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Bob Shoop's surprise move to Tennessee puts Penn State defense at disadvantage

Bob Shoop, 49, is set to return to the SEC, where he coordinated Vanderbilt's defense in 2011-13. Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY Sports

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Less than two weeks after Bob Shoop told reporters he hoped Penn State would have him "forever and ever and ever," the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator is leaving the program for the same position at Tennessee.

It's not yet known exactly why the Pittsburgh native decided to move back to the SEC, where he coordinated Vanderbilt's defense in 2011-13. But money alone just doesn't seem to fit. Penn State offered him a raise last year -- to reportedly around $1 million annually -- to keep LSU at a distance, and he then recently declined to speak with Auburn despite a reported offer of around $1.5 million.

Maybe Shoop is concerned about losing three All-B1G players from Penn State's defensive line, or that his stock will never be higher. Maybe he felt the Vols were closer to a national title, and that his new job would better vault him into a head-coaching position. Maybe his reasoning is entirely different. Whatever the rationale, the move has sent shock waves through Happy Valley -- especially considering Shoop tried to ease fans' fears as recently as Dec. 29.

"I don't plan on going anywhere. ... I hope Penn State will have me forever and ever and ever," Shoop said, days before the TaxSlayer Bowl. "I love being a part of Coach [James] 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 'n' roll. It's just a matter of time before we get this thing rolling."

The Nittany Lions will be without the nation's sacks leader, Carl Nassib, next season along with one of their best-ever defensive tackle duos. But the biggest loss here isn't Nassib, Austin Johnson or Anthony Zettel -- it's Shoop.

He has proved invaluable to Penn State these past two seasons. He inherited a mediocre defense, ranked No. 48 in yards allowed, and turned it into one of the nation's top units overnight. PSU ranked No. 2 nationally in yards allowed his first season and, despite several key losses, still ranked No. 14 in 2015.

Shoop, 49, should become a head coach someday. But this -- moving from one coordinator position to another -- is exactly what Franklin hoped to avoid.

"As I've said from Day 1, I want my guys to get the opportunity to be head coaches," Franklin said last month. "I don't want them to ever leave for lateral moves."

Linebackers coach Brent Pry, who also boasts the titles of assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, appears to be in line to replace Shoop. He's a talented assistant who has been courted by Georgia Southern for a head-coaching job. He's a competent replacement. But, despite his value, he's just not Shoop.

Shoop was to Penn State what Dave Aranda was to Wisconsin. The players loved him, the defense carried the team, and fans respected him. In the spring, Shoop told reporters he felt a no-name former walk-on would end up having a long NFL career. That player, Nassib, a first-year starter, wound up becoming the Big Ten defensive player of the year. When middle linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- at maybe the thinnest position on the roster -- Shoop adjusted and sophomore Jason Cabinda became one of the biggest surprises on the defense as the replacement.

Franklin opined last season on how Shoop would sometimes call out plays before they're being run. He even correctly predicted Penn State forcing five turnovers against Rutgers in 2014.

"He's like a mad scientist the way he figures out defenses and tendencies of the offense," Wartman-White said in the past.

Tennessee is getting itself a great coordinator and a respected coach. But for Penn State, after upgrading the offensive-coordinator position by hiring Joe Moorhead, it's now one step forward and one step back.

And, after back-to-back seven-win seasons, Franklin and the Nittany Lions can't afford to be stuck in neutral much longer.