State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Penn State Football: In The End, Hackenberg And Gruden Feature The Final Chapter In Messy Saga

by on April 22, 2016 1:00 PM

If anything put a bow on the Christian Hackenberg/James Franklin era, it was this.

Jon Gruden, former NFL coach turned charismatic analyst and quarterback guru for ESPN, talking to Hackenberg on national TV about one of the more difficult careers to evaluate in college football history.

So it was unavoidable that Franklin was going to come up. It was also inevitable that their relationship would as well, even if not directly addressed.

If anything Hackenberg and Franklin simply weren't made for each other. It's not a matter of chemistry or even a matter of meeting room arguments, they were probably always doomed to clash on the most fundamental levels. Hackenberg came to Penn State for an Xs and Os coach in Bill O'Brien who could give him a first-hand lesson on what was in essence the New England Patriot's offensive system. Players joked on Twitter throughout O'Brien's tenure about watching the Patriots play on TV, and knowing what was coming next.

That's why Hackenberg comes to Penn State. That's why he takes a chance on a program that was dead to rights. He might miss a bowl game or two, but the time spent under O'Brien's wing and the maturation process that came with it would be far more valuable. Hackenberg came to love Penn State, and that's why he stayed, but he was not a martyr for the cause at the outset.

Hackenberg got a year of that under O'Brien, and then two years of what amounts to the exact opposite with Franklin. A talented recruiter, an underrated football mind, but a CEO at heart. Bound by loyalty he brought with him an offensive staff equipped for the job, but ready to find out how equipped in a trial by fire.

In front of him Hackenberg saw an offensive line that was trying to hold back the Mississippi with paper towels. Behind him Hackenberg saw a staff that would have likely never recruited him in the first place, trying to put out more fires than the water buckets could really handle.

All told, Hackenberg, even imperfect, was the least of their problems.

"He's very into recruiting and getting everything you need to get in there," Hackenberg told Gruden. "We ran a multiple offense, ran a lot of different things. He's pretty fiery, but I think he's more of a guy who likes to delegate things and let other people work."

And that in the end was perhaps the whole experiments' undoing. John Donovan was dealt a hand where a good offensive line would let his pocket passing quarterback succeed. Instead he had a line that would give up over 100 sacks and a quarterback who saw his fundamentals slowly degrade as the game plan went from downfield reads to simply trying to survive. In turn Donovan had no real answer, no real solution.

Maybe the most talked about issue was Hackenberg's footwork. Something rarely discussed in the public forum by coaches, but something that according to Hackenberg was a self-inflicted wound post-O'Brien, a year in which Gruden felt Hackenberg's footwork was sound.

"It was what I was asked to do, so I did it," Hackeberg said somewhat dryly when asked about the change. "It was uncomfortable. Last bowl prep, I just went back to that, and they didn't say anything to me, so I just rolled with it."

For 29 minutes of the half hour it was simply a rehash of what we already know to be true. Hackenberg is a pro style quarterback who was forced to try and thrive in an offense duct-taped together by good intentions and limited resources. It's not an excuse for the lack of adjustments or the general lack of improvement in the offense from Year 1 to Year 2, but there was undoubtedly some inevitability with or without change.

But that quick statement. The change of footwork, Hackenberg's silent rebellion against that change in the final game of his career, those things speak loudly to what would lead to eventual staff changes. John Donovan was fired, his offense never found itself, and Ricky Rahne was quietly moved from quarterback's coach to tight ends. For all of Hackenberg's God given talents, his fundamental regression is as much the fault of his own eventual indifference as it was coaching, or rather lack thereof. It is fitting that Hackenberg's change came the week Rahne was offensive coordinator, when nobody was looking really hard at what the soon-to-be NFL prospect was doing.

Joe Moorhead and his mobile quarterback friendly attack now takes over that duty with a now perhaps more vigilant Franklin watching over his shoulder.

So all told it makes for a good headline, it makes for good insight, but this week's segment with Hackenberg was never going to paint Franklin in a good light. It was the one thing he was never able to get quite right coupled with circumstances his staff was never entirely prepared to handle. That's why those changes were made.

Now it's a matter of what happens next. If McSorley and Co. thrive under Moorhead and the program starts to take meaningful steps forward, the Hackenberg era is a mix of unfortunate circumstance.

But if they struggle and things never quite click again, you might start to remember that someone asked Hackenberg to change his footwork, and when he changed it back, nobody noticed, and perhaps more importantly, nobody told him to stop.

Like most things though, only time will tell how it all plays out.

Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
Next Article
Molinaro's Story Continues to Unfold
April 22, 2016 12:27 PM
by Centre County Gazette by Andy Elder
Molinaro's Story Continues to Unfold
Disclaimer: Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

order food online