In preparing for his senior season at Penn State after months of upheaval, defensive tackle Jordan Hill found comfort in the fact that not everything was new.
Assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden are back this year for the Nittany Lions, the only coaches to return from last season. Both were longtime members of the late Joe Pater-no's staff who are helping the program take its initial steps under first-year chief Bill O'Brien.
Since Penn State last played a game, the football program has witnessed the death of its legendary coach, the conviction on child-abuse charges of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, the Freeh report that said Paterno and other high-ranking school officials helped cover up Sandusky's crimes, and the handing down of heavy NCAA sanctions.
For some players, and especially veterans, the two remaining coaches have served as ports in the storm.
"They let us know not to dwell on the past," Hill said. "They were here before, and have been here longer than we have. To see them push through, that was leading by example."
Vanderlinden is entering his 12th season as Penn State's linebackers coach, while Johnson is preparing for his 17th campaign guiding the Lions' defensive linemen.
Despite a lengthy shared history, their relationship was strengthened through the challenges of the past 12 months, Johnson said.
"We've gotten closer as we've gone through this," Johnson said. "We're in a different situation now. But we realize that at the end of the day, we have a job to do in guiding these young men. That's our focus."
Both said they had no desire to coach elsewhere, even as the Penn State staff was crumbling following the TicketCity Bowl loss to Houston on Jan. 2 and O'Brien's hiring less than a week later.
Johnson said he was drawn to the new head coach's personality and fire.
"Right away on the night we met, we had a great, open conversation," Johnson said, "and he said, 'I'd like you to be part of what will be happening here.'
"It's like going to a new job. You adjust and move forward. There's a great group of guys on this coaching staff."
Gone are Tom Bradley, Mike McQueary, Jay Paterno, Dick Anderson, Galen Hall, Kermit Buggs and Bill Kenney.
They have been replaced by John Butler (secondary), Charlie Fisher (quarterbacks), Stan Hixon (assistant head coach/wide receivers), Charles London (running backs), Mac McWhorter (offensive line), Ted Roof (defensive coordinator), John Strollo (tight ends) and Craig Fitzgerald (strength and conditioning).
And the staff includes two holdovers.
"I appreciate Coach O'Brien's giving me the opportunity," Vanderlinden said. "I love Penn State and I love the student-athletes I get an opportunity to coach here.
"I've just stayed focused on the task at hand. Coach O'Brien, Coach Roof and Coach Butler have instituted a terrific scheme. My job is just to focus on coaching my position."
Among Vanderlinden's students now on NFL rosters are such former "Linebacker U" standouts as Paul Posluszny, Cameron Wake, Dan Connor, Navarro Bowman and Sean Lee.
His troops on the current Penn State team are led by All-Big Ten performer Gerald Hodges. Also returning as starters are Glenn Carson and Mike Mauti, who is looking to rebound from a knee injury suffered early in 2011 against Eastern Michigan.
"I feel very good about the players in this (line-backing) unit," Vanderlinden said. "I'm always guarded, because there are so many ways that things can change overnight, including injuries. But I think we have a strong unit."
Carson is glad his position coach is still on campus.
"We're still sticking with the same fundamentals, but with a new defense," Carson said. "It makes the transition that much easier. Obviously, Coach Vanderlinden is doing something right because of all of these great linebackers he's had in the past."
"It made it a lot easier because you know that Coach Van knows what you can do," backup linebacker Mike Hull added. "You know his teaching style, so it was an easy transition."
On the line, Johnson has coached the likes of Tamba Hali, Courtney Brown, Jimmy Kennedy, Jared Odrick, Michael Haynes, Aaron Maybin and NFL rookie Devon Still.
The current unit is led by defensive tackle Hill, an honorable- mention all-Big Ten player in 2011, and returning defensive end Sean Stanley.
"A lot of us were hoping that Coach Johnson would stay," Hill said. "He recruited a lot of the guys who are on this team. I would say more than half."
Vanderlinden knows stability such as Penn State has seen on its staff is rare in college football, although no program has been through challenges such as this one has seen.
"In coaching, this happens," Vanderlinden said. "It's been a great learning experience, being part of a new program. It's been stimulating."
Johnson added: "It's been tough, but you have to move forward."
The players appreciate some continuity amid the turmoil.
Carson said: "It helps having a familiar face."