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Penn State Football: The Happy Valley Coaching Carousel

by on December 14, 2017 9:30 PM

Editor's note: Story updated at 11:25 p.m., to reflect report that Louisiana-Lafayette had offered its head coaching job to Billy Napier.

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Football returns to Beaver Stadium on Friday, for the Nittany Lions' Fiesta Bowl media day.

It's been 27 days since Penn State was last in its home stadium. That was for its 56-44 win over Nebraska on Nov. 18.

Two of the team's three coordinators who were on hand that day will not be back on Friday.

Gone to Mississippi State are offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead and special teams coordinator Charles Huff.

And, according to some reports, at least for awhile it looked as if defensive coordinator Brent Pry could depart, as well, as the next head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette. Then, late Thursday night, reported that Arizona State offensive coordinator Billy Napier was offered the job.

It was 364 days ago, at Penn State's Rose Bowl media day inside Beaver Stadium, when James Franklin was talking about his assistant coaches leaving.

(Although none of them did. At the time.)

"I think that's a compliment," Franklin said last December 16. "I think whenever you have assistant coaches being approached and people trying to hire your staff, that means that you're doing something right, and they want to kind of get a piece of it."

A year ago, in the days after Penn State won the Big Ten championship, Franklin said three assistants were in the mix for head coach's jobs —Moorhead and Pry, being two of three.

"I hoping that we're going to be able to keep the staff together as long as we possibly can," said Franklin back then. "But they're talented guys and guys who are going to leave at some point for head coaching opportunities. We want that for them, but we want to try to keep the staff together as long as we possibly can."

Franklin did. At least for one more season, anyway, as the entire Penn State coaching staff stayed intact. Penn State was just one of 17 major college football programs that returned all nine members of its full-time assistant coaches staff in 2017.


And it was quite the season. Again. But 10 victories and three losses, counting the Rose Bowl, by a combined seven points later (two of the defeats coming as time ran out), Penn State's success and its 41.6-point per game offense were too impressive to keep Moorhead — 38-13 as a head coach at Fordham — in Happy Valley beyond two seasons.

The opportunity to be an assistant head coach at Mississippi State was too great to keep Huff at Penn State.

The allure of returning as a head coach to Louisiana-Lafayette, where he was assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in 2002-2006, was not enough to pry Brent away from Penn State.

You can understand Pry considering it. His wife Amy's roots extended to the area. Lafayette (pop. 490,000, 135 miles west of New Orleans) is where the Prys have lived the longest (five years), in a coaching career that has had four stops in four states since their time there. And Pry's brother Jonathan, who was a strength coach at UL-Lafayette when Brent coached there, remains in the city, as head wrestling coach, assistant football coach and phys ed instructor at St. Thomas More Catholic School.

Moorhead knows a lot about Louisiana-Lafayette football, too. He just hired its most recent head coach. Make that, recently fired head coach (on December 3).

The Louisiana-Lafayette head coaching job is open because Mark Hudspeth was fired after the 2017 season, when the Ragin' Cajuns went 5-7 overall and 4-4 (tied for fifth) in the Sun Belt. Overall, Hudspeth was 28-38 from 2011-17, and previous to that was 66-21 in seven seasons as head coach at North Alabama.


On Thursday night, Moorhead hired Hudspeth to be Mississippi State's associate head coach and tight ends coach. There's moor of this stuff that you can't just make up:

A week ago we learned that Moorhead hired Bob Shoop to be his defensive coordinator. Shoop spent the previous two seasons as D-coordinator at Tennessee. And prior to that, he worked with Franklin and Pry, as the D-coordinator for three seasons at Vanderbilt (2011-13) and Penn State for two years (2014-15). Pry was co-defensive coordinator at both stops, but Shoop was the one who called the shots.


If Pry had departed, he would have been the fifth coordinator to leave Penn State over the past 106 weeks — joining Shoop, Moorhead, Huff and John Donovan, who was Moorhead's predecessor as offensive coordinator at Penn State in 2014-15.

As it is, Penn State football has had seven defensive coordinators in seven seasons, dating back to 2011. Tom Bradley began that fateful season as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator — and he was darn good at it, leading Penn State to six consecutive Top 15 finishes in total and scoring defense (2004-09). His 2004 defense gave up just 168 points in 11 games; Pry's 2017 group gave up a comparable 186 in 12 games.

When Bradley became interim head coach when Joe Paterno was fired in November 2011, Ron Vanderlinden (who, while head coach at Maryland, hired Franklin in 2000) and Larry Johnson Sr. were named co-defensive coordinators for the season's final four games. Ted Roof (2012) and John Butler (2013) were D-coordinators at Penn State under Bill O'Brien. Shoop followed in 2014-15, followed by Pry in 2016-17.

And, it looks like, Pry again in 2018.

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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