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Penn State quickly hires O-line coach

DEREK LEVARSE
(Wilkes-Barre) Times-Leader (TNS)
Penn State coach James Franklin released his team's depth chart heading into Saturday's opener vs. Kent State.

With the recruiting period opening back up at midnight on Thursday, Penn State has quickly begun to reshape its coaching staff.

James Franklin and the Nittany Lions will be staying within the Big Ten with their latest hire, bringing in former Minnesota offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover to run their offensive line. He replaces Herb Hand, who left Penn State to take the same position at Auburn on Monday.

“I am both humbled and honored to join Coach Franklin’s staff and coach at Penn State,” Limegrover said in a release. “Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I have been a Penn State fan my entire life and to now have the opportunity to coach there is overwhelming.

“I can’t wait to get there and start working on building an offensive line to help this program become a championship team.”

Limegrover, 47, is a long-time protege of former Golden Gophers coach Jerry Kill. He was fired in November by Tracy Claeys, who took over the program mid-season when Kill was forced to retire because of health issues.

Penn State opens its 2016 Big Ten home schedule against Minnesota.

“I’d like to stay in the college game and hopefully someone will look at my overall body of work and say this is a guy that could be a really good offensive line coach,” Limegrover told the Pioneer Press in St. Paul after his dismissal. “That is really what I am at the end of the day and I would love to get back to those roots.”

For the last 17 seasons, Limegrover had served as Kill’s offensive line coach, moving up with him from the Football Championship Subdivision ranks to Northern Illinois and ultimately Minnesota. He had also been Kill’s offensive coordinator since 2001.

Pennsylvania roots: As for a Penn State connection, Limegrover grew up in Pennsylvania and just so happens to share an alma mater — Pittsburgh Central Catholic — with new Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead.

The hiring once again gives Franklin three assistants with Pittsburgh roots, along with cornerbacks Terry Smith. Former defensive coordinator Bob Shoop also hailed from Pittsburgh.

“We are really excited to have Matt join our staff,” Franklin said in a release. “He is another Pennsylvania guy, born and raised in Pittsburgh, so he is very familiar with Penn State and this region. He brings a wealth of knowledge and a ton of great experience, both as an offensive line coach and as an offensive coordinator. The numbers that his offenses have put up speak for themselves.”

Before joining Kill as an offensive line coach at Emporia State in 1999, Limegrover spent two years with the same job at Ferris State. He was a graduate assistant for Gary Barnett at Northwestern after spending eight years as a player and coach at the University of Chicago.

Limegrover’s long tenure working with the position was no doubt a key factor for Lions coach James Franklin, who has seen his sanctions-depleted offensive line struggle in both of his seasons with the program.

As for Limegrover himself, he was looking for a situation where he no longer would be fulfilling two roles on a staff, as he was at Minnesota.

“It’s a grind to coach the offensive line and be a coordinator,” Limegrover told the Pioneer Press. “And there are probably times where I didn’t give both of them the attention that both were due. That always kind of bugged me (because) I come from the same camp as Coach Kill as giving it 100 percent and not cheating it.”

At Penn State, the play calling will fall to Moorhead as Limegrover concentrates on blending a handful of fifth-year seniors — who are about to play for their third different position coach — along with promising recruiting crops from the past two years.

Recruiting key: Helping secure the 2016 class will be Limegrover’s first order of business.

Penn State’s highest-rated verbal commitment is Michal Menet of Exeter Township High School in Reading, the state’s top prospect for the 2016 cycle. New Jersey tackle Will Fries is another pledge who must be secured before signing day on Feb. 3.

Lake-Lehman grad Connor McGovern and Ohio tackle Alex Gellerstedt enrolled early and began classes at Penn State on Monday.

Franklin has one more vacancy remaining on his staff, but on the defensive side of the ball. The Lions currently have no one listed as a safeties coach, a position formerly helmed by ex-defensive coordinator Bob Shoop.

Lynch to transfer: PSU running back Akeel Lynch announced on Twitter on Wednesday that he plans to transfer.

Lynch entered the 2015 season as the Lions' starting tailback, but was replaced by freshman sensation Saquon Barkley, who went on to rush for more than 1,100 yards.

Lynch is set to graduate in the spring, which means he can transfer to another school without having to sit out a season. He has one year of eligibility left.

"Football doesn't last forever and this Penn State degree will mean the world to me," Lynch said in his Twitter statement. "This has been tough on me because Penn State has provided me a home for the past four years, even when times were tough. During those times, I couldn't be any more honored to wear the blue and white because being here made me realize that the legacy at Penn State could not be destroyed by one man."

In his statement, he thanked former PSU head coaches Joe Paterno and Bill O'Brien and current head coach James Franklin. He also thanked Heisman Trophy winner John Cappelletti for allowing him to wear No. 22 for four years.

Lynch rushed 298 yards this season and averaged 5.1 yards per carry. His best season came in 2014 when led the squad with 678 rushing yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Matt Limegrover is Penn State's new offensive line coach. He came over from the University of Minnesota and has a big job on his hands. PSU's offensive line has been a problem spot in recent years.