There are two sides to every story, it is said. And that’s true.
Thing is, sometimes only one of those two stories makes much sense.
Penn State has a story that makes sense. In early January of 2016, its football program employed a defensive coordinator who had two years left on his contract, a coach who seemed popular with his players and co-workers, the fans and the press. A really good defensive coordinator, as chance would have it, who led the Nittany Lions to the No. 2 ranking in total defense in the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2014 and produced a top-15 group in 2015. A good enough coach to make his legitimate head coaching aspirations public, and a confident enough man to gamble on himself and his own career.
But that defensive coordinator resigned his post and accepted the same job at Tennessee, a program most everyone figured had a better, more experienced group of players, and it certainly didn’t hurt that the Volunteers and those experienced defenders would be playing in the Southeastern Conference, where assistant coaches go to become head coaches. He had a right to do all of that, of course, assuming he fulfilled his mutually agreed-upon contractual obligations, which involved paying $891,856 back to Penn State if he didn’t get a head coaching position within a year of his date of resignation.
He didn’t get that kind of job. He also didn’t pay the money. So, last week, Penn State filed suit against Bob Shoop to get it.
What makes no sense is the other side to that story. Shoop’s side. The side that makes you wonder what he possibly could be thinking. The side that makes you wonder if he’s frustrated, or simply delusional.
The side that makes you question if he could even possibly be right.
Shoop strikes back: The short version of the story is that Shoop has countersued Penn State, seeking $75,000 in damages, claiming in court documents “he was forced or compelled” to leave his job and that working conditions within the Nittany Lions program had become “intolerable.” Essentially, Shoop’s side of the story is that Penn State and head coach James Franklin fired him, when he was arguably the most successful defensive coordinator in the nation two years running and rather inarguably the most popular coach on the staff among the paying customers.
Shoop hasn’t elaborated on his claims, but let’s put it this way: Intolerable is a big word, because we might be talking less about what’s really intolerable and more about what Shoop didn’t feel he should tolerate. It will be fascinating to find out, if we indeed ever do, what Shoop suddenly found so unworkable about Penn State.
Problem for Shoop is, a green attorney fresh out of law school could punch holes in the rest of his story.
Flirting with SEC: Shoop did three things exceedingly well at Penn State: He coordinated a lights-out defense. He talked glowingly about the Nittany Lions program. And, he flirted with the SEC.
That’s all fair, people. That’s what ambitious coaches do these days, even at Penn State. The days when joining Joe Paterno’s staff was akin to a Supreme Court justice’s lifetime term are over.
It’s just that, none of it jives with Shoop’s insistence that Penn State no longer wanted him, essentially forcing him, reluctantly, into the waiting arms of the league that gave him a massive pay raise to stay away from just a year earlier.
Penn State reworked his contract — throwing in that buyout — after the 2014 season when Shoop interviewed for the LSU defensive coordinator post. In December of 2015, Shoop was rumored to be on the short list of candidates for the coordinator position at Auburn, for which he did not interview.
Quick change of heart: On Dec. 29, with the Nittany Lions preparing to face Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Shoop had this to say about potentially leaving Penn State: “I love being part of coach Franklin’s program. I love what we’re building here and, I’ve said this millions of times, I think we’re a ‘30 For 30’ story ready to rock-and-roll.
“I hope that Penn State will have me forever and ever.”
A source close to Tennessee’s program contacted me Jan. 3, five days later and the day after the bowl game, saying that Shoop “may be headed to Tennessee.”
Three days later, Tennessee “mutually parted ways” with defensive coordinator John Jancek. The next day, the source confirmed Shoop was interviewing. The day after that, 10 days after Shoop said he wanted to stay at Penn State “forever and ever,” Tennessee hired him.
That was a fast change of heart.
“This job was appealing for many reasons,” Shoop said during his introductory press conference that Jan. 12, going on about the chemistry he felt with the staff and his familiarity with defensive players he recruited while he was with Franklin at Vanderbilt. “Coach Franklin has been great to me and my family. We were at Vanderbilt for three years and Penn State for two. It would have taken something special to get me to leave there.”
Tough argument to support in court: OK, so coaches say things sometimes that aren’t true. This is no big secret. Most of what they say is designed to appease reporters and recruits and fans, and to keep opposing coaches off the scent of what’s really going on strategy-wise. But judges and juries are more difficult to fool than recruits and fans. If you say the same things enough, and you do the same things enough, that becomes what you do. What you are.
Interview for enough jobs, and praise your employers enough, it makes it difficult to argue your employer is forcing you to seek another job. Which makes his own story the one thing Bob Shoop has no scheme to defend.
Donnie Collins is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.