A great player doesn’t always translate into being a great coach. Pete Rose once said that. (You can bet on it.)
But, a history of excelling on the gridiron doesn’t hurt. Especially when it comes to getting that all-important cred from the guys you’re coaching.
“To be honest, if you look, there are a lot of bad players coaching college football and in the NFL,” says Penn State head coach James Franklin, who was a pretty darn good Division II quarterback in his day. “There are guys who never played college football who are head coaches in the NFL.”
But. And there is a but…
“But I do think there is value in it,” Franklin added. “Obviously, the experience — especially if you played the position (you are coach) — there are just things that you intuitively learn or know as a coach through your experiences as a player.
“Probably the thing that is most valuable is the credibility with the players. If you were a high-level player who played in the NFL or in college, you get instant credibility with the players. They respect that.”
They sure do. Penn State senior safety Jaquan Brisker was recently named to The Associated Press 2021 preseason All-American team, and he is on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy and Thorpe Award. Brisker is clearly the most talented and advanced player on the Nittany Lion defense. I’ve noticed that when NFL scouts come to campus to watch Penn State’s practice, they always make it a point to spend a lot of watching the safeties — i.e., Brisker — run drills.
But…there’s someone on the Penn State practice field every day who has even more cred at safety than Brisker. And that’s Anthony Poindexter.
Poindexter is the Nittany Lions’ new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2020, in recognition of a playing career at the University of Virginia where he was twice named first-team All-American.
“I feel more comfortable with Coach Dex in my corner and teaching me what he did as a safety,” Brisker says.
“It makes a difference. He had a lot of turnovers back there for Virginia,” Brisker continued. “He’s legendary back there. He’s been in my shoes…he has dominated college football. I listen to him and try to take everything in.”
Poindexter holds the Virginia record for career fumble recoveries (7) and interceptions in a single game (3). He twice had a pair of fumbles recoveries in a single game.
Poindexter was the 1998 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. But, his college career ended prematurely when he suffered a severe knee injury during the seventh game of the 1998 season against N.C. State. A two-time team captain, he was named a co-recipient of the 1998 Brian Piccolo Award as the ACC’s most courageous football player.
These days, despite his somewhat ambivalence about it, Franklin is collecting several assistants who were excellent football players themselves.
Like offensive line coach Phil Trautwein, who had a stellar collegiate football career. The New Jersey native was a two-time All-SEC selection and a two-time team captain at the University of Florida. As a blocker for quarterback Tim Tebow, Trautwein was a key player on Florida’s national championship teams in 2006 and 2008.
Trautwein then spent four years playing in the NFL. All of that helps build his cred with Penn State’s big guys up front.
“It might help. The players always want to learn from the best,” Trautwein says. “They want to know how the NFL is and what I’ve been through. They’re always trying to learn. I played at the highest level and they know that. I played with Joe Thomas and guys like that. I’ve seen it. It’s easier for them to believe in what I’m saying. I give them what I went through and how I became what I was as a player. I was not the most talented, but I outworked everyone.”
So, where are we going with this?
Well, this is a set-up of my rankings of Franklin and his 10 fulltime assistants as football players, based mostly on their collegiate successes. (Though as a pro offensive coordinator and QB, James did lead the Roskilde Kings of the Danish American Football Federation to the 1996 Mermaid Bowl, beating the Copenhagen Towers, 62-48.)
Poindexter heads The Top 11 list, and in my original draft of this piece, I had Trautwein No. 2. But… two astute Penn State football insiders urged me to flip my No. 3 choice — wide receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield — to second, one notch ahead of Trautwein.
And, for good reason:
Stubblefield was on the ballot for the 2021 class of the College Football Hall of Fame. As a wide receiver at Purdue, he was a consensus All-American and finished his career with an NCAA-record 325 receptions and ranked second in Big Ten history for receiving yards, with 3,629. He twice led the Big Ten in receptions, and had 16 TD catches in 2004.
Here are my complete rankings. Let the arguing and posturing in Lasch Building commence.
1. Anthony Poindexter (Virginia ’09), safety— Poindexter is one of only three UVA players to earn first-team All-ACC honors three times. For his career, he had 12 picks and 342 tackles.
2. Taylor Stubblefield (Purdue ’04), wide receiver — Against Penn State in 2003, Stubblefield had six catches for 39 yards, plus two runs for 11 yards, in a 28-14 win in West Lafayette. In a rematch in Beaver Stadium in 2004, Stubblefield caught a 40-yard TD pass from Kyle Orton in a 20-13 victory. He finished with seven receptions for 63 yards.
3. Phil Trautwein (Florida ’07; Boston College, MS ’08, ’14), offensive tackle — He played for the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and the San Diego Chargers in the NFL.
4. Ja’Juan Seider (West Virginia ’00; MA ’10), quarterback— After starting his college career at West Virginia, Seider transferred to Florida A&M for his senior season, when he won the Doug Williams Award as national offensive player of the year. He earned All-America honors after throwing for 2,622 yards and 27 TDs, and rushing for 749 yards and 14 TDs. In the 2000 NFL Draft, Seider was picked No. 205 by the San Diego Chargers — six spots behind another QB, a guy named Tom Brady.
5. Terry Smith (Penn State ’91), wide receiver — A three-year starter at PSU, Smith is tied for 10th in career receiving TDs (15), 13th in career receiving yards (1,825) and 14th in career receptions (108). He was a 1991 co-captain of the 11-2 Nittany Lions, who were ranked No. 3 in the final polls.
6. Ty Howle (Penn State ’13; N.C. State, MA ’15), center, guard — Howle appeared in 47 career games for PSU, making 13 starts on the O-line. He was a 2013 captain and a four-year letter winner.
7. James Franklin (East Stroudsburg ’95; Washington State, MA ’99), quarterback — CJF was a two-year starter at QB and a two-time All-PSAC selection, who graduated having broken or tied 23 ESU records. He was a nominee for the Division II Player of the Year.
8. Mike Yurcich (California, Pa. ’99; Indiana, MS ’04), quarterback — Yurcich, who started his college career at Mount Union, was a three-year starting quarterback and two-year captain for California University (Pa.).
9. John Scott Jr. (Western Carolina ’00; Texas Tech, MS ’06), defensive end — Scott was a four-year letterman at Western Carolina, and had 31 career tackles for a loss, ranking 10th in WC history.
10. Joe Lorig (Western Oregon, ‘95; MS ’97), cornerback — Lorig was a two-time All-Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges selection at Walla Walla Community College. He transferred to Western Oregon, where he was a team captain.
11. Brent Pry (Buffalo, ’93), defensive back — Pry was a DB at the University of Buffalo. After suffering a career-ending injury, he was a student assistant coach.