Penn State’s coaching shuffle in review


Barring any further changes, it appears Penn State’s coaching staff for 2016 is now in place.

The addition of Tim Banks to serve as the team’s new safeties coach, while also helping to coordinate the defense, filled the final vacancy on the staff for James Franklin. Whiel the loss of defensive cooridnator Bob Shoop was a significant loss for the program, Penn State added some experience to the staff this offseason. With the coaching staff now finalized, or so we think, here is a rundown of who is out and who is in for Penn State’s coaching staff in 2016.


OUT: John Donovan (Fired)

IN: Joe Moorhead (Fordham)

Penn State’s offense had struggled to epic levels over the course of two regular seasons with John Donovan calling the shots on James Franklin’s staff. Franklin let Donovan go at the conclusion of the regular season and before the bowl game in an effort to make room for bringing in some new offensive juice at the position. Whil;e many of the struggles of the offense can be excused for being the product of an abbreviated sanction phase, the bottom line was the inability to adapt over two years was more than enough reason to make a change at offensive coordinator.

Filling the role on the staff is Joe Moorhead, who had previously been the head coach at Fordham. Moorhead’s work as a head coach at Fordham was impressive, turning a 1-10 team into a 6-5 team in one year and ultimately building a program that reached the FCS Playoffs in three straight seasons and finishing in the top 20 all three of those years out of the Patriot League. That is a solid effort. Franklin wanted a coach to come in who had some play-calling experience, so Moorhead checked off that box by calling offensive plays at Akron, UConn and, of course, at Fordham.

The change at offensive coordinator was the biggest offseason coaching change on the Penn State staff, and one that should have almost nowhere to go but up as depth improves. As is always the case, Franklin and his staff can bring in all kinds of talented players, but the trick now will be to see if Moorhead is capable of calling the right plays to get the best possible results out of them. More importantly, will Moorhead be capable of making adjustments when needed, and realize what adjustments must be made quick enough. His track record at Fordham suggests he will be able to do just that, and he should bring a renewed sense of optimism to the offense as he works with a quickly rising running back like Saquon Barkley and a growing crop of talented wide receivers.


OUT: Herb Hand (Auburn)

IN: Matt Limegrover (Hired, most recently with Minnesota)

The likable and well-known Herb Hand accepted an offer to reunite with his friend Gus Malzahn down at Auburn, giving Hand a chance to move back south with his family. Few could question the likability of Hand and his track record at Vanderbilt as an offensive line coach on Franklin’s staff was thought to be a great addition to the Penn State staff, as offensive line was a very much depleted position. Despite being a well-respected recruiter, Hand was dealt a bad hand (no pun intended) at Penn State. Due to recruiting sanctions and recruiting strategies utilized under Bill O’Brien, offensive line depth was cut short and that lasting impact made it difficult to show much improvement on the offensive line. Even the best offensive line coaches would have bene challenged to get much improvement out of Penn State’s offensive line in 2014 and 2015. It was Donovan’s job to find some way to work around that, but it would have been nice to have seen at least some slight evidence of improvement at some point over 24 games. For that, it is fair to suggest Hand’s likability and outgoing personality overshadowed any flaws he may have had. Hand should redeem himself at Auburn though, and he could do so quickly.

To replace Hand, Penn State reached out to Matt Limegrove, who most recently was an assistant at Minnesota. A Pittsburgh-area native, Limegrover will help with Penn State’s recruiting in the western side of the state, along with new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead, and Limegrover should have more to work with than Hand did during his two seasons in State College. Because of that, Limegrover may receive some extra praise the moment things turn around with the offensive line, which would be deserved but also should be put in perspective as well. Limegrover had been an assistant under former Gophers coach Jerry Kill for the past 16 years, dating back to Kill’s days at Southern Illinois. Minnesota let go of Limegrover, with this likely being the lasting image of underperformance by the offensive line:

But hey, nowhere to go but up on the offensive line at Penn State, right?


OUT: Bob Shoop (Tennessee)

IN: Brent Pry (promoted from staff)

The biggest loss from Penn State’s coaching staff from 2015 is without a doubt that of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. A year after managing to keep Shoop from leaving for the SEC’s LSU, Shoop could not be kept away from Tennessee. Shoop accepted a job offer to join the staff working with Butch Jones, which gave Shoop a chance to coach on a program that is not rebuilding but ready to compete now, as well as bring him back to the state of Tennessee. Odds are Shoop is making some better money at Tennessee as well, although that is not confirmed since Penn State keeps contract details behind closed doors with a lock and key. Shoop had already established a solid reputation as a defensive coordinator, although it was noticeable how Penn State’s defense gave up big plays and big drives in key moments at times this season. Part of that was from being undermanned, but it was still a bit uncharacteristic, especially after a respectable showing the previous season. Regardless, the loss of Shoop was one of the most significant departures from Penn State this offseason, either by a player or a coach.

To fill the vacancy at defensive coordinator, Franklin hired from within by promoting Brent Pry to defensive coordinator and he did so quickly. Pry had previously been given the title of co-defensive coordinator while Shoop was on the staff, so the promotion of Pry was thought to be the most likely scenario in play for the staff, and it also allows for a smooth transition and maximum consistency on what has been Penn State’s most stable part of the team over the last few years. Not much is likely to be expected to change as far as Penn State’s defense goes. Pry had already been an experienced assistant coach but his time working alongside Shoop should be a benefit to his defensive mindset.


OUT: Bob Shoop

IN: Tim Banks (Hired, most recently with Illinois)

In addition to being the defensive coordinator at Penn State, Shoop had also served as the safeties coach on the staff. With his departure to Tennessee, that left a position in need of a head coach. Filling that vacancy on the staff will be Tim Banks, who was most recently an assistant at Illinois. Illinois head coach Bill Cubit had reportedly wanted Banks to stay on the staff to help serve as an assistant defensive coach, but Banks opted out to pursue other opportunities in December. Banks and Franklin crossed paths as assistants briefly at Maryland, so there is some familiarity between Franklin and Banks. Banks has spent nine seasons as a defensive coordinator as well, which suggests Franklin is adding some good defensive knowledge to the staff to keep the defensive side of the football in good hands. Last season, Illinois was 15th in passing yards allowed and 21st in passing efficiency defense.


  • Ricky Rahne switched from quarterback coach to tight ends coach
  • Terry Smith promoted to assistant head coach; continues serving as defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach.
  • Sean Spencer adds defensive run game coordinator to defensive line coaching duties.
  • Jim Haslett leaves role as consultant to join Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff.

Ricky Rahne initially joined Franklin’s staff two years ago as the team’s passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Rahne will remain the passing game coordinator but will yield quarterback coaching duties to new offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Rahne will slide over to tight ends coach, a title previously held by fired offensive coordinator John Donovan.

On defense, there were some mild modifications following the defensive coordinator change. The hiring of Tim Banks plugged the lone position coaching vacancy but Terry Smith and Sean Spencer will add new titles and new responsibilities to their existing role son the staff. Nothing too major here.

The loss of Jim Haslett as a consultant is perhaps the most mild of losses on the staff this season. Added as a consultant to the program after a run with the Washington Redskins, it was likely to be a temporary job for Haslett before he returned to the NFL, which turned out to be the case. Having a consultant is not a bad idea, but it is not a position that demands to be filled. Whether or not franklin seeks another consultant remains to be seen.

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