STATE COLLEGE — The offense, the defense, the returning roster — all of that can wait for just a bit.
For James Franklin’s coaching staff at Penn State, it’s recruiting season first and foremost. In fact, the only reason the new Nittany Lions boss and all nine of his assistants were in Happy Valley on Friday is because they’re hosting a huge official visit weekend for recruits.
“I’ve been on a lot of staffs,” Franklin said. “A lot of staffs where you have coaches where you say, ‘Well, this guy is OK because he’s a really, really good coach, but maybe he isn’t going to be the best recruiter. and we’re not going to ask him to recruit.’
“We will not have one guy on this staff that I don’t feel is going to be an excellent recruiter. And that is really what we’re looking for.”
That energy comes from a staff with an average age just under 40. Franklin himself will turn 42 next week. It’s a staff that is very active on social media — Twitter in particular — and looks for any avenue to reach high school players.
Want an idea of how different things are going to be now at Penn State? Look no further than national signing day on Feb. 5. The same program that used to send out a simple list of recruit’s names along with their positions and hometowns will now be turning the day into a full-blown extravaganza.
Penn State announced this week that Franklin will be hosting “The Signature Event” at 6 p.m. on signing day at the Bryce Jordan Center. Think of it as a pep rally to celebrate the new troops, complete with the band, cheerleaders and a handful of prominent current and former players.
Already this week, Franklin and his assistants have been as far as California and Florida with personal stops in nearly a dozen states to visit recruits.
The Lions have already added five new commitments to the Class of 2014 — all of whom had previously committed to Franklin at Vanderbilt. That would be Ohio offensive lineman Chance Sorrell, Kentucky defensive lineman Lloyd Tubman, Georgia defensive back Grant Haley, Virginia quarterback Trace McSorley and Illinois offensive lineman Brendan Brosnan.
Three prospects who had initially pledged to former coach Bill O’Brien’s staff — New York defensive tackle Thomas Holley, Maryland defensive back Troy Vincent and New Jersey linebacker Donte Raymond — decommitted and are headed elsewhere.
Moving forward, each member of Franklin’s staff will have a portion of Pennsylvania to recruit as well as other national regions.
New cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, for example, will handle the WPIAL because of his long tenure as a high school coach in Pittsburgh.
“My role is to secure Pittsburgh,” Smith said. “Any top talent there, I’ve gotta get it. That’s my responsibility. I’m a diligent worker. I’m going to work hard to establish the boundaries so that Penn State gets the chosen ones. And it’s not going to be easy. Over the last few years, a lot of the big schools have started to come in and take the (top) one and two guys like Ohio State, like Michigan, even West Virginia.
“So it’ll be a tough battle, but hopefully we get the ones that we want.”
Bonding with Hack
Once the recruiting dies down, one of the first tasks for the new staff will be to develop an offense around the talents of quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
Hackenberg was a Freshman All-American under O’Brien and the incoming staff acknowledges that it’s going to take some time to develop a similar level of trust.
“We’re really excited to work with him,” offensive coordinator John Donovan said. “I know it’s hard for him because he had such a tight relationship with Coach O’Brien. I was fortunate enough to work with Coach O’Brien in two spots, Georgia Tech and Maryland. So I’ve had communication with him, and he loves that kid.
“(Hackenberg) is going to form his own opinion. We’re confident in our abilities as a staff in what we’re going to teach and what we’re going to run. I think he’s going to be excited about what we’re going to do.”
New face, old ways
Though he is technically separate from the coaching staff, Dwight Galt was also introduced Friday as Penn State’s new strength coach.
Or as the new regime calls him, “Director of Performance Enhancement.”
Lions players adored his predecessor, Craig Fitzgerald, who left this month to join O’Brien with the Houston Texans.
But Galt actually mentored Fitzgerald when both were at Maryland and he brings the same philosophies and mindset to the weight room that Fitzgerald did.
“Probably the most important hire we’ve made,” Franklin said of Galt. “I’ve been with Dwight for over 13 years now (at Maryland and Vanderbilt). Think the world of him. He’s kind of the Yoda of the program.
“You’ll walk by his office, and there will always be players sitting in his room talking to him. A tremendous mentor for the players. Same thing with the coaches.”