The voice was calling to Bob Shoop. It was telling him to leave.
Then he decided to stay.
We could be talking about when LSU came calling in the offseason, looking to lure Shoop back to the SEC as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
Or, we could be talking about after Saturday’s Blue-White Game, when Shoop was holding court with about a half-dozen beat writers – alternately funny, candid and razer-sharp analytical.
The Beaver Stadium press room was cleared out, save for Shoop, fellow assistant coach Charles Huff and a large handful of media types, thoroughly enthralled by Penn State’s defensive coordinator.
Shoop was seated at the far left end of the dais, in the seat that his predecessor twice-removed, Tom Bradley, filled so capably for many years. Shoop now and Scrap then were the best post-game interviews of their respective Penn State eras (Bill O’Brien completes the trifecta), especially when the room emptied out and only a few diehards remained. Part B.S., part football classroom, part glib interplay.
Penn State’s new football publicist Kris Petersen, who was trying to shoo Shoop off to a post-scrimmage team picnic, came up behind the coach and said it was time for him to leave.
“Ah, man,” Shoop said. “Do I have to go?”
No, actually, he didn’t.
So Shoop stayed.
13:47 AND 13 QUESTIONS
After already answering at least a dozen questions after the game on Saturday, Shoop hung around for another 13 minutes and 47 seconds and answered 13 more. (By contrast, in his post-game presser, Franklin answered an even dozen.) Shoop shushed Petersen once more before he headed to the picNitt. He sure looked like he loved every minute of it. The writers did, too.
And yes, Shoop also stayed in January, after saying no to Les Miles following some arm-twisting by head coach James Franklin and some checkbook-opening by Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour. The Yalie who was fired after a 7-23 record as head coach at Columbia was now making a cool million or so a year at Pennsylvania’s sole Land Grant institution.
That job thing finally came up on the final question of the day, when I asked Shoop about his coaching future and potential opportunities:
“Let me say this: I’m very happy with the job I have and I’m excited to be the defensive coordinator of Penn State,” Shoop said with a hint of a smile. “We all went through that a few months and we all know where that went. The commitment that coach (Franklin) made to me and the university made to me was very flattering. And I made the commitment to them.
“My son (Tyler, a wide receiver who had 29 receptions for 218 yards and three TDs for Father Ryan High School in Nashville last year) is about to walk on here, so I am very thrilled about that. My younger son (Jay) is going to enroll in State College in the fall, so that’s pretty cool as well. So I’m committed to be here.”
SHOOP, HERE HE IS
Of course, the question still remains: For how long? Perhaps it will be the equivalent of those 13 additional questions – i.e., several more seasons. Or, maybe fewer.
We know this: Shoop is a hot commodity. The performance of the Penn State defense in Saturday’s scrimmage -- especially along the deep front line and in the secondary, where the talent is almost equally as rich – showed that it may once again have to carry the Nittany Lions.
They did last season, when Penn State’s defense was among the best in the nation. Look at these national rankings in 2014: 2nd in total defense (278.7 yards), 2nd in fewest first downs allowed (190), 2nd in team passing efficiency, 3rd in rushing defense (100.5 yards), 6th in third down conversions allowed (30.2%) and 7th in points allowed (18.6 points).
Shoop said Saturday he himself doesn’t really know what the future holds – although he has a notable penchant for making pre-game predictions that, remarkably, come true. He’s a smart guy, too, having earned a B.A. in economics from Yale in 1988.
“I’ve always gone along the lines that there’s no blueprint in this profession,” Shoop said. “If you continue to do your job to the best of your ability, people will notice. And if the opportunity comes about it, it will.”
Shoop knows that football is kind of like golf, where you drive for show (offense) and you putt (play defense) for dough – i.e., winning. Major colleges hire head coaches with flashy offenses and big personalities. This past off-season Pat Narduzzi, the longtime and very successful defensive coordinator at Michigan State, was the exception to the rule. He was hired as Pitt’s fifth head coach in like the past 18 months.
Shoop noticed. He’s a native of Oakmont. He also understands the economics and the realities of Power Five Football.
“The hardest thing for defensive coaches this days is that people want...” Shoop trailed off, gathering his thoughts, because you know he’s thought a lot about this very topic. “The formula seems to be hire an offensive-minded head coach and pay a defensive coordinator a lot of money. Of the 14 (major college football head coaching) hires this year, I think Narduzzi was the only defensive hire.
“I’m professionally ambitious like the next guy. If the right opportunity came about and it was the right situation for me and my family, I would love the opportunity to be a head coach. I know I would be a much better head coach now than when I was a head coach the first time.”
THE SHOOP ON FRANKLIN
In nearly every interview, Shoop is quick to give Franklin his props. He’s noted time and again that Franklin has taught him much about relating to players, promoting a program, being the positive voice and face of a team.
He also notes how his boss and his wife, Maura, pick on him for being a bit of a fogie without much of a rap. “Coach Franklin always busts my chops that on the recruiting trail I have no swag on the recruiting meter,” he said. “My wife says I have no sense of humor. I think my swag with a recruit comes from when he gets in a room with me.”
Then Shoop was recruiting after the scrimmage on Saturday. Because the post-game session with Shoop was fun and interesting and even educational. Afterwards, other writers agreed. I think Shoop gets it.
Shoop is a big fan of SportSourceAnalytics on Twitter, often repeating its sage coaching advice and insight. Look at his two retweets of @SportSourceA back in December, at a time when Shoop may have been giving his future and his future approach some thought:
Dec. 11 – If they banned press conferences for HCs that were just hired, would better hires get made? The best you can ever be is 1-0 after press conf.
Dec. 18 – Note to ADs: Pretend the press conference doesn’t matter when you are hiring a new HC. The reason you do this is because it doesn’t matter.
So, Shoop may have won the presser on Saturday. But even he’ll tell you that doesn’t mean very much. Until it does.
NOT FLYING THE SHOOP
Near the end of the session on Saturday, Petersen came back and gently nudged Shoop about wrapping things up.
Shoop turned and looked behind his left shoulder at a smiling Petersen; he was truly loving the interplay with the media and the little bit of madness he had instilled in what was to be a tidy ending to the day’s media proceedings.
“I’m driving you crazy,” he said to her, and he was right. “We don’t have anywhere we have to be, do we? “
No, not right now.
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