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Penn Staters in the Coaching World

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Nittany Lions that have gone pro in...well, sports, but not as players!

NFL: Carolina Panthers-Coach Matt Rhule Press Conference Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

With the hiring of Ty Howle last week, it got me thinking: what other Penn State have gotten into the coaching profession? Are there any names we should keep an eye on? So I did some research, trying to find every active coach (sorry Tom Bradley) that was either a Penn State player or graduate assistant. This will serve as an evergreen post — i.e., I’ll update it yearly/whenever necessary.

If I missed any names (NCAA or NFL), let me know.


Former Players

Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers, Head Coach

Big season up ahead for Rhule. The Panthers were a competitive 5-11, but “competitive bottom 10 finish” won’t cut it when the team is paying you $62 million.

Jeff Nixon, Carolina Panthers, Running Backs Coach

Nixonn coached under Rhule at Baylor, serving as the team’s running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator. Also a State College High School graduate.

Bobby Engram, Baltimore Ravens, Tight Ends Coach

Following his playing career, Engram had a cup of coffee in the college game as Pittsburgh’s wide receivers coach, but he quickly made his way back to the NFL game. He’s been an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens under John Harbaugh since 2014, serving as wide receivers and now tight ends coach.

Al Golden, Cincinnati Bengals, Linebackers Coach

Golden has seemingly transitioned to the pro game — he’s spent the last five seasons in the NFL. After the Miami debacle, it’s understandable why he might be done with the college game.

Elijah Robinson, Texas A&M, Defensive Line Coach

Penn State made a big push to land Robinson last year for the vacant defensive line job, but A&M ponied up. Next move for Robinson should be a defensive coordinator gig. Crazy that he’s just 36 years old.

Terry Smith, Penn State, Cornerbacks Coach

Duh.

Ty Howle, Penn State, Tight Ends Coach

Duh.

John McNulty, Notre Dame, Tight Ends Coach

After spending the 2019 season as an analyst for Penn State, McNulty left to take the tight ends job at Notre Dame when he didn’t land the wide receivers job here.

Adam Breneman, Arizona State, Tight Ends Coach

Heading into his first season as tight ends coach, Breneman has been tabbed as a rising star in the industry. He’s the youngest Power Five assistant, and if he sticks with coaching, it wouldn’t be shocking if Breneman is a head coach in 10 years.

Calvin Lowry, Tulsa, Wide Receivers Coach

Lowry has been a mainstay at Tulsa, serving as the program’s wide receivers coach since 2015. He got his start into coaching serving as a graduate assistant for former safeties coach Brian Norwood at Baylor.

Kevin Reihner, Old Dominion, Offensive Line Coach

Former player and GA, Reihner is already an offensive line coach at the Group of Five level at just 28 years old. We’ll see where things go, but could be a bright future ahead for the Stanford-Penn State graduate.

Nyeem Wartman-White, Defensive Line Coach, New Hampshire

After spending two seasons as a graduate assistant for Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State, Wartman-White was named New Hampshire’s defensive line coach in March 2020.

Matt Zanellato, Wide Receivers Coach, Saginaw Valley State

Zanellato is currently living the D-II coaching life after spending time at Davenport, Western Michigan, and Lock Haven.

Alan Zemaitis, Special Teams Coordinator/Safties Coach, Susquehanna

Zemaitis is heading into his 10th season with Susquehanna. He also doubles as an assistant strength and conditioning coach.

Deion Barnes, Penn State, Graduate Assistant (Defense)

The former Big Ten Freshman of the Year came back to Happy Valley for the 2020 season, serving as a graduate assistant that works with the defensive line. Wouldn’t be shocked if in 5 years, Barnes is a household name in the industry.

Wendy Laurent, Penn State, Graduate Assistant (Offense)

Another current player on staff, Laurent is a GA that works with the offensive line. Like Barnes, he is heading into his second year with the program.

Billy Fessler, Ohio State, Graduate Assistant (Offense)

After the 2017 season as being a Heisman-caliber holder for Penn State, Fessler spent the 2018 season as Slippery Rock’s running back coach. He then took a GA role at Mississippi State under Joe Moorhead, before making his way to Ohio State for the 2020 season. Fessler won’t be a GA for long — he made 247Sports’ “30-Under-30” list as a 23-year-old. Expect Fessler to be a full-time position coach by the 2021 season, and as a take I have squatted upon: Penn State’s head coach by 2040.

Michael Shuster, Old Dominion, Graduate Assistant (Offense)

Like a few others with Penn State ties, Shuster’s working for Ricky Rahne at Old Dominion. With the way James Franklin talked about him, he’s someone who I think could come back around to Happy Valley sooner rather than later.

Former GAs

Joe Brady, Carolina Panthers, Offensive Coordinator

Brady interviewed for a couple NFL head coaching gigs this offseason, but nothing came of it. That isn’t too surprising — Brady will only be 32 this September. He’ll assuredly be an NFL head coach within the next three seasons.

Andrew Jackson, West Virginia, Defensive Assistant

Like Brady, Jackson was a part of the 2016 GA class. Although he hasn’t quite reached the heights of Brady, it’s clear he’s well-respected as he was just named to West Virginia’s coaching staff (most likely defensive line but that’s still being worked out). He had previous stops at Fordham, James Madison, and Old Dominion (never coached a game thanks to COVID). If John Scott Jr. leaves any time soon, I would wager Jackson is James Franklin’s first call for the job.

Ryan Smith, Virginia Tech, Cornerbacks Coach

Another member of the 2016 GA class, Smith already has a Power Five gig as well, as he became Virginia Tech’s cornerbacks coach last season. Like Brady and Jackson, he’s a rising star in the industry.

Mark Dupuis, Old Dominion, Wide Receivers Coach

Another Moorhead-Rahne connection, Dupuis coached the wideouts at Fordham before taking a GA gig with Penn State. He’ll serve under Rahne as ODU’s wide receivers coach.

Kevin Smith, Old Dominion, Special Teams Coordinator/OLB Coach

Smith spent the 2017-2019 seasons as a GA for Penn State, coaching the defensive line and linebackers. We’ll see what he can do at PSU-lite.

Tommy Galt, Assumption, Offensive Coordinator/OL Coach

The last GA on that 2016 staff, Galt spent his first year after Penn State with Fordham as its offensive line coach. Since then, he’s settled into an OC/OL coach role with D-II Assumption University.


Note: This is only listing former players and GAs; not quality control coaches (Will Windham), analysts (Kirk Campbell), or former assistants (Charles Huff). If enough are interested, I can add the latter to the list for next year.