How about a special teams coach?
The departures of Ron Vanderlinden and Charlie Fisher from the Penn State coaching staff, apparently forced although both had quotes in news releases, raise questions and offer opportunities as the program moves forward.
Vanderlinden was a holdover from Joe Paterno’s staff, and while the linebackers had a shaky year, that was in large part due to a lack of depth because of scholarship sanctions and injuries. Still, the issues at the school’s signature position may have provided head coach Bill O’Brien a chance to bring his own guy in there. Whoever takes over will face, at least for the next couple of years, the same depth issues Vanderlinden had to deal with.
Fisher’s leaving creates a more interesting situation. Christian Hackenberg had a great freshman year, and the fact Matt McGloin is now a starting quarterback in the NFL after one season of vast improvement under the new staff leaves me wondering whether most of this doing was Fisher’s or O’Brien’s. We all know O’Brien’s resume included offensive coordinator at New England, with Tom Brady and the successful passing offense there. My question is, does this team need a QB coach?
You don’t want to saddle the head guy with too much, but Hackenberg is here for at least another two years, if not three, and while there will need to be a new backup groomed with Tyler Ferguson’s leaving, O’Brien seems up to handling the QBs. If he wasn’t already doing so.
My suggestion would be to leave Hackenberg and company in O’Brien’s hands, and hire a full time special teams coach. This part of the game was bad for the Lions this season, again at least in large part due to the lack of depth from the sanctions. But, that’s not going to change a great deal through the next two seasons, as the scholarship numbers gradually return to normal. And, even with more scholarship guys, it seems this area is a problem.
Giving up a kickoff return for a TD, you could argue, cost the Lions the Nebraska game. While kicker Sam Ficken started the year in great fashion with a school record 15 straight field goals, he faded down the stretch. His missed FG and extra point also figure in the Nebraska loss, and his missed 31-yard FG in the final minute left Wisconsin a chance to pull that game out. Punter Alex Butterworth, who was servicable but little more, is graduating.
Penn State clearly needs help in the special teams area. Kicking, kick coverage, and returns have all been net negatives for the past two years, and have cost the team at least a game each year, and by ceding field position in many cases, probably played big roles in more contests.
Having a coach devoted to this part of the game seems a good idea to me.