Comfortable with speaking to the media from his first game as a true freshman, Christian Hackenberg gave the shortest answer to a question yet on Wednesday.
How seriously did the Penn State quarterback consider transferring when Bill O’Brien left?
Then silence. There wasn’t anything more to say.
One of the biggest fears for the Nittany Lions during this entire frantic start to the new year was that Hackenberg might look elsewhere after O’Brien was hired by the Houston Texans.
After all, Hackenberg and his family had already developed a close bond with O’Brien as far back as Februrary 2012, when the blue-chip quarterback became the first verbal commitment of O’Brien’s first full recruiting class.
O’Brien had convinced Hackenberg to stick with Penn State when the NCAA sanctions came down, and the promise of being mentored by the former New England Patriots play-caller was a big reason to stay.
Hackenberg, though, said he holds no bitterness toward O’Brien for making the abrupt jump to the NFL.
“Not at all,” Hackenberg said. “It’s a business. He did what he had to do and what’s best for his family. At the end of the day, that’s what comes ahead of everything.
“I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me and this program, which is what people should be focusing on. I’m excited to move on with Coach Franklin.”
Like most everyone else in the state, Hackenberg is anxious to see what Penn State’s offense will look like under James Franklin, who is still assembling his coaching staff.
In three seasons at Vanderbilt, Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan had no qualms about putting starting quarterbacks Jordan Rodgers and Austyn Carta-Samuels on the move and running plays out of the pistol.
Not exactly the scheme that O’Brien had installed for Hackenberg and the Lions. But Franklin made it a point during his introduction to say that the new schemes would be tailored to fit the talent.
“What I would say is we’re going to run multiple pro‑style offense, defense, and special teams,” Frankin said. “To me, I’m not a guy that’s going to pigeon-hole what we’re going to do. I think my philosophy is you go out and hire really smart people, and you have a system that has flexibility to take advantage of all your strengths and hide your weaknesses.
“I don’t believe in one offense or one defense or one special teams philosophy is the end‑all, be‑all. It’s about taking advantage of the assets that you have, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Hackenberg had been recruited by Vanderbilt out of high school, but because he committed to Penn State early in the process, his contact with the Commodores was limited to just a few phone calls, most of them with quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, who will hold the same position with the Lions.
The first chance to sit down personally with Franklin came over the weekend.
“He’s a very personable guy,” Hackenberg said. “Up front. Honest. He brings an intensity to to the room. Very fiery. I can’t wait to get on the field with him.”
Staff taking shape
The Lions are still in the process of hiring a new coaching staff. And though Franklin said all of the coaches would be formally introduced at once, he’ll need some help with the transition before everyone is officially in place.
Two former Vanderbilt assistants have already made it known that they have accepted the same position at Penn State.
Rahne (quarterbacks) and wide receivers coach Josh Gattis both announced Wednesday on Twitter that they are now working for Penn State.
Gattis helped develop SEC record-holder Jordan Matthews during his two years with Vanderbilt and was also the Commodores’ offensive recruiting coordinator.
An All-ACC safety at Wake Forest, Gattis graduated in 2006 and has also served as a receivers coach at Western Michigan.
For Rahne, this will be his third coaching stop working with Franklin. The two were originally on Ron Prince’s staff at Kansas State before Franklin hired him away from the Wildcats to join him at Vanderbilt.
Rahne, 33, was a record-setting quarterback at Cornell.
Those two will almost certainly be joined by several other Commodores coaches.
Penn State’s directory brings up entries for Gattis, Rahne, Bob Shoop (defensive coordinator/safeties), Brent Pry (assistant head coach/linebackers), John Donovan (offensive coordinator/running backs), Sean Spencer (defensive line) and Dwight Galt (strength), though none are listed with titles.
Gattis, Rahne, Shoop and Pry have already been issued Penn State email addresses.
Lions lose top recruit
As expected, the departure of defensive line coach Larry Johnson has already affected Penn State’s upcoming recruiting class.
Though Thomas Holley will not be following Johnson to Ohio State, the heralded defensive tackle has decommitted from the Lions and is now set to sign with Will Muschamp at Florida in February.
Florida was originally the runner-up for Holley, who was Penn State’s highest-rated recruit according to the 247sports Composite Rankings, which average the projections of several major services.
Holley and his family had previously said they would wait to see if Johnson was still on staff before making a final decision regarding Penn State.
Johnson said Monday he had declined a spot on Franklin’s staff.