STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Matt Limegrover doesn’t really care if others label his coaching move a demotion.
Sure, he’s now Penn State’s offensive line coach and is just a few months removed from working as Minnesota’s assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/offensive line coach. (“My business card looked like a piece of loose-leaf paper,” Limegrover joked.) But, from his second-story office in Happy Valley, Limegrover – who acknowledged he felt overwhelmed at times last year with the Gophers -- said he actually prefers this.
In fact, besides head coach James Franklin, Limegrover is the only coach on Penn State’s staff with a singular job title. And that’s just the way he wanted it.
“The best title I could have is offensive line coach; that’s what I was put on this Earth to do,” Limegrover told ESPN.com. “So I’m in such a good place right now, both physically and mentally.”
He couldn’t say the same in the Twin Cities. Limegrover forced himself to wake up at 3:45 every morning last season to satisfy his extra responsibilities – but it just never seemed like enough. “I was working myself sick,” he said. Because he coordinated the offense from the box on game days, he spent extra time with the line during the week so the unit could make adjustments without him on the sideline.
But when four of those starters suffered injuries, balancing everything became especially tricky. If Limegrover didn’t spend more time with the line, it would’ve become a complete disaster. But, by spending even more time with the makeshift line, that meant he spent less time in other places. It was a lose-lose proposition. Minnesota’s line led the conference in fewest tackles-for-loss allowed (60), but the offense averaged nearly six fewer points per game compared to the year before. Minnesota coach Tracy Claeys fired him in November.
“With Tracy making the decision, I understood because I felt I wasn’t giving what each side needed to have, as far as being a coordinator and being an offensive line coach,” Limegrover said. “I felt that way.”
But Limegrover harbors no bitterness here. And maybe part of that has to do with where he wound up.
During a recent sunny afternoon, the 47-year-old coach couldn’t stop smiling behind a desk that overlooks the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He grew up in the western part of the state as a Nittany Lions fan surrounded by Pitt fans -- he can still recall with great glee and detail when Penn State upset No. 1 Pitt in 1981 -- and the joy and surprise of coming full-circle still hasn’t waned. When he told his mother he took the PSU job, she openly cried in front of him for just the second time ever. The first time? “When my dad died.”
When Penn State called him during the AFCA Convention in Texas to set up an interview – at a time TBA – Limegrover showed up at the nearest Kinko’s as soon as it opened at 5 a.m. to print off materials. And when Franklin extended an offer over the phone, Limegrover accepted on the spot. Even before hearing the salary.
“He goes, ‘Well, I want to offer you the job’ – and he didn’t even get the ‘j’ in job out,” Limegrover added with a laugh. “I told him I’d take it. I’m good. Whatever you’re going to pay me, I’m fine. … I didn’t need a lot of money. I made way more money than probably anybody should make when I was at Minnesota.”
Still, Franklin laid it out for him. This wasn’t Limegrover’s beloved 1980s Penn State teams; this was an offense in need of serious fixing. The line surrendered more than 80 sacks the past two seasons, and Limegrover was bound to face scrutiny from fans and media.
But Franklin also spoke of the potential and told Limegrover something that stuck with him: I have a lot of respect for you because – and don’t take this the wrong way – but it seems as though you’ve done more with less.
“And I said I don’t take that the wrong way,” Limegrover remembered. “Coach, think about what I can do with more.”
Penn State signed five ESPN 300 offensive line prospects in just the past two seasons; the Gophers have managed just one since 2006. There’s obviously room for growth here and, with extra time now to spend with his position group, Limegrover is still relishing the changes that accompany not having “offensive coordinator” or “assistant head coach” attached to his name.
He’s no longer forced to watch film on wideout and defensive back one-on-ones. He can “sleep in” past 4 a.m. And he can keep a closer eye on his linemen at practice and yell if he spots one walking.
So, call his move a demotion. Label it a step backward. But Limegrover isn’t focused on the past. He doesn’t care.
“To be honest with you, I just love being able to get up every day and come to work and know that I’m the offensive line coach,” he said. “I’m revitalized and re-energized.”