with their careers, so he took to recruiting junior college players, several of which were not physically ready for D-I football or academically ready for Temple. That was a big contributing factor to the program losing nine scholarships in 2006 due to a substandard APR score, so Al inherited that bouquet of roses, along with a roster littered with some players who couldn’t play dead in a cowboy western movie.

 

But Al knew what he was getting into. He always knows what he’s getting into, in fact. He’s very strategic, analyzes the living hell out of a situation before he gets himself into it, and he loves a challenge, so Temple was perfect for his first head-coaching gig. He worked diligently with the university to get the program’s APR scores up and get those nine scholarships back. The program became an affiliate member of the Mid-American Conference in 2006 and a full-fledged member of the MAC in 2007 and he took things from there.

 

TTM: As a program’s leader and CEO of the organization, how would you describe Al Golden’s overall demeanor, characteristics or leadership style?

 

JD: This is where Al really excels. He embraces that CEO persona and leans on a lot of leadership theory and ideas from people like former GE CEO Jack Welch, one of his favorites. He won’t be afraid to ruffle some feathers to get something done, but again, he’ll be smooth and strategic about it. He pushes and coaches his players – and his staff – hard, he’ll take chances on a recruit he thinks was overlooked, and he’s unwavering in his principles and very good at blocking out the outside world and public perception, something he had to do a lot at Temple and most recently at Miami.

 

TTM: In your time knowing him, how much – if any – indication did Al give of the love or reverence he or his family had for Penn State? We’ve seen third-person references that this is his “dream job;” do you believe that is truly the case?

 

JD: In taking off the record to Al about Penn State, sure, I got the sense of his reverence for Penn State, but as cliché as it sounds, he was very good at focusing on the task at hand, which was Temple and everything that came with it. Before he decided it was time to go and couldn’t turn down Miami (he turned down opportunities to go after the head coaching vacancies at Minnesota and Vanderbilt, among others), he really did kind of catch the bug at Temple, much like Matt Rhule has now, and really engrained himself in the university culture, so he didn’t get too involved in talking about how great it would be to some day coach at his alma mater.

 

Do I think Penn State his dream job? Yes, I do, but I know he was also very excited about reviving what Miami once had and I know Kelly, his wife, likes the area, even though she’s a Penn State graduate and a central PA native. I was told – and perhaps it’s been reported somewhere and I missed it along the way – that Penn State offered Al the job before Bill O’Brien took it, but Al turned it down because he didn’t want to pull a Lane Kiffin.

 

If he’s offered the job again, I can’t see him turning down Penn State a second time.

 

TTM: The worst is behind Penn State, but some aspects of the NCAA sanctions remain, and the stench of the Jerry Sandusky situation might not fully leave for decades. Turning around a perennially losing program is petty by comparison… but between making Temple a winner and riding outa pretty ugly scandal at Miami, Golden has earned a reputation as a stellar, steady hand guiding through reclamation projects. What is it about him, in your view, that allows that?

 

JD: Again, he’s very smart, sharp and strategic about everything – and I mean everything. What was the lesson to be learned at Penn State that Al and the Miami administration pretty much nailed to avoid further heartache down there? Self report everything. You can say that high-level administrators and trustees take care of certain things when it gets to that level, and they do, but Al has a hand in everything. He’s very charismatic, very engaging and very good at getting people to buy in when things are tough.

 

TTM: For all the wonderful qualities of Bill O’Brien, the handshaking, backslapping, schmoozing figurehead of a multimillion-dollar program was something he loathed. How’s Golden in that area?

 

JD: Al’s great in that area. And even if he’s not in the mood to do it on a certain day, you’d never know it because he’s good at pushing through everything he needs to do to embrace that CEO persona. Heck, he even had a lot of input and oversight with the team’s media guide every year and used to suggest attendance and marketing ideas when he was at Temple. Again, the guy leaves no stone unturned.

 

Even when it comes to dealing with boosters and fans who have a million questions about why he didn’t get a certain recruit or run a certain play, nine times out of 10, he’ll sit there and answer the questions. Each year, Temple runs an event for fans and alumni at the New Jersey shore, and it wasn’t uncommon for Al to linger around and have a beer with fans in Sea Isle City or Avalon during the only real vacation time he had in July before preseason camp instead of just ducking away to Stone Harbor, where he and Kelly typically vacationed.

 

TTM: He played tight end at Penn State but his background in coaching is on defense. How hands-on is Golden in the game planning and scheme? Is he a delegator or are his fingerprints all over the X’s and O’s?

 

JD: Unless things have changed, Al’s pretty hands-on with game planning. And from what I’ve been told, it was not uncommon for him to get on the headset when Temple had a chance to really open some things up on offense and really blow things out and say something to the effect of, ‘Let’s just run the ball, stay healthy and get the hell out of here.’ That’s not to say he can’t delegate, and he’s not all that different than some other guys around the country, but his fingerprints are typically all over about 99.9 percent of what goes on with the program.

 

TTM: A lot has been made of his close friendship with Mark D’Onofrio, his former Nittany Lions teammate who is his defensive coordinator. Miami’s defense had a bad season, and there are calls in Coral Gables that a change needs to be made. Is hiring Golden, in your mind, a “package deal” with D’Onofrio?

 

JD: This is where I think things could get interesting. I’m not saying it will be a sticking point that would ultimately kill a deal, because I think Al’s way too smart to let something like that hinder things, but I do think Al feels a bit conflicted about this and ultimately wants to see Mark land on his feet. I’d be shocked if Al didn’t have something to do with Mark getting a couple of interviews for the head coaching job at Temple last December before Matt Rhule ultimately got the job, and I think it’s fair to assume that Al wanted to see Mark either A. get his name out there for some positive ‘Hey, Mark D’Onofrio got a head coaching job interview’ press or B. get the job so he could avoid having to make a tough decision about his future down the line at Miami.

 

All of that, I think, is interesting considering former Temple AD Bill Bradshaw offered Mark the chance to be Al’s successor mere hours after Al announced he was leaving for Miami, but Al wholeheartedly convinced Mark to not take the job and follow him down to Miami.

 

But the numbers don’t lie, and Mark’s defenses have come under some deserved scrutiny at Miami. After being ranked 17th nationally in scoring defense in 2011 (at 20.1 points per game), the Hurricanes got worse. They were 83rd nationally in 2012 (30.5 ppg.) and 66th in the nation this past season (26.8 ppg.), and there was an ugly, three-game stretch this season when Miami, at a time when it really had a chance to prove itself, gave up 131 points and 1,609 yards on third down in losses to Florida State, Virginia Tech and Duke, and the Canes gave up an average of nearly 44 points a game in that three-game losing streak.

 

TTM: Along those lines, with Larry Johnson (as well as Ron Vanderlinden) very popular among the Penn State community – and a likely need for a bright and innovative offensive coordinator and strong quarterbacks coach presence to appease Christian Hackenberg and continue the offense’s progression in the O’Brien mold exists (conventional wisdom says, anyway). Do you believe Golden is the type who is open to bringing in those outside his inner circle onto his staff?

 

JD: I do, and I think he’s going to have to come to the realization (if he hasn’t already) that Mark can’t be his defensive coordinator at Penn State. Mark’s bend-but-don’t break style hasn’t worked at Miami, and it used to leave fans scratching their heads at Temple when Mark would have a double-digit sack rush end like Adrian Robinson drop into coverage instead.

 

Al hasn’t been opposed to surrounding himself with older and more experienced people in the past. When he got to Temple, he hired George DeLeone as his offensive coordinator and tapped into what George did during his days in coaching guys like Donovan McNabb and Marvin Harrison at Syracuse. Even though things didn’t work out recently for George at UConn, he had a good run during his Syracuse days and he was a good hire at the time for Al at Temple.

 

TTM: Perhaps the biggest criticism of Al Golden is a simple one: He hasn’t won enough. Some are speculating he is a bad in-game coach. Did you see any evidence of that? Is there any indication, in your opinion, that maybe there’s reason to believe he can’t win consistently?

 

JD: In some ways, I think that’s fair criticism. Al had the self-imposed bowl bans in 2011 and 2012 that kept Miami out of the postseason while he was building his program down there. But I think – and I’m sure ardent Miami fans do as well – it was fair to expect results in his third season this past fall, and the Canes finished 2-4 after starting off 7-0 and gaining that national top-10 ranking.

 

And even though I’m in full agreement with Bradshaw that Al pulled off one of the most remarkable college football turnarounds at Temple and should be commended for it, there were big-game slip-ups with the Owls as well. In 2009, with a spot in the MAC title game on the line, Temple lost to Ohio, 35-17, and that loss ended a nine-game winning streak. In 2010, again with a shot at a MAC title-game appearance at stake, Temple lost its last two games – 31-23 to Ohio at home in monsoon conditions and 23-3 at Miami of Ohio. Now, Bernard Pierce pulled up lame with a hamstring injury in that Ohio game, and I’ll say that I think Bernard has learned how to be a lot more mentally tough since moving along to the NFL, so that was a big offensive void for Temple. But, nonetheless, the Owls couldn’t lock down a spot in the MAC title game in those two seasons when they could have and should have, nor did Al’s teams ever beat a MAC team with a winning record during his time on North Broad Street.

 

But I also think Al could learn from sub-par finishes down the stretch at Temple and Miami and make his next job his best job. If he winds up at Penn State, he’ll be working with the best quarterback he’s ever had.

 

TTM: Golden has reputation as a strong recruiter, particularly since arriving at Miami. Now, understanding that the national Rivals rankings while you were covering him averaged in the 80’s… for Temple and for the MAC level, was he recruiting well relative to his competition? If so, why do you think he can recruit so well?

 

JD: Absolutely. In fact, Temple’s two highest-ranked recruits (Daryl Robinson and Eric Reynolds) were ultimately dismissed from the program and never worked out. Al’s greatest strength – and that of his staff – was trusting the film and landing guys that were not that highly recruited. Bernard Pierce’s other offer was from James Madison. Muhammad Wilkerson’s other offers were from Western Kentucky and Marshall. Same stories for guys like Tahir Whitehead, Derek Dennis, Steve Maneri and Jaiquawn Jarrett, and all of those guys eventually ended up in the NFL.

 

The same qualities that make Al a good program manager are those that make him a good recruiter. He’s engaging, charismatic and relentless.

 

TTM: Finally, it’s clichéd and idealistic, but Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said that the search committee values qualities of “integrity” and “academics” as much as on-field winning. With everything that’s happened at the school over the past 26 months, that might be more than mere lip service. Does Al Golden have any skeletons in the closet? Any indication how he fares in the areas of integrity and academics?

 

JD: No skeletons that I know of. Again, he was a big part of getting Temple’s APR score up and getting the nine lost scholarships back, and he’s not above working with faculty and administration to make sure guys are going to classes. Will he take a chance or two on a high school talent with a somewhat-checkered past? Sure, but most guys out there will as well. But the one common thing here, once again, is that Al is involved with anything and everything regarding the program and takes it all quite seriously. Not much gets past him, and he won’t be afraid to kick a talented kid out of his program if he’s not buying in on and off the field.

 

 

A Big thanks for the insight to John, who covered Al Golden’s five seasons at Temple. Follow him on Twitter at @jdicarlo or @OwlScoop_com.

 

 

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December 30, 2013
by Chris Adamski


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Former player: O’Brien ‘very committed to Penn State but… has a chance to chase his dreams’

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West Mifflin’s Adam Gress has a future ahead of him. Whether it be in the NFL or as a TV/radio personality, you’ll be hearing from the 6-foot-6, 320-pound former Penn State starting right tackle in the coming years.

 

PTR-PSUfb5-110613Gress, who earned two undergraduate degrees and finished his Nittany Lions’ playing career last month, is prepping for the NFL Draft. If that doesn’t work out, the telecommunications and broadcast journalism major – combined with an extroverted personality (he was one of the best Twitter follows among PSU players this season) – is a nice fallback plan.

 

While he plots his own future, Gress has been following the Bill O’Brien will-he-or-won’t-he saga over the past week just like scores of other Penn State alumni and fans. The Lions coach, O’Brien is reportedly the leading candidate for the Houston Texans’ vacant coaching position – and is either about to jump on accepting an offer, or is going to stay at Penn State for a third season, depending on whom you believe.

 

“I check it out on Twitter and things like that to see what the latest, I guess, rumors are,” Gress said Sunday. “Who knows?”

 

Just as he did last year at this time when several NFL teams showered him with interest following being named the national coach of the year, O’Brien (and his representatives) have been on lockdown when it comes to information. Neither he nor his agent have responded to phone or email messages from the Tribune-Review (or any other media outlet, for that matter).

GTR-O'BrienFile7-XXXXXX

“You know him better than that – he’s not gonna tell anyone,” Gress said with a laugh. “He likes to keep you guessing, keep you wondering – especially you guys (in the media). He likes to do anything to keep you on your toes.”

 

Gress can’t recall O’Brien ever making any sort of flat-out promise that he’d stay at Penn State for any sort of term (beyond a current season), either to him personally or to the team at large.

 

“I can’t tell you (O’Brien’s plans); my guess is just as good as yours,” Gress said. “But no matter how you look at, it he’s making a good decision (to stay) or he’s making a good decision for himself, and you can’t blame him for that.”

 

O’Brien, of course, followed legendary Joe Paterno, who coached the Lions for 46 seasons. O’Brien has led Penn State to two consecutive winning seasons and is largely credited with keeping the program afloat following the Jerry Sandusky scandal and resulting crippling NCAA sanctions.

 

Still, it doesn’t take more than cursory scan of social media or message boards to find members of the Penn State community who already are lambasting O’Brien for even the thought of leaving the team for the NFL.

 

That troubles Gress.

 

“Some fans just want to crucify him; I don’t understand that,” he said. “People need to understand everybody has their own dreams, everyone has their own goals. Just because the previous coach stayed here for decades doesn’t mean every coach who comes through here has to do that. He’s had a great impact on the program and is a great guy.”

 

Gress, of course, wasn’t directly speaking for the 100-some of his now-former teammates. But he indicated he believed most felt the same way he does.

 

“(O’Brien) is a definitely a guy who loves the NFL, everyone knows that,” Gress said. “But I think he also loves Penn State. I think he’s very committed to Penn State, but I also think he has a chance to chase his dreams…. Either way, I’m in support of whatever he does.”

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December 18, 2013
by Chris Adamski


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PSU’s Frazier, Newbill form quite the backcourt duo

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Some are calling them one of the best backcourts in the country. Certainly, they’re among the most experienced. But this is the first year Penn State’s Tim Frazier and D.J. Newbill are playing together.

 

It’s also their first year as full-time roommates.

 

“We care about certain things like the same music,” said Frazier, the all-Big Ten point guard. “Having so much in common makes it so much easier.

 

“It’s mostly R&B and hip-hop, but I try to throw a little country on him from time to time.”

 

Newbill is a redshirt junior who sat out the 2011-12 season upon transferring from Southern Mississippi. Frazier is a senior who missed almost all of last season because of an Achilles injury. Together, they average 37.4 points (best in the nation among guard duos), 10.0 assists, 10.0 rebounds and 2.9 steals per game.

 

Together, they’ve grown as friends after being hotel roommates on the road last season. Together, they’re a feared backcourt combination for upcoming Big Ten opponents.

 

“They’re doing a pretty good job, don’t you think?” Penn State coach Pat Chambers said last week. “Tim… looks for D.J., which is good. I think they have a good understanding of where each other’s going to be on the floor and how to help each other on the defensive end.

 

“I think because of them rooming together last year, because they’re roommates now on campus and they’re spending a lot of time together, I think you’re seeing that on the floor. I think you’re seeing two guys who just want to win basketball games. They don’t care who the leading scorer is, as long as we compete at a high level and give ourselves a chance to win. They’re a cohesive duo.”

 

Last season, Newbill – a Philadelphia native – was somewhat miscast as a point guard after Fraizer was injured during the fourth game of the season.

 

This season, Frazier has been Penn State’s leading scorer five times, Newbill three and they tied for the designation once. In two of the three occasions in which another member of the team was the top scorer, Newbill had more points (they tied the other time).

 

Although they combine for nine seasons of experience being on major college basketball rosters, Newbill and Frazier continue to learn tendencies about each other as the season progresses.

 

“You learn something new every game,” Frazier said. “A move he made (against Duquesne on Dec. 11), I was like, ‘Damn, I didn’t even know he had that in his repertoire!’ You learn something new every time, and I think we will just keep gelling together throughout the season.”

 

Penn State will need them to if it hopes to make a postseason tournament.

 

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December 16, 2013
by Chris Adamski


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O’Brien at Penn State football banquet: ‘We feel good about the future’

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BILL OBRIEN

 

Hours after a CBSsports.com report cited anonymous sources in terming Bill O’Brien as “ready to return to professional football,” the Penn State coach presided over the postseason team awards banquet.

 

It’d be silly to read too much into the school’s official release about the banquet, which was held Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel and staged by the State College Quarterback Club on Sunday. Almost 750 people attended the event, and reports have come out that O’Brien ended his remarks with “see you next year.” He also, for what it’s worth, definitely said, “We feel good about the future.” O’Brien also was in Hershey watching a PIAA championship game Sunday as part of his recruiting duties.

 

O’Brien has never been shy about saying that the NFL is the highest level of his given profession and in indicating that anyone would aspire to coach in it someday. He’s also been a man who’s not only preached but has been credited with being extremely honest and upfront. Being so careful with his words perhaps only indicates that – somewhere down the road (whether it is in the near or not-so-near future) – he doesn’t want to close that NFL door.

 

I reached out to O’Brien’s agent. If/when I hear back, I’ll pass it along.

 

In the meantime, here were the awards given out Sunday, the day before eight Penn State players were honored by the Big Ten Network and/or ESPN for being all-Big Ten:

 

  • Lions’ Pride Outstanding Senior Player Award (MVP): DT DaQuan Jones.

 

  • Richard Maginnis Memorial Award (outstanding offensive lineman): C Ty Howle and G John Urschel.

 

  • John Bruno, Jr. Memorial Award (outstanding member of special teams): FB Pat Zerbe.

 

  • Ridge Riley Award (senior for “sportsmanship, scholarship, leadership and friendship”): OT Garry Gilliam, S/LB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

 

  • Robert B. Mitinger, Jr. Award (senior who exhibits courage, character and social responsibility): LB Glenn Carson, OT Eric Shrive and S Malcolm Willis.

 

  • Outstanding Run-on Award (walk-on player who exemplifies total commitment, loyalty, hard work and courage): TE Matt Lehman.

 

  • Reid-Robinson Award (outstanding defensive lineman): Jones.

 

  • Football Letterman’s Club Joe and Sue Paterno Post-Graduate Scholarship ($5,000 Scholarship to a senior to provide recognition and financial assistance for graduate school): DT Kyle Baublitz.

 

  • The Nittany Lion Club Academic Achievement Award (senior with highest GPA): Urschel.

 

  • Quarterback Club Special Award:  OT Adam Gress (a West Mifflin alumnus).

 

  • The Iron Lion Award (to the senior who demonstrates the cornerstone of the Penn State Football strength and conditioning program — intensity and consistency): Urschel.

 

  • Alumni Athlete Award: Former WR Rich Mauti (father of former LB Mike, now with the Minnesota Vikings).

 

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December 11, 2013
by Chris Adamski


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John Amaechi on Penn St football, PSU basketball, PSU life

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Before there was All-Big Ten guard, academic all-world and certified Mathlete John Urschel, Penn State had John Amaechi. He was not only arguably the one of the top five Nittany Lions basketball players of the past 30 years (OK, not exactly a storied history there to contend with — but still), he also was given a national academic award for men’s basketball players. Now a psychologist in London, Amaechi remains a very proud public Penn Stater.

 

I spoke to him this week in preparation for a story I’m doing on The Return to Rec game this Saturday. As the centerpiece of the final teams to play at Rec Hall, I figured he was as good as any to talk about the old barn. Look for that story to run Saturday in The Trib.

 

While I had him on the phone from across the proverbial pond, I figured I’d also kind of catch up with him. Amaechi loves Penn State enough that he says he rarely misses an annual trip back to State College — even from London. This past Homecoming in October, Amaechi was the Grand Marshall of the parade.

 

Amaechi keeps up with the Nittany Lions’ football and men’s basketball teams (the former mostly via Twitter; the latter enough so that he has developed a relationship with coach Pat Chambers). He is staging a “Big Man” camp at his youth/sports charitable center in Great Brittan, and Amaechi said he is inviting all of the PSU forwards/centers to attend.

 

An occupational psychologist by trade (Amaechi also frequently does public speaking, is an author and runs his foundation), Amaechi keeps in touch with the Penn State psychology department, particularly “frequently”speaking with Dr. Rick Jacobs.

 

 

“I think I always have thought that Penn State was the place that gave me my opportunity, it was the place that despite all we have heard negatively about the Second Mile and… Penn State was the place that told me I had a responsibility as an athlete to be a role model. And that has stuck with me.”

 

 

It’s obvious Amaechi has an affinity for Chambers, whom he likens to his former coach at Penn State, Bruce Parkhill:

 

 

“He’s one of those type of people who’s a taskmaster, who demanded that you brought your ‘A’ game every moment: In the gym, in the classroom and at all times. And I just lament, why aren’t there young people who want that challenge? Why don’t they, instead of wanting to sit in the program where they can mature gently over four years and take the easy road, instead have to step up and contribute that first year. Because that’s the opportunity that’s available at Penn State. To come in, step up and contribute. The young people that have stepped in right now, that is the effort they are making.”

 

 

Like any other Penn State alumnus, Amaechi has his thoughts on the Nittany Lions’ football program. In the past, he has not been shy in saying things that have gotten him into some hot water with alumni concerning the Jerry Sandusky scandal. He had nothing but good things to say about second-year football coach Bill O’Brien, with whom he recently appeared on a radio show with:

 

 

“I think to my mind Bill seems to be a very principled guy and very focused on getting the program not back to where it was – rather reasserting some values that he holds very closely in discipline and teamwork and representing yourselves as individuals. It seems to me that’s what he’s trying to get back to. Instead of looking back, he’s looking to what Penn State can be in the next 10 years.”

 

 

Amaechi says he regularly attends Penn State Alumni Association events in London — many of which involve watching the football team. He intends on attending next season’s opener against Central Florida in Dublin, Ireland.

 

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December 4, 2013
by Chris Adamski


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PSU coach Pat Chambers: ‘We’re a good team… get used to it’

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Penn State basketball coach Patrick Chambers is fighting for respect for his team – that much was apparent after the Nittany Lions lost to Pitt on Tuesday.

 

Asked a question of whether “proving you could play with (Pitt)” instead of losing by 37 like they did last time, Chambers politely answered it. And then he seemed to turn his annoyance level up a notch. Below is a transcript of the full exchange between Chambers and the media:

 

 

“Whether it’s Pitt or whoever in the Big Ten, I feel like we have a good solid team.

 

“And I hope people start taking us seriously. Because I feel like, and I know (the PSU players) were tired of everybody talking about us like we’re not a good team. ‘Aren’t you proud to be on the same floor?’ What does that mean? What does that really mean? We’re a good team, we’re a good basketball team, get used to it. How’s that sound?”

 

You don’t think people take you seriously?

 

“No. No, not at all.”

 

Why? I’m curious.

 

“I’m sure because of history.

 

“Our attitude has changed, our mindset has changed. We’re competing at a high level. We’re just not seeing great results the last two games, but we’re getting there.”

 

Does this game help along those lines?

 

“If you win it, yeah.”

 

Don’t you think beating Bucknell would help that?

 

“Yeah I agree.

 

“Nice low blow, but yeah I agree, you’re right.”

 

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