December 21, 2010

Coaching moves Penn State fans should care about

If you haven't been keeping up with news outside of Happy Valley, here's a quick rundown of three big coaching moves in the northeast region, and how each of them could affect Penn State next year and beyond.

1. Pitt-falling

Pittsburgh fired Dave Wannstedt, in what I personally think was a bad move. The Panthers had just won 10 games last year, nine the year before. While this season was by no means impressive (7-5), to have a winning season in a disaster of a year is a good thing for Pitt. Plus, with the great recruiting class coming together this year before Wannstedt was fired, things were looking very much upward.

But he's gone now. Pitt has hired Miami OF OHIO head coach Michael Haywood. And recruits are jumping the program like rats from a sinking ship. Ben Kline flipped to Penn State, Bill Belton is looking elsewhere, while even guys like Kyshoen Jarrett, Terrell Chestnut, and Jameel Poteat are rumored to have gotten cold feet the past few days. But one of the biggest names to decommit so far is quarterback Gary Nova, from Don Bosco (who happens to live in Elmwood Park, my hometown) in New Jersey.

By this one coaching change, the entire northeast recruiting region--definitely Pennsylvania and New Jersey--has been thrown into chaos this season. Penn State could benefit, and to some extent already has by landing Kline for 2011. But it's not all peaches for the Nittany Lions' recruiting prospects the next few years. That's because...

Jeff Hafley was killing it for Pitt recruiting this season.
Can he duplicate that success at Rutgers?
2. Reviving Rutgers

Jeff Hafley was Pitt's secondary coach the last three seasons, until getting the boot this week. But perhaps more importantly, he was in charge of recruiting New Jersey for the Panthers, including getting Nova on board in the 'Burgh.

On Sunday it was announced that Hafley, a native New Jerseyan, would be immediately joining Greg Schiano's Rutgers coaching staff, and you can bet your butt that he'll be able to lock down the Garden State tighter than anyone in recent memory, including Schiano himself.

That brings things back to guys like Nova. It's already being talked about that he's a near lock to swing his now-open verbal to Rutgers, along with some other names that had been wavering or cooling on the Knights. Remember Miles Shuler? He committed to Rutgers this weekend. That puts RU in prime position for another St. Peter's Prep recruit--Savon Huggins.

While this will all directly impact the balance of power in the Big East, the residual is leaking towards Happy Valley.

3. Bye-bye Buckeye

Yesterday, Kent State announced Darrell Hazell as its new head coach. Hazell, 46, was the Buckeyes' wide receivers coach and a very good recruiter, with some very key recruits pulled from Florida. Among his recruiting grabs were Philly Brown, James Louis, Chris Fields, Michael Brewster, DeVier Posey, and Chimdi Chekwa. While his impact at Kent probably won't affect Penn State that much, his absence from Ohio State possibly could. Any good recruiter is tough to replace, and any downtime while trying to work those recruits could be the difference in getting or losing a kid.

4. Going Gopher

New head coach Jerry Kill is bringing on some very good assistant coaches at Minnesota, including some from his Northern Illinois staff that just completed a big bowl win--Bill Miller, Jeff Phelps, Pat Poore, Rob Reeves and Jim Zebrowski. Miller will hold the title of assistant head coach and will coach the linebackers. Phelps will serve as the defensive line coach. Poore will coach the receivers. Reeves will coach the H-Backs and tight ends. Zebrowski will serve as the quarterbacks coach.

Though Minnesota doesn't affect much in terms of Penn State or its recruiting, this is a big turnaround from what Tim Brewster had going on, as Brewster's assistants were coming and going without much consistency for the players. Kill is taking a family-style approach to his staff, similar to Penn State, and could have the core of his staff together for a long time. Then again, any assistant staying for more than one season will be an upgrade in Minneapolis.

5. IU poaching PU

Two weeks after accepting the Hoosiers job, new head coach Kevin Wilson hired Doug Mallory and Mike Ekeler as co-defensive coordinators. Mallory is the son of former Indiana coach Bill Mallory, who has the most wins of any coach in school history. But yesterday there was perhaps a bigger addition--in the Hoosier State, at least--to Wilson's staff. Mark Hagan will join Indiana. Purdue's linebackers coach the past two season, Hagen will coach IU's defensive line and special teams. Hagen was the longest-tenured coach on the Purdue staff, joining the Boilers before the 2000 season. He's a noted defensive guru and possibly an even better special teams coach. In 2005, Hagen was named one of the nation's top 25 recruiters by Indiana and Purdue are both in the Big Ten "East" for 2011 with Penn State.

(Photo: John McDonnell/The Washington Post)
6. Closing the Fridge

Finally there's Maryland, where 2010 ACC Coach of the Year Ralph Friedgen will be fired after the bowl game. He was offered a chance to retire, but declined. It's not a fun situation down in College Park right now.

Offensive coordinator and one-time coach-in-waiting James Franklin recently accepted the Vanderbilt head coaching job, forcing a chain reaction in what should have been a smooth transition of power at Maryland. Now, with Franklin gone, the university wants to just cut everyone loose and start anew.

Former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach is rumored to be the most likely top choice for Maryland. That kind of hire--though not earth-shattering--would definitely make waves along the east coast, as Leach was very good at getting recruits and developing talent to overachieve.

Penn State has had a field day recruiting Maryland the past 7 years, but a bigger name like Leach may have a chance to loosen PSU's foothold in the Bay State.


The most important move here--believe it or not--is the potential recruiting boom for Rutgers, now with Hafley in charge of that state. Penn State has taken tons of criticism this recruiting year for not landing enough New Jersey prospects that once would have been locks to play for JoePa & Co. That's primarily due to a weak Pennsylvania recruiting class, and several whiffs in Maryland and Ohio.

So keep an eye on these situations. We'll try to do that for you here.

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