Penn State Football: Ganter's Exit a Time For Players to Remember
There have been dozens and dozens of memorable plays in the storied history of Penn State football, but a 30-yard fake field goal may be one of Fran Ganter's most emotional moments. The gadget play helped secure a 35-14 victory over Virginia on November 9, 2002.
Only months earlier, Ganter's wife Karen died at the age of 53. It was a difficult time for the Ganter family. Fran's son, Chris, was the holder who pulled off the fake field goal, running behind the blocks of Matt Schmitt, Mike Lukac and Sean McHugh. Watching Chris race untouched towards the end zone, a small smile found its way to the usually stern face of his battle-hardened father and coach.
As the TV camera panned from the play on the field to the sideline, players were seen patting Ganter on the back in celebration of his son's first touchdown. It was a quick moment-- gone as quickly as it had happened, but it showed an appreciation for a coach who had given much of his life to Penn State.
Ganter is one of the last to leave Penn State after coaching through Penn State's golden age of football. The Sandusky scandal tarnished reputations and triggered a series of unceremonious departures. Coaches Ron Vanderlinden and Larry Johnson are the only remaining coaches with links to the Paterno era.
As a player, in 1970, Ganter scored a touchdown in a pivotal 42-8 thumping of West Virginia. Joe Paterno called it "the most important game since the Orange Bowl." The win turned around a 3-3 season, igniting what would become a blazing hot streak. Penn State won 46 of its next 51 games.
As a coach, Ganter was even more influential, joining Paterno on the sideline in 1971. Ganter had a chance to work with and mold some of the greatest players to ever play here in Happy Valley. His impact is clear as former players heaped praise on their old coach. Here are some tributes, released by Penn State.
"Fran was a great teammate, coach and administrator," said legendary linebacker Jack Ham. "He had opportunities to leave but was loyal to Penn State and his family. I am so grateful he invited me to speak at last year’s Senior Banquet. That was a very special night. He has had a wonderful career and will be very much missed.”
“I can’t say enough about Fran and his impact on me and the players he coached," former Nittany Lions running back Curt Warner said. "He had great knowledge of the X’s and O’s and was an excellent coach. He was a great communicator who knew how to motivate people and get their best effort. Fran has been a tremendous liaison as all the former players get to know Coach O’Brien and his staff. I have the utmost respect for him and what he has accomplished during his career at Penn State.”
“Fran has been a huge part of Penn State football and the University through the years. He had a great influence on me as a player and a friend. It would be hard to find someone else who bleeds blue and white like Fran does.” Former Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins remarked.
While at Penn State, Ganter's clout grew as he coached the likes of Curt Warner, D.J. Dozier, Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter, Curtis Enis and Larry Johnson. All of them became first-team All-Americans and first-round NFL Draft picks. Ganter was named Assistant Coach-of-the-Year by Athlon in 1994. That year the Nittany Lions won the Big Ten Championship and beat Oregon in the Rose Bowl, becoming the first team in Big Ten history to earn a 12-0 record, finishing No. 2 in the polls.
Ganter was named offensive coordinator in 1984 and Assistant Head Coach in 2000, leaving the sidelines in 2004 to serve as Associate Athletic Director for Football Administration.
“Fran was first class in every way. It was a pleasure to play for him," Former running back Matt Suhey said. "He treated the players with respect and he had the players’ respect. The guys he coached responded to him because of the way he interacted with us on and off the field and the way he coached. Fran prepared us to play well and we wanted to play well for him and Penn State.”
For Penn State, Ganter's departure is a chance to revisit cherished memories and to wonder what lies ahead. But as the university moves forward the impact of one of its' greatest coaches will most certainly be felt within Happy Valley for years to come.