Of all the losses Penn State’s football program has suffered in recent weeks, the two that had the greatest impact, coach James Franklin said Saturday morning, were those of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and linebacker Troy Reeder.
Franklin said during a conference call with reporters that “you’re always a little surprised” and “a little hurt” at the departure of a guy like Shoop, who took the coordinator’s job at Tennessee. Shoop had worked under Franklin for five years — three at Vanderbilt and two at PSU — and before heading to Knoxville turned down an offer to fill the same position at Auburn.
A few days prior to the Nittany Lions’ loss to Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl (a defeat that left the Lions with their second straight 7-6 finish under Franklin), Shoop told FOS that he hoped to remain at PSU “forever and ever and ever.” By mid-January, he was gone.
Franklin said he has been “very fortunate” in that he has had “as little turnover as most staffs in the country” since becoming a head coach in 2011, especially in light of the fact that his assistants have frequently fielded outside offers. He also wished Shoop well. Ditto for offensive line coach Herb Hand, who left for Auburn earlier this month.
Franklin moved quickly to fill those openings, hiring Illinois assistant Tim Banks to serve as co-defensive coordinator with holdover Brent Pry, and bringing in Minnesota assistant Matt Limegrover to replace Hand.
Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead had previously been hired to replace John Donovan as offensive coordinator, after Donovan was fired at the end of the Lions’ regular season.
Reeder, who started 11 games at weakside linebacker as a redshirt freshman this past season, announced he is transferring to Delaware, where his younger brother Colby is an incoming recruit.
“Troy was probably the one that was a surprise,” Franklin said.
That was not the case, he said, with the other players who are leaving — wide receiver Geno Lewis, who is Oklahoma-bound, as well as running back Akeel Lynch, linebacker Gary Wooten Jr. and cornerback Daquan Worley, who are headed for parts unknown.
The loss of Reeder leaves PSU “a little bit thin” at linebacker, Franklin said. Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell will be returning starters this fall — Bell on the strong side, and Cabinda either in the middle or on the weak side — and Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen saw some time as freshmen this past season. Franklin made only cryptic reference to Nyeem Wartman-White, who began 2015 as the starting middle linebacker but was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener against Temple.
“The issue for us is really spring ball, not really the fall,” Franklin said, “because we had some guys we lost from an injury perspective and some of those guys may or may not be back for spring ball, but once all those guys are healthy and back for the fall, I think we’ll be in really good shape.”
Franklin spoke highly of Banks and Limegrover, noting that Limegrover and Moorhead are both Pittsburgh natives and graduates of Central Catholic High School, and even attended the same elementary school.
Franklin, meanwhile, worked alongside Banks on Maryland’s staff in 2003 and ’04, and had no reservations about hiring him, despite the fact that Banks was part of an Illinois staff that came to State College to poach players after the NCAA handed down its sanctions in the wake of the Sandusky scandal in 2011.
“I know the type of man that Tim is,” Franklin said. “I know his values. I know his morals. Tim was a part of that staff (under head coach Tim Beckman), and Tim was put in a very difficult situation, and we’ve discussed that. I think once you (media) guys all get to know Tim as well as our community gets to know Tim, you’ll have no concerns or issues about that. Tim was put in a difficult situation as an employee. I know the type of man he is.”
Franklin said Limegrover had been on his list of potential hires, in the event of a case such as this.
“I also kind of have asterisks by guys that are from this region and specifically Pennsylvania.,” he said. “You’re talking about being able to hire a guy who’s been an offensive coordinator in the Big Ten. We’re talking about hiring a guy who’s been an offensive coordinator for over 15 years. Very respected. When I called around the country to talk about a guy that’s very well thought of, his name kept coming up.”
He added that the influx of new staffers will bring new ideas, though at the same time their philosophies align to some degree with the one already in place.
“That’s one of the reasons you go out and hire new people and bring them in — to get their ideas, to get their experience,” he said. “All those things have to blend with the overall mission and the overall philosophy of the organization, but that’s why you hire them.”