Last updated: January 17. 2014 10:00AM - 1625 Views
By - dlevarse@timesleader.com

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Not five minutes into his Penn State introduction, James Franklin had already coined his first catchphrase.

“Our recruiting philosophy, we are going to dominate the state,” Franklin said. “We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.”

Already there are T-shirts for sale with “Dominate the State” slogans. But obviously Franklin can’t try to pull that off by himself.

Though the Nittany Lions haven’t officially announced any staff hires — that won’t come until all nine are in the fold — Franklin already has at least seven assistant coaches helping him make the transition.

Six come to Happy Valley directly from Franklin’s former staff at Vanderbilt. John Donovan (offensive coordinator), Bob Shoop (defensive coordinator), Josh Gattis (wide receivers), Brent Pry (linebackers), Ricky Rahne (quarterbacks) and Sean Spencer (defensive line) are all expected to fill the same roles at Penn State.

Pry also lists himself as the assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, both titles he held previously with the Commodores.

All six have updated their Twitter accounts with Penn State logos and appear in the university directory. Many of them hit the recruiting trail with Franklin on Thursday, the first day of the new semester that coaches were allowed to talk to recruits face-to-face.

Adding one more

Also on Thursday, a seventh assistant coach was revealed.

Western Michigan running backs coach Charles Huff updated his own Twitter page to reflect he was Penn State’s new running backs coach. Huff also just recently appeared in the school directory.

Huff had previously served on staffs with Franklin at Maryland and Vanderbilt. The Hampton University grad was the Commodores assistant special teams coordinator in 2011 before spending a season with the Buffalo Bills and last year at Western Michigan.

Though most recently a running backs coach, Huff has also served as an offensive line coach and a tight ends coach, so there could be some flexibility in his final role. Donovan had worked directly with the running backs at Vanderbilt.

That all seven hires have direct ties to Franklin is no surprise.

“I am fiercely loyal as a person in general, and I’m going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I’ve worked with in the past,” Franklin said right off the bat.

The final few

That leaves just two spots left on staff — assuming they haven’t already been filled.

One would likely be in the secondary as multiple coaching search websites have reported that there is mutual interest between Penn State and Virginia secondary coach Chip West.

At Vanderbilt, Shoop had worked directly with safeties while another assistant coached the cornerbacks. On Wednesday, Shoop wrote on Twitter he was happy to meet Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas, both of whom finished the 2013 season at corner.

Franklin will also need someone to coach the offensive line.

Penn State currently lists Mac McWhorter and John Strollo as the team’s only coaches besides Franklin. McWhorter coached the Lions’ O-line the last two years and Strollo has led the position in the past at other schools.

But both came to Penn State in part because of their ties to former coach Bill O’Brien, and neither seems likely to return.

In particular, McWhorter was coaxed out of retirement by O’Brien and had talked about returning home to Georgia in the near future even if his boss had stayed.

Back in Nashville, meanwhile, there are only three members of Franklin’s Vanderbilt staff who are not at Penn State. One of them, cornerbacks coach George Barlow, was just hired Thursday by North Carolina State.

The other two — offensive line coach Herb Hand and tight ends/special teams coach Charles Bankins — were both out recruiting for Vanderbilt on Thursday.

Given that, their preference would appear to be to stay in Tennessee. Hand has reportedly interviewed for the head coaching job, but that will likely to go to a rising star of a coordinator such as Clemson’s Chad Morris or Stanford’s Derek Mason.

Should the Commodores’ new head coach not retain Hand or Bankins, it’s possible that Franklin would look to bring one or both of them north as well, with Hand being a strong candidate.

Ideally, Penn State would have the entire staff finalized before next weekend. The Lions will then begin hosting recruits for official visits leading up to national signing day on Feb. 5.

“It’s going to be a sprint from here on out,” Franklin said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do in a very, very short period of time, and it’s time sensitive because of the recruiting process as well.”

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