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Bill O'Brien And The Future Penn State Staff

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This is going to move quickly, as Coach O'Brien fills out his staff to get a jump on what's left in the recruiting season. We know of three coaches that will be on staff, so we've got some more guessing games to play as we anxiously await who will be roaming the sidelines and occupying the coaches booth in 2012.

Having been a coach at now five universities and one pro team, O'Brien has a coaches web that spreads pretty far, so pinning down every possibility is a futile effort. Instead, we've put together some of the top candidates that might end up Nittany Lion coaches before this is all over.

First things first, the rules. NCAA regulations mandate that "[t]here shall be a limit of one head coach, nine assistant coaches and two graduate assistant coaches who may be employed by an institution in bowl subdivision football." These limitations do not apply to a strength and conditioning coach (one allowed), nor does it apply to undergraduate coaches (see, e.g., Mauti, Mike and Lee, Sean, post-injury)

In 2011, prior to the coaching shakeup, that breakdown was as follows:

Coach Role
Joe Paterno HC
Tom Bradley DC/CB
Galen Hall OC/RB
Jay Paterno OC/QB
Larry Johnson, Sr. DL
Ron Vanderlinden LB
Kermit Buggs S
Dick Anderson C/G
Bill Kenney T/TE
Mike McQueary WR/RC
Elijah Robinson GA
Bill Kavanaugh GA

At least three things standout immediately, each of which will almost certainly be altered with the new staff. First, there were co-offensive coordinators in Galen Hall and Jay Paterno. Under Coach O'Brien, who has made it known he wants to call the plays, at least in the first year, the over/under on offensive coordinators will be set at 0.5. He could assume the OC role and not have a named coordinator, or he could name a coordinator, but reserve playcalling duties.

Second, there were two separate coaches who coached the four positions on the offensive line. Dick Anderson coached the interior offensive line, while Bill Kenney took the tackles and tight ends. This provided for logistical nightmares in strategic planning, cohesion, etc. While we don't know for sure, these four positions may still have two coaches, but the more likely breakdown is an offensive line coach and a tight end coach, especially under O'Brien's tight end-heavy offense.

Finally, and though it's less uncommon, there was no special teams coach on staff, at least not a designated one. These duties seemed to have been split across a number of different coaches, and the results weren't always pretty on the field. There likely won't be a special teams-only coach in the new regime, but there likely will only be one guy handling the duties.

Now, what do we know about the new staff? Well, the obvious out of the way, Coach O'Brien will helm the ship, and has already said that Larry Johnson will remain on staff. For now, all we know is that Johnson will at least remain at his current position, though a bump to either defensive coordinator or recruiting coordinator isn't out of the question. Additionally, it was reported Friday that Tennessee Titans quality control coach Charles London will be joining O'Brien's staff as running backs coach.

Coach Role
Bill O'Brien HC
Larry Johnson, Sr. DL
Charles London RB

There are actually 11 non-GA coaches listed there, so two of those positions will have to merge. My guess would be that O'Brien assumes the OC, QB, or TE duties. Additionally, either of the coordinators could assume duties of a squad (Tom Bradley handled the cornerbacks). Also, a recruiting coordinator has not yet been identified, though it could be one of the names already on the board.

The next, obvious question, yet the hardest to answer, is who will fill these spots. Many names are floating around; these are just some of the possibilities.

  • Ron Vanderlinden, LB coach, Penn State (for now): You know the history; Twitter rumor
  • Dave Sollazzo, DL coach, Villanova: Served on the Maryland staff with O'Brien; served as recruiting coordinator for the Terrapins for five years; forced out of Maryland when the Randy Edsall Era began, but prior to that had a pretty decent recruiting run, considering the university and resources available
  • Ralph Friedgen, unemployed, former MD HC: Was head coach during O'Brien's time at Maryland
  • Mark Whipple, QB coach, Cleveland Browns: Bounced around a few different places, including college, the pros, and the USFL; QB coach in Pittsburgh at the beginning of Roethlisberger's career; OC at Miami (FL) before the Golden Era; Twitter rumor
  • Brent Key, OL coach, UCF: Played for O'Brien's coaching staff at Georgia Tech; seven years on staff at UCF, including stints at special teams and OL; Twitter rumor
  • Shane Waldron, WR coach, Hartford (UFL): Coached with O'Brien in New England, including the tight ends in 2009
  • Glenn Spencer, DC, Oklahoma St.: Coached with O'Brien at GT and Duke; experience as recruiting coordinator as well as coaching all three defensive position groups

The list could go on, but that's a jumping off point. One thing that stands out is that many of these guys are relatively young, which is both risky and exciting. Coach O'Brien said he wanted to get this staff locked down within "two or three days", leading one to believe that the empty coaching board above will be filled by mid-week. Another dead period starts on Monday, but that shouldn't stop the coaches from reaching out via phone, text, Facebook, etc.

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