Countdown To Dublin: From Behind The Scenes Nelson And Mancuso Dish Out Memories
Chances are you've seen both of them on camera. Sometimes in the background after a big game or interviewing a coach after practice. They're never too far from the big moment no matter if it's good or bad.
Communications staff members often go unnoticed by the average fan which is fine since they aren't after the fame and fortune. Even so, it's safe to say that working with three head football coaches, hundreds of student athletes and an untold number of games will bring with it a few moments to remember. They may not play the game, but there is no doubt they enjoy the victories and take the losses just as hard.
StateCollege.com caught up with two of these storytellers in Assistant Athletic Director Jeff Nelson and Assistant Director Tony Mancuso for a few quick questions about their collective time at Penn State.
*Nelson handles the majority of the media relations for the football program while Mancuso is responsible for much of Penn State's in-house football coverage.*
You have worked with three head coaches over the years, what have some of the similarities or differences been between them?
TM "I think the biggest thing is that all three understood the history and tradition of the program. The fact that Penn State football is so powerful in the state of Pennsylvania and the fact that the fan base is so huge. That so many people care about the program. Obviously there are some differences in the sense that Coach Paterno towards the end of his career didn't do as much media stuff, just kind of the way things worked out."
"Coach O'Brien loved to coach football and be on the field and watch film at all times. Whereas Coach Franklin while he loves watching film and all that stuff he enjoys talking to the media. Not saying that Coach O'Brien didn't like doing it or that Coach Paterno didn't like doing it, they just all thee have unique personalities while all three stood for the same big thing. They each had their own intricacies that made them unique."
JN: "Probably the first that comes to mind is in far as differences is social media has been a big difference. So you know Twitter was really in its infancy back in 2010, 2011. Coach O'Brien understood it and maybe didn't embrace it personally but understood the value of it. Where Coach Franklin obviously is all about it. That's probably the first thing that jumps out to me."
You've been around a lot of big moments for the program, what's one that is up there on the personal memory list?
TM: "The day that Penn State clinched the Big Ten in 2008 beating Michigan State here and going in the locker room for that ceremony when the President of the Rose Bowl is standing there. That blows you away. I don't care who you are, you realize that the team you're working with and in my case my alma mater is going to the Rose Bowl, that's a big deal, that's huge."
"The other thing was Coach O'Brien's first victory. Obviously that season started out a little tough with those first two losses, but that day seeing all the hard work and dealing with the things that came down the pike with the sanctions and to see them overcome that adversity to get that first win was cool too."
JN: "The 1994 game at Illinois was definitely memorable. There is a photo I'll never forget of our sideline that you can see Coach Paterno and Fran Ganter and in the background you can see the scoreboard and its says Illinois 21 Penn State 0 and it was a great shot and I've always remembered that shot. That game, was just a tremendous effort by those guys with the season on the line to put together that drive, that 96-yard drive to clinch the Rose Bowl and all that. So that's certainly one that would stand out, there's a lot to choose from." (Penn State won 35-31 on a last minute drive after trailing by 21)
At the same time there have been plenty of injuries, tough losses.
TM: "The big one that stands out to me is the 2008 game at Iowa. Penn State went in undefeated ranked No. 3 and really the stars were kind of aligned where you felt like this could be the year that Penn State goes undefeated. Leading by 9 in the fourth quarter and coming up just short on a Daniel Murray field goal, I'll never forget that vision of him sliding on the field."
"Injury-wise the Michael Mauti injury stands out to me obviously. That kid who worked so hard that the program upheld its legacy during its toughest times and stood up for everything that is good about Penn State and college athletics and being a student athlete, and seeing him not get to play in his last game as a Penn State football player as hard."
JN: "Michigan game in 2005 will stick with me for quiet a while. That's one where something happened that probably shouldn't have happened and the game finished in a bad way as far as Penn State is concerned and that was a tough one."
(Penn State would lose on the game's final play from scrimmage ending a run at an undefeated season.)
You work with a lot of other sports. What's something you'll remember from one of those programs?
TM: "Two volleyball national championships in person, I think that's one of the most underrated college sports that there is in terms of skill level and athleticism. To see that Final Four in person it's a heck of an event. The thing that really stands out to me though are the four wrestling national championships, I've been fortunate enough to be at all four of them. But collectively the Friday night session that is the Semi-Finals that is an incredible atmosphere and sold out no matter where the venue is. It's something that any college sport fan should see and that has been pretty cool to go to."
You get the honor of ending a news conference. All three coaches you have worked with have gone about handling those press conferences in different ways. What's the secret to ending a news conference?
JN: "I think a lot of it is certainly just time, and making sure that I'm aware of what they've got next on their schedule and you know, head coaches they're CEOs of their program. So they set the schedule and they expect the people that they work with to help them stay on that schedule. So that's part of my job, to make sure that they stay on their schedule as best as possible."
"Now if there's a time where we're sitting around and talking and there isn't really anything pressing going on right after that, maybe we go a little bit longer. And if it's a situation where I feel like in my opinion that the subject matter that is coming up towards the end of the press conference is maybe not quiet as relevant as it should be at that particular time then I'll probably be more inclined to try and end things."
Jeff says "Make sure your phone is on silent or vibrate" before every news conference. What would happen if my phone wasn't on silent or vibrate?
TM: "I think that Jeff Nelson would stand up in his seat and talk into the microphone and politely ask you to turn your phone off or give you a look to let you know that you should turn your phone off."
JN: "You will get a nasty of a stare as I can come up with that you should not be doing this. We respect what you're doing and you need to respect what we're doing and so your phone should be off. Having said that there have been times when I've walked in there and I have not turned my phone down and you never know."