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Penn State Football: Bill O’Brien’s Other Depth Charts

by on June 14, 2013 3:30 AM

Penn State’s preseason football depth chart was released on Thursday. The depth displayed on pages 31-34 of the Nittany Lions’ 2013 spring media guide may be almost as important.

That’s where the biographies of the nine PSU assistant coaches are located. So, too, are the photos and one bio of four recruiting-related staffers.

That list of coaches has barely changed over the past 18 months, slightly remarkable given the circumstances of their employment changed drastically last July.

Only one of the Nittany Lion assistants who was on the staff in February 2012 is no longer at University Park. That would be former defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who left over the winter for his alma mater, Georgia Tech. No surprise there, though – this was his fourth job in 14 months. (John Butler is now Penn State’s D-coordinator and new hire Anthony Midget coaches the safeties.)

The others have stayed. Bill O’Brien’s deep coaching staff stayed deep. We can’t really be sure if OB had to recruit any to remain in a not-always Happy Valley. But with a starting lineup that trends younger and younger and with sanctions that hit harder and harder, keeping his assistants aboard is more valuable than what has heretofore been acknowledged.

First, younger players need more coaching. And second, the stability of O’Brien’s assistants – and the successful experience they bring to the table – has resulted in back-to-back recruiting class successes. Thus far. Clearly, O’Brien’s taste for the road, his straightforward manner and his Very Brady pro experience have also played a big role in the Nittany Lions’ success.

But so has the depth of his recruiting team. The results have been telling.

Running back coach Charles London wears the title of recruiting coordinator, but director of player personnel Bill Kavanaugh and three other staffers have played important roles in O’Brien’s success as well. They are key components in O’Brien’s love of structure and organization, especially in a can’t-afford-to-miss environment that is being fed by assistant coaches only now getting around in their territories sans a GPS.

The importance of this area was driven home hard for O’Brien at New England, where Bill Belichick groomed future NFL general managers Scott Pioli (Kansas City) and Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons) by schooling them in the minutia of player scouting and development. O’Brien paid attention. As a result, Penn State has never been as deep in non-coaching support staff devoted to identifying, recruiting and closing high school football prospects as it is right now.

Kavanaugh is in his sixth year at Penn State, working mostly as a grad assistant and recruiting assistant until the Sandusky scandal. Then, he replaced Mike McQueary as the receivers coach for the final two months of 2012. When O’Brien came aboard, Kavanaugh was promoted to director of player personnel.

He’s assisted by John Power, Brenna Mathers and Rich Yahner, according to the most recent Penn State media guide. Power, the assistant recruiting coordinator who was hired in February, was a former offensive coordinator at Fork Union Military Academy and played football at Georgia. Mathers is recruiting operations assistant, having previously worked in Penn State Sports Marketing as well as at State College pop radio station B94.5. Yahner, who spent time at Virginia, is listed as a recruiting assistant. His LinkedIn page says that he has been “Quarterbacks/Kicking Specialists/Assistant to the Head Coach” at Penn State since 2012.

O’Brien’s full-time assistants are a bit more experienced. In total the group of nine has spent 222 years as college and/or pro coaches – an average of 24.7 years per coach. By comparison, in Joe Paterno’s final season in 2011, his assistant coaches had 234 total years of experience – a 26-year average. In the Big Ten, the numbers vary wildly. Heading into the 2013 season, Michigan’s assistant coaches have 232 years of pro and/or college experience (a 25.8-year average), while Urban Meyer’s staff is decidedly younger – 145 years total and a 16.1-year average.

Here are a few more examples of the depth on O’Brien’s nine-man assistant coaching staff:

-- Three have been head coaches: Charlie Fisher (West Georgia), Mac McWhorter (West Georgia, interim at Georgia Tech) and Ron Vanderlinden (Maryland).

-- Four have won national championships: McWhorter (assoc. head coach, Texas, 2005), Stan Hixon (asst. head coach, LSU, 2003), Vanderlinden (Colorado, 1990) and Fisher (Eastern Kentucky, 1982).

-- Two have coached in the NFL: Hixon and London.

-- Two have been at Penn State for more than three decades combined: Larry Johnson (18 years) and Vanderlinden (13).

As he enters only his second season as a head coach, O'Brien will need to tap into all that experience – and more – as Penn State gets deeper into the NCAA sanctions.

That's because when it comes to depth, Penn State is truly in uncharted territory.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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