Penn State football assistant leaving Nittany Lions to become Va. Tech head coach

JOSH MOYER AND JON SAUBER
Centre Daily Times (TNS)
FILE - Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry gestures during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Rutgers in State College, Pa., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Virginia Tech is finalizing a deal to make Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry its next head coach, two people familiar with the situation told The Associated Press. The people spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Tuesday, Nov. 30, because details were still being worked out and neither school was prepared to make a formal announcement. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger, File)

Penn State's longtime defensive coordinator Brent Pry is leaving Happy Valley.

Virginia Tech announced Tuesday afternoon that Pry has been hired as the team's new head coach.

The news first began to surface Tuesday morning when Yahoo!'s Pete Thamel reported Virginia Tech's coaching search had focused on Pry.

The now-former Penn State defensive coordinator spent time with the Hokies from 1995-1998 as a graduate assistant who worked with the defensive line. Pry said in a statement released by Virginia Tech that he continued to appreciate the program after he left.

"Even after I departed Blacksburg, I always continued to appreciate Virginia Tech, its great players, its championship teams, and its wonderful traditions from afar. The resources, facilities, university backing of Athletics, and phenomenal fan support that Virginia Tech enjoys made this a very desirable situation. But just as importantly, the opportunity to raise our children in a community like Blacksburg also has great appeal. We can't wait to meet the team, the support staff, and Hokie Nation. We will be prepared to hit the ground running in order to attract the type of student-athletes to Virginia Tech who can help us achieve sustained success."

The statement also included comment from Penn State head coach James Franklin about Pry's departure.

"I'm truly excited for Brent and his family," Franklin said. "He's a passionate leader who'll inspire his team to play their best football; but his greatest strengths are his dedication, relatability and humility. It's those characteristics combined with his deep understanding of X&Os that will serve Virginia Tech and the entire Blacksburg community best."

The blow could be a considerable one for the Nittany Lions (7-5), whose defenses have consistently been ranked among the Big Ten's best. This year, Penn State ranks No. 7 nationally in scoring defense (16.75 ppg) and No. 36 (344.3 ypg) in total defense.

Pry had been with Franklin since the latter took on Vanderbilt's head job in 2011. Pry joined Franklin when he was named Penn State's head coach in 2014 and, despite coaching offers since then, he's helped the team to winning seasons in seven of the last eight years.

At Vanderbilt, Pry worked as the Commodores linebackers coach, in addition to being assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator with Bob Shoop. Pry had the same role his first two seasons at Penn State, before Shoop left for Tennessee and he was promoted in 2016 while maintaining the roles of linebackers coach and associate head coach, before the latter title was dropped in 2018.

Pry's first year as defensive coordinator coincided with Penn State's lone Big Ten title under Franklin. He followed that up by leading a unit that finished in the top 10 in sacks and scoring defense, finishing seventh in both categories.

The Nittany Lions have maintained that side of the ball as a relative strength since then, frequently boasting a stout run defense with a strong pass rush that routinely finished in the top five in sacks and tied for fourth in overall sacks in the nation from 2016-2020 with 195.

This is the first of the season for Penn State and the third time Franklin will have to replace a coordinator of one of the primary units in the last three years. The last two replacements have been on the offensive side of the ball, with Ricky Rahne leaving the offensive coordinator post in 2019 for a head coaching job being the first that set off the next two.

Rahne was then replaced by Kirk Ciarrocca, who was fired after the 2020 season and replaced by current offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich.

Despite that turnover on the offensive side of the ball, the defense has remained steady under Pry and led the way for the Nittany Lions over the last two seasons.

Advanced metrics have generally pointed to the Penn State defense being a major strength this season. It ranks No. 6 in ESPN's SP+, a tempo- and opponent-adjusted measure of college football efficiency, after ranking No. 14 last season in the statistic.

A new hire will be only the third Franklin would have to make to lead his defense since taking the program over in January of 2014. Shoop was his initial hire and Pry's promotion means the unit has only been led by members of that original 2014 staff.