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Penn State Football: Coaching is a Family Calling for Brent Pry

by on May 10, 2015 11:00 PM

Coaching football has always been a calling for Brent Pry.

It's hard not to answer the call when your dad is Jim Pry, who’s coached football at one high school and 11 colleges – and counting.

Jim is in his fourth season at Bethune-Cookman, with other recent gigs at Duke, Akron, Illinois and Dartmouth. Nearly always, he’s been the offensive coordinator.

For Brent’s part, Penn State represents his ninth coaching stop and seventh state since he first caught the bug as an undergraduate assistant at the University of Buffalo after suffering a career-ending injury in 1992.

Unlike his pop, Brent has always coached the defensive side of the ball. These days he is Penn State’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator, as well as assistant head coach. Both he and his dad no doubt agree on this, though: recruiting has changed the profession more than anything else. The word "calling" has taken on a whole different meaning.

“I may be home, but I may in the driveway on the phone for an hour,” Pry said last week when asked about life in a football family. “You do what you do. You may come in, tuck them in and read the (kids) a book or two. Then you’re back on the phone. When that four-star calls and wants to talk, you’re going to take the phone call.”

THE FAMILY BUSINESS

A native of Altoona, Pry knew from a young age what success as a college coach typically called for – long hours, multiple moves, and weekends and nights that were not your own. Although he was born April 1, 1970, Pry was anything but a fool about understanding the pitfalls.

From when Brent was 3 years old until he entered Buffalo in 1989, Jim and wife Kathy lived in seven places, as Jim climbed the coaching ladder, from two seasons as a grad assistant at Marshall to West Virginia Tech to Lewis County (W.Va.) High School to West Liberty State to VMI to Buffalo, where Jim stayed one season as offensive coordinator, in 1989.

Along the way, Brent fell in love with football – as did his younger brothers Jonathan and Nathan. It was, and is, the family business.

“I grew up around it,” Brent said. “My dad was a small college coach three places in West Virginia and played at Marshall. He coached some high school ball over there -- back of buses, going on 10-hour trips, running around the high school field. It was what I knew. It was a pretty easy decision, coming out of Buffalo. In fact, coming out of my senior year I suffered an injury that ended my career. I’m not sure how much disappointment there was. I went right into the press box as a student assistant. I enjoyed that year and benefited from it.

“You learn so much just being around like that. Hearing the recruiting phone calls, watching the practices, coaching mannerisms and how you approach the game. There’s no substitute for that – what I learned from my dad in that way.”

Like father, like son. Actually, sons. Jonathan, who played collegiately at East Stroudsburg, has coached in the high school and college ranks. Nathan, who played football at Bloomsburg, coached high school football and was a college strength and conditioning coach who is now a fitness club director in Louisiana.

Brent is in his 24th year of college coaching. The stops that led to Penn State were Buffalo, East Stroudsburg, Virginia Tech, Western Carolina, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Georgia Southern and Vanderbilt. He was on the ESU staff with his dad, who as offensive coordinator from 1990-2000 directed a run-and-gun quarterback named James Franklin. Jonathan was a strength and conditioning coach at Western Carolina and UL Lafayette when Brent was at each place. These days, Jonathan is an assistant football coach and head wrestling coach at St. Thomas More Catholic School in Lafayette, La.

It’s always been tough to … er, uh, pry the Pry men away from the gridiron.

“On any given weekend when I was at the University of Buffalo playing, I had a brother playing at Stroudsburg High School, I had a brother playing junior high and my dad was coaching East Stroudsburg,” Brent said. “So there were four different ballgames going on in any one weekend.

“Over the course of the next 10 years, that was kind of how it was whether they were playing in college -- one played at Bloom, one played at East Stroud. My dad ended up moving around. Of course I did as well. There were three or four games going on for my mom to pay close attention to and to give the phone call after a tough loss or give the phone call after a great win. She’s making four of those calls or having four of those conversations each weekend. She was a real trouper. The demands in the fall, even at the high school level, are really tough.”

COACH'S WIFE'S LIFE

Brent’s wife Amy – the one whose husband is in the car in the driveway at night, his ear glued to the cellphone – is the primary parent from August to February for their children Colby, Madeline and Catherine.

“It’s tough, but I appreciate what they’re doing – whether it’s my mother or my wife,” Brent said. “The toughest part is me being away. It’s pretty much a one-woman show a lot of the time.”

The longest Brent and Amy have been in one place is five years, at UL Lafayette (2002-2006). That’s actually better than par for the course for Franklin’s staff. Counting Franklin, the 10-man Penn State coaching staff has made total of 76 coaching stops. Franklin has made 10 himself, one behind the career tally of both defensive line coach Sean Spencer and Pry’s co-defensive coordinator. Juxtaposition that to the Penn State coaching staff that started the 2011 season with Joe Paterno – the 10 of them had just 38 stops. The quartet of Shoop, Spencer, Franklin and Pry is now at 40.

A JIM VANDY?

When Franklin took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, there was a chance that Brent and/or Jim would land in Nashville. Speaking of callings. Franklin was on the phone with them both.

“When the whole Vanderbilt thing was going on there were conversations with my father and there were conversations with me,” Brent said. “…I was not sure where I was in the pecking order or if I was going to have to wait for my dad to get out of line so I had a shot.”

In the end, when Brent got an offer and Jim did not, father and son had no hard feelings. It was, after all, only business.

 

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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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