Penn State Football QB Coach Charlie Fisher: 'We Feel Like We Can Get an Elite Quarterback at Penn State'
This is the second in a two-part series with new quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, who assumed his role Feb. 18.
One of the first mementos Charlie Fisher hung up on his office wall in the Lasch Football Building was a framed Sports Illustrated cover of Gregg Garrity, leaping, his arms reaching toward the heavens after his touchdown catch sealed Penn State’s first national championship.
It’s coming up on 30 years since Todd Blackledge slung that football 47 yards down the sideline. And in case anyone forgot, in that same time, Penn State has had only three quarterbacks drafted since Blackledge in 1983 — Wally Richardson, a seventh-round pick in 1997, Kerry Collins, a first-round pick in 1995, and Tony Sacca, a second-round pick in 1992 (Michael Robinson was drafted as a running back by the 49ers in 2006).
Fisher knows all of this, of course. He grew up 50 minutes east of State College in a farm town called Allenwood. He sat on the wooden bleachers of Beaver Stadium back in the early years of the Paterno era. And even when he moved on to coaching stops at Temple, North Carolina State, Vanderbilt and Miami (Ohio), he’s kept an eye on his hometown team.
Now with more than 30 years of coaching experience under his belt, Fisher, 52, is tasked with helping to bring the Penn State passing game into the modern age of college football. The new quarterbacks coach under first-year head coach Bill O’Brien, Fisher envisions the dawn of a new era for the Penn State quarterback, a type rarely seen here during Paterno’s near 46-year run as coach.
“We feel like we can get an elite quarterback at Penn State, and obviously that’s what we’re working on,” Fisher said. “But right now, as we go into the spring, we got our guys and we gotta see what they can do, coach ‘em, teach ‘em and teach ‘em the offense and get them to continue to progress in what we’re trying to do at this point.”
Most people consider Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler as Fisher’s most successful pupil. Vanderbilt annually has to do more with less than the heavyweights that compete in the SEC, and Fisher made it clear Cutler, for all his talent, did not rest on laurels.
O’Brien’s pro-style attack won’t be as intricate as the offense he orchestrated as the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, but it will require brains and paying attention to detail.
Naturally, that starts with the quarterback.
“They gotta translate their skill, they gotta run with it and are in there learning and be a video rat and understand what we’re trying to accomplish,” Fisher said. “They gotta do their part, put the time in, learn a new system, so that when they’re under center in the shotgun and that ball is snapped, they know what they’re doing. There’s no hesitation. They’re not out there thinking and slowing down; they’re playing.”
Fisher said the quarterback position was an open competition heading into spring practice, which starts March 26.
He inherits fifth-year senior Matt McGloin and junior Rob Bolden, who have split starts the last two seasons. There’s also redshirt sophomore Paul Jones, a top-flight recruit who has not seen the field to this point because of poor academics, and incoming freshman Steven Bench.
McGloin is the odds-on favorite to start in 2012. He wrestled away the starting role from Bolden for good after a 10-7 victory against Illinois and completed 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,571 yards, eight touchdowns and five interceptions last season.
For years, Penn State fans have longed for consistent quarterback play. The last they’ve seen it came in 2008-09 when Daryll Clark led the team to back-to-back 11-win seasons and was twice named first-team All-Big Ten.
Penn State, for all its tradition, has struggled to develop quarterbacks for the NFL.
“That’s hard to quantify because everybody’s out there working hard to recruit what they think is the best guy for what they’re doing,” Fisher said. “A lot of it may come down to how quarterback-friendly your system may be.”
Of course, Paterno built his teams on a strong run game and stout defense. Now, they have a quarterback guru leading the program who tabbed Fisher to help teach the position.
All for a fanbase starving for an intricate passing attack and a quarterback capable of taking over a game.
No pressure, right?
“As a coach we come into this thing with the greatest expectation level of ourselves, or at least the best ones do,” said Fisher, the son of a farmer who had gotten chewed out as a youngster when his father did not feel he was adequately working. “It’s not like you walk in there and say can I or can’t I?