I am not here to tell you that Penn State football is the NCAA equivalent of the Seattle Seahawks. I am not here to tell you that Penn State football will ever be the college equivalent of the Seattle Seahawks. What I am here to do is tell you that if Penn State isn't doing everything in their power to mimic the way the Seahawks go about their business, then they are wasting their time. Thankfully, I believe they are doing just that.
The idea behind what has turned the Seattle Seahawks from a hopeless looking, aging, nine win squad over a two year stretch into World Champions is simple: Always Compete. From that fateful January in 2010 when the Seahawks hired Pete Carroll to replace Jim Mora Jr. and John Schneider to replace Ruston Webster, this has been one of the constants that surrounds this program. If there is a player who they know will fight for their spot on the team, they will give them that opportunity. They don't care where you come from, or what your past looks like. All they care about is the present. If you are willing to put into the team what they put into bringing you on board, you have a spot in Seattle.
I don't have to go anywhere outside of the current members of the team to illustrate this point.
Percy Harvin. Sure, he's a dynamic, do-it-all playmaker. He was also known as a basket case in Minnesota. He was called out for arguing with coaches both privately and publicly. John Schneider didn't care. He traded for him anyway. The Seahawks offense is one predicated on running the football, which means the receivers don't put up big numbers. Percy Harvin was told this, and was told that if he was going to succeed in Seattle he would have to understand that. He did. Now he's a World Champion.
Bruce Irvin. First round draft choice out of West Virginia in the 2012 NFL Draft. Was thought of as nothing more than a pass rushing specialist, who had no business going in the first round. Known more for his criminal record than for his play on the field. He was arrested on robbery charges before his 21st birthday. The Seahawks gave him a chance. After leading all rookies in sacks a season ago, he is now the starting outside linebacker on one of the best defenses in NFL history. And a World Champion.
Doug Baldwin. Jermaine Kearse. Malcolm Smith. Michael Robinson. Two un-drafted free agents, a seventh round afterthought, and a quarterback playing in the wrong era. Baldwin's college coach (Jim Harbaugh) passed on him just like everybody else did, but the Hawks needed a body. Jermaine Kearse wasn't on anyone's radar, but his hometown team decided to give him a shot. Malcolm Smith was a backup linebacker at USC, but his college coach felt he had the chance to be more. Michael Robinson was a solid special teams player with wasted potential, but the Seahawks needed a fullback. All are now World Champions.
Personal histories don't matter to the Seahawks, unless you make them matter to them. If you're willing to leave your past behind, so are they. If you can't do that, then they'll show you the door. This is something that I believe Penn State football has embraced, starting under Coach O'Brien and continuing with Coach Franklin.
Zayd Issah. Zayd was verbally committed to Penn State when he was charged in a counterfeit cash scheme. O'Brien gave him the chance to attend school for one more semester to straighten himself out, then join the team in Happy Valley. Issah was arrested again for assaulting a police officer, along with drug charges. O'Brien told him he was out. Unlike Bruce Irvin, Issah never earned the right to prove he belonged.
Matt McGloin. The walk on from Scranton, PA who struggled so mightily that it led a certain Black Shoe Diaries author to pronounce him the "Worst Quarterback I Have Ever Seen". McGloin didn't care. He kept working, kept fighting, kept pushing. When Bill O'Brien and his staff strutted into Happy Valley with a culture change in mind, McGloin was first in line to buy in. He beat out 4* recruits left and right. He did it with below average arm strength. He did it with below average athleticism. He did it with little to no support (in the beginning). But just like Baldwin, Kearse, Smith, and Robinson, he earned his spot on his team.
Giving these types of chances to players is not an easy thing to do, especially at Penn State. If a player is brought in who has a questionable personal history, you'll hear such things such as "Success With Honor", "He's not a Penn Stater", and "Joe never would have signed him" so often that you'll begin to think they're being used ironically. Everyone will get excited about the big name five star recruits, but no one will bat an eye at a two star. Some will even go so far as to say they're a waste of a roster spot. Coach Franklin and his staff have already shown a willingness to go after whoever they believe in. Some of the guys they brought over from Vanderbilt with them are not big name recruits. Some are three stars, ranked in the high 90's or 100's for their positions. The staff knows that no one (outside of the recruiting nuts) will care about these guys, until they're proving their rankings wrong and flying around Beaver Stadium. The past and pedigree simply do not matter. If you're all in for them, they're all in on you.
Pete Carroll is a unique coach. Many coaches struggle with getting the most out of their players, both in college and the pros. It's the reason so many coaches are fired, year after year. If a coach can't get his players to buy in to what he believes, he may as well start looking around for a new employment opportunity. Pete Carroll goes about doing this in a way that is seldom seen in sports today- through positive reinforcement.
Being the teacher that I am, I spend a lot of time thinking, talking about, and experimenting with different types of reinforcement and punishment. While it doesn't always seem to be the case, the best way to go in the classroom is using positive reinforcement whenever possible. Students behavior undergoes a very observable change when positive reinforcement is introduced, as opposed to negative punishment, positive punishment, or negative reinforcement. By now you're probably thinking to yourself, "Why does this matter? You're talking about eight and nine year olds, how does this have any relation to 20 year old athletes?". Well why wouldn't it? Sure, nine year olds act a little differently than most grown men, but that doesn't mean they react differently to human praise. Think about your own life. Will you be motivated to do whatever it is you do for a living if you're told that you're going to be fired if you don't? Sure you will, but will you be happy doing it? Will you be more motivated to do the same job if you're told that you're good at it, and you enjoy doing it? This is the very simple, yet complex motivational strategy that Pete Carroll employs, and it connects to much more than simply player management.
Positivity is what separates Carroll from the Harbaughs, Coughlins, and Parcells of the world. Not that they aren't all great coaches in their own rights, but Carroll has proved that there are other ways to go about their business. That positivity stretches to the way they evaluate players as well. Rather than looking at college athletes and trying to find the imperfections, Carroll and Schneider look at their strengths and play to them. Where some see "This guy is way too short to succeed", they see "This guy has pinpoint accuracy and a cannon for an arm". Where some see "This guy doesn't fit our system, let him go", they see "This guy has a strength, let's tailor our defense to play to that strength". They don't let their system dictate them, rather they let the players dictate their system.
When I think positivity and it's relation to James Franklin, I find an immediate example in my interview with Brendan Brosnan the other day. Not only does Brendan point out Franklin's will to always compete, but he speaks extensively about his relationship with his players. Franklin said in his press conference, that at Penn State he will have two daughters and 95 sons. It's that philosophy of having a positive, loving relationship with your team, that Carroll and Franklin share. I also find my mind jumping back to Franklin's stance on his game plan. He was asked what style he likes to play on offense and defense. He responded with the following.
What I would say is we're going to run multiple prostyle offense, defense, and special teams. To me, I'm not a guy that's going to pigeonhole what we're going to do. I think my philosophy is you go out and hire really smart people, and you have a system that has flexibility to take advantage of all your strengths and hide your weaknesses. I think that's what we all try to do in whatever organization or whatever business you're in. You play to your strengths and hide your weaknesses, and that's what we're going to do.
James Franklin will not sit around waiting for the perfect player. If you want to make an impact, he will give you the chance to do so. If you're an outside linebacker who can blitz, you're going to blitz. If you're a receiver who excels with open space, get ready for some screen passes. If you're a safety who struggles in zone coverage, you might be looking at a switch to corner. James Franklin has already proved to be a tenacious recruiter, who will stop at nothing to get the player he wants. If he sees a player who he can build an offensive or defensive game plan around, you better believe he'll make sure he becomes a Nittany Lion, despite what public opinion on said player may be. In similar fashion, Pete Carroll and John Schneider don't care what the public thinks about what round they draft someone in, because they know who they want. They simply don't care what you think.
Which brings me to my final point. This is the first time in maybe ever, that there is absolutely no one on the coaching staff who has a previous coaching history with Penn State. I think that is the best possible way to go. We got a taste of the unknown with O'Brien, but the familiar aspects of Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden still remained. We are about to watch something completely unique to anything else Penn State has ever done, unfold in front of our eyes. It's going to be weird. It's going to be different. When Carroll and Schneider took over the Seahawks, by the end of their first season the team's core had been blasted away. Gone were franchise icons like Matt Hasselbeck and Lofa Tatupu. In were unproven rookies like Russell Okung and Earl Thomas. While the changes won't be as immediate and drastic to Penn State's roster (the Seahawks made 284 roster moves in their first season), they will come. Gone will be the familiarity of Coach Johnson and his defensive rotation, and in comes Coach Chaos. Gone will be the steadiness of Coach Vanderlinden, and in comes Coach Pry, the man who turned down a head coaching opportunity to remain with Franklin. A new day is coming, and I think it's for the better. And if you don't, they don't care.
For the first time in a long time, Penn State football is dipping their toes into the waters of the unknown. While there's no telling what will happen, they sure have a good model to learn from. They need only look to the great Northwest for guidance. They're already on their way, now they just need to stay the path. Go State. Go Hawks.