Franklin's PSU Staff Begins to Take Shape [Updates]

Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

Although James Franklin said he'd remain mum on his staff until it was completely assembled, a few hires are already in the works.

There's good news, and then there's more good news.

The first part is that Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt's now-outgoing defensive coordinator and a very popular pick to lead the Commodores in Franklin's absence, headlines the group of four assistants (at minimum) that Franklin will be bringing over from his old job.

The other part is that defensive line coach Sean Spencer isn't in that group, meaning there's still hope that Larry Johnson will be a part of Franklin's Penn State team, which wouldn't just be doing right for a man who's exuded all things Penn State for the better part of two decades but also would serve to keep as much of the incoming recruiting class intact as possible, especially its headliner, defensive tackle Thomas Holley.

Joining Shoop are wide receivers coach and offensive recruiting coordinator Josh Gattis, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach Charles Bankins, and strength coach Dwight Galt.

Bankins' hire will mean that tight ends coach John Strollo, one of the few remaining assistants (LJ and McWhorter being the others), is likely out at Penn State, although Bankins also has experience coaching running backs, quarterbacks, and wide receivers. Of course, Strollo's presumptive departure might have an impact on the decision of Penn State's other big-time blue-chip recruit in this class, Mike Gesicki, who apparently had a productive conversation with James Franklin tonight, but whose continued commitment is considered somewhat in jeopardy.

Josh Gattis might be a familiar name to football fans: At Wake Forest, Gattis was a two-time all-ACC safety in 2005 and 2006, and was a third round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. After three years in the NFL, he worked his way up the coaching ranks, working with players on the other side of the ball. Thankfully, four-star wideouts DeAndre Thompkins and Chris Godwin have both reaffirmed their commitments to Penn State in recent days, but Gattis could be a big step down from Stan Hixon, who brought a wealth of NFL experience to State College.

Galt, coincidentally, has a strong connection to the previous regime: he mentored Craig Fitzgerald when the latter was an assistant under him at Maryland, then had a son, also named Dwight, coach beneath Fitzgerald at Penn State the past two years. Fitzgerald's departure had been a cause for concern, but Galt boasts an impressive pedigree.

As Mike Poorman notes, the lack of John Donovan's name on that list is conspicuous by its absence. Donovan, who was Franklin's offensive coordinator and running backs coach at Vanderbilt, was coming off of a mediocre season--the Commodores ranked just 10th in the SEC in total offense last year and dead last in rushing--and could signal that Franklin is on the lookout for a big name, or at least a better fit than Donovan's spread schemes, to coach up Christian Hackenberg, the sort of pro-style passer he never had at Vandy. Or, he could be announced to be joining the staff this afternoon. Who the hell knows?

Additionally, as Franklin fills out his coaching staff, keep an eye out for Ron Vanderlinden. Franklin got his first big break when Vanderlinden, then head coach at Maryland, hired him to coach the wideouts. With a remaining vacancy at linebacker coach, should Brent Pry not come along, it's possible Franklin will tab his ex-boss to fill it. But Pry is a hot name in his own right, having recently turned down the head coaching job at Georgia Southern (yes, they're FBS) to stay with Franklin at Vanderbilt.

The last name to look out for is offensive line coach Herb Hand, who has received some support from Vanderbilt fans to replace Franklin. Hand is an incredibly well-respected coach with a deeply fascinating personal history and vocal Twitter fanclub. Though the guy he'd usurp is certainly no slouch, Hand joining Franklin's staff at Penn State would be an impressive addition for the Lions.

Update--1/12, 1:30: Brent Pry is now expected to join Franklin at Penn State.

Pry was one of Franklin's top deputies at Vanderbilt, serving as assistant head coach, and co-defensive coordinator in addition to linebackers coach. A coach-of-all-trades, in his previous coaching stints, Pry had also worked with defensive backs, linebackers, and linemen and special teams units. As previously mentioned, the Altoona native last week turned down the head coaching job at Georgia Southern, where he coached in 2010. His hire likely closes the book on Ron Vanderlinden's potential return to Penn State.

Update--1/13, 4:00: Sean Spencer is next on the list of Vanderbilt assistants to follow their head coach to Penn State.

Spencer was the defensive line coach at Vanderbilt, which makes this terrible news for those hoping that Franklin would retain Larry Johnson--and, ipso facto, for those hoping that top commit Thomas Holley would remain a part of this recruiting class. Of course, nothing has been finalized, and probably won't be until the end of the week; it's entirely possible, if unlikely, that Johnson and Spencer will coexist on the staff. As far as Johnson's future, well, we don't know that, either. At 61 years old, retirement could be a possibility, but so could joining the staff at, say, Ohio State or Pittsburgh. The buzz around the program hinted that Franklin asked Johnson to stay, that he wasn't being pushed out the door--this news, of course, more or less presumes he said no. The good news is that Spencer is a terrific coach in his own right, something of a mini-LJ--not only in getting the most out of his players (Vanderbilt ranked in the top half of the SEC in sacks each of the last two seasons) but also serving as one of Franklin's top assistants on the recruiting trail.

Update--1/13, 8:40: There it is: Larry Johnson will not return, having turned down an offer to stay on as Franklin's defensive line coach. He pledged that he would not be retiring, and we can only hope his next job won't put him in competition with the school program he was a part of for so long.

Update--1/14, 9:00: It looks like QB coach Ricky Rahne will be tasked with helping Christian Hackenberg reach the next level in his development.

Like seemingly everyone else on Franklin's staff at Vanderbilt, Rahne has proven himself versatile, coaching up the running backs and tight ends in his previous stint at Kansas State (and defensive line before that). It goes without saying that in his three years at Vandy, he never had a quarterback quite like Hackenberg, though coaxing even passable performances out of the likes of Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels, and Patton Robinette is an impressive enough coaching job in its own right.

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