Reticence wasn't what Robinson and his offensive teammates expected after a miserable 3-9 finish in 2003. Nor was it what they wanted.
We were just looking for him to say, 'You guys do this and this and it's going to work and everything's going to be great.' But he just sat there and watched. That first spring he watched a lot. He didn't do much coaching.
Hall eventually opened up. These days, he can frequently be heard admonishing players on the practice field. But his reputation as an aloof mastermind persists, in part because he prefers to remain offstage.
Hall has maintained a low profile since succeeding Fran Ganter as offensive coordinator. Consequently, his two-year tenure has been fraught with speculation about his job satisfaction and concerns that he might abandon the Nittany Lions prematurely.
There were reports that he initially wasn't given the autonomy he sought and stories of clashes with quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno.
Offered a chance to correct the record Friday at an Orange Bowl news conference - an offer he couldn't refuse with bowl officials calling the media-availability shots - Hall did just that.
Jay and I have gotten along very well, he said. There's no friction. There are no problems. Whoever is starting that is just looking for something to write. We work very, very well together. Up in the booth we're sitting side by side, we're talking every play.
Hall also debunked the widespread belief that Joe Paterno has been less involved in the team's day-to-day operation this season. While that belief springs in part from comments by Paterno himself, Hall said he didn't sense any disengagement. Penn State's vastly improved productivity has been a result of personnel changes, he said, not a sudden willingness to cede him total control of the offense.
We've had some playmakers make plays this year, Hall explained. Some of the calls were exactly the same this year as last year, but we didn't catch the long ball or didn't get open on the long ball or the ball didn't get there. Any time your players go out and make plays, you're a much better and smarter football coach than when they don't make plays. Everyone thinks that something magical happened this season. We just had some playmakers come through for us.
Hall said he sensed last spring the Lions were on the verge of turning themselves around. They had finished last in the Big Ten in total offense (310.7 yards per game) and scoring (17.7 points per game) in 2004. But during the off-season they recruited a great wideout in Derrick Williams who enrolled in January to take part in spring practice. Moreover, the coaches had high hopes for a little-known walk-on named Deon Butler, who had just moved to offense after excelling on the foreign team defense.
Williams went on to shine as a freshman before suffering a broken arm at Michigan, while Butler enjoyed a breakout season with nine touchdown catches, the fourth-highest total in school history. With those players and Robinson leading the way, the Lions nearly doubled their scoring output from the year before, averaging 35.2 points per game to rank second in the Big Ten and 12th nationally.
Hall worked with Robinson to simplify the game and keep him relaxed. The quarterback used to suffer from information overload; his effectiveness was diminished by his attempts to read the entire field. Now, thanks to Hall, he focuses on specific areas and doesn't try to guess where all 11 defenders might be at any given moment. The approach helped make Robinson the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Hall's next challenge comes Tuesday when Penn State faces Florida State in the Orange Bowl. The Seminoles are reminiscent of the 2004 Nittany Lions in that they compensate for a pedestrian offense with a defense that can keep even the most polished opponent off balance. It's a predicament, but Hall is in his element as the Lions prepare for their first Bowl Championship Series appearance.
He's having fun, Robinson said. Even when things aren't going right in practice, he'll joke with me. You don't look at him as a joking type of person. But he likes to have fun.
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