Thrill-a-minute offseason at PSU
Penn State's 7-6 football season seemed kind of flat, drab, boring even. The Nittany Lions beat the weaker teams and got whipped by the tough guys. They ranked 105th in offense.
But the offseason? Wow. It has been practically a thrill a minute.
Since its bowl game in Jacksonville, Fla., nearly three weeks ago, Penn State has been all over the news, what with coaching turnovers (the firing of offensive coordinator John Donovan on Nov. 29 was a head start), players transferring, angry parental tweets and fan posts, and stories delving into coach James Franklin's “problems” or trying to answer the question, “What's going on?”
Franklin probably should field that one. But he has not been quoted in the media since his team lost to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl, after which quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive tackle Austin Johnson publicly declared for the NFL Draft with a year of eligibility remaining.
No surprises there, although Hackenberg got added attention by thanking almost everyone he knew at Penn State, except Franklin and his coaches.
Since then, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop left for Tennessee after stating he hoped “Penn State would have me forever and ever and ever.” Surprise. Offensive line coach Herb Hand, a fan non-favorite, went to Auburn.
Linebacker Troy Reeder, who started 11 games as a redshirt freshman, transferred to Delaware because he said he wanted to play with his brother. Receiver Geno Lewis transferred to Oklahoma after his receptions plummeted from 55 in 2014 to 17. His father, Junie, a Pitt basketball star in the 1980s who transferred out himself, issued a tweet slamming Franklin and receivers coach Josh Gattis, followed by an apology. Other players left.
“It hasn't been a good few months for Franklin,” columnist Steve Politi wrote this week on NJ.com.
Perhaps not. But, perceptions aside, are things all that bad, especially in terms of the program's stability as Franklin enters Year 3? A highly regarded recruiting class remains intact. Woodland Hills' Miles Sanders, one of the top high school running backs, reiterated his verbal commitment and canceled other visits.
“Nobody had a better (recruiting) weekend,” wrote 247Sports recruiting director Steve Wiltfong.
“Keeping Sanders in the fold is a huge win for Penn State,” said Mike Farrell, the Rivals.com national recruiting analyst. “It certainly ends any chain of negativity or at least breaks it up.”
Gerry DiNardo, who coached at Vanderbilt, LSU and Indiana, said the negativity might be misspent. He said coaching changes are “predictable every offseason” throughout college football. And, he wonders, “Who says Penn State will be worse off?
“Why isn't this an opportunity for James Franklin to have a better staff?” said DiNardo, an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
He added, however, there is “good reason” to at least question the changes.
“I don't think you can be tone deaf,” he said. “When people bring these things up and it becomes a conversation, if the coach is smart, he has to listen to it and say, ‘Are they right?' ”
With many fans already irked by a season they thought would be better, adverse reactions have been predictable. Kathy Kasperik, president of the Greater Pittsburgh chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association, said she tries to keep it all in perspective.
“When everything happens in a row, there's an initial panic: ‘Oh my God, the sky is falling,' ” she said. “Then you take a deep breath and try to take a look at the big picture.”
“We're definitely looking for improvement,” she said.