Starting its third year with head coach James Franklin, Penn State is in some ways hitting the reset button. The Nittany Lions have two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach and a new quarterback to go with a full complement of scholarships for the first time in five years.
Franklin hopes that fresh blood comes with a more permanent feel for his staff and his program.
Earlier this week, the coach told reporters that all of his assistants, strength staff and administrators signed new two-year deals this summer. The new contracts also have a buyout clause that presumably would make it harder for them to leave.
"That's really good from a stability standpoint," Franklin said. "It's helpful. And what we did is, it's both ways. They have the stability and protections, but we have buyouts as well."
Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and offensive line coach Herb Hand left the program within a week of each other in January for identical positions at SEC schools. At the time, following a 7-6 season in which the Lions failed to show much tangible improvement on offense, their exits were perceived as more evidence that Franklin's tenure in Happy Valley was headed in the wrong direction.
Franklin hired former Minnesota coordinator Matt Limegrover to take over Hand's responsibilities reconstructing an offensive line that has been woefully depleted by scholarship sanctions. Former Illinois assistant Tim Banks fills Shoop's vacancy and will coach the secondary as linebackers coach Brent Pry takes over coordinator duties. Former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead is the team's new offensive coordinator, replacing John Donovan, who was fired at the end of the 2016 season.
A two-year contract is hardly a long-term promise, but many assistant coaches and support staffers in college football work on year-to-year deals. Franklin said he's even more encouraged by watching his new hires buy homes and move their families to the area -- something that Shoop and Hand didn't do as quickly or at all.
"You have Coach Morehead, you have Coach Banks and Coach Limegrover have all bought houses here and their families have all come," Franklin said. "With the first staff, we had some guys who their families didn't move ever and we had some guys that their families didn't move until after the school year finished up. That was a year. I think it's dramatic when you can bring players to your home and your family is there. They get to know you on a different level."
This summer, Franklin has emphasized building a better connection with current players, especially older players that the current staff did not recruit. He said he has taken dozens of his players out for one-on-one meals (new NCAA rules make this legal) so they can get to know him on a more personal level and get their feedback on where the team is headed.
To say Franklin's job security is on the line this season seems harsh after only two years of an unenviable rebuilding project, but it's no mystery that many doubt he is the long-term solution to helping the Nittany Lions return to championship contention. Whether he wanted it or not, the offseason reboot is an opportunity for Franklin to circle the wagons and find a way to get a stronger foothold with the program.