Take Two: Thoughts on Penn State's staff

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
10:30
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The Big Ten had three head-coaching changes in the offseason, with new leading men stepping in at Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State. We already shared our thoughts on the new staffs at Illinois and Ohio State. We finish off the series by turning to Penn State, which wrapped up its staff recently with the addition of Charlie Fisher as quarterbacks coach.

Here's how the new Penn State staff looks:

Bill O'Brien -- head coach
Stan Hixon -- assistant head coach/wide receivers
Ted Roof -- defensive coordinator
John Butler -- secondary
Charlie Fisher -- quarterbacks
Larry Johnson -- defensive line
Charles London -- running backs
Mac McWhorter -- offensive line
John Strollo -- tight ends
Ron Vanderlinden -- linebackers

So today's Take Two topic is: How did O'Brien fare in putting together his first staff at Penn State?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

We can't evaluate how O'Brien did in a vacuum. He is the first new head coach at Penn State in nearly half a century, taking over a place where assistants hardly ever left under Joe Paterno. O'Brien also got a bit of a late start in assembling his assistants, as he was not hired until early January, and the uncertainty and controversy swirling in State College may not have made this opportunity attractive to all job candidates.

With all that in mind, I think O'Brien did a reasonably good job in putting this staff together. I thought it was a great move to retain Johnson and Vanderlinden, two excellent coaches who didn't deserve to get scapegoated for the Jerry Sandusky mess. They will be able to provide some institutional knowledge about a place that isn't familiar with much change. It would have been nice if O'Brien could have kept Tom Bradley as well, but he brought in a seasoned veteran in Ted Roof, who knows the Big Ten from his time at Minnesota. Roof was pushed out at Auburn and has moved around an awful lot in his career, but he does have a national championship ring and a wealth of experience. Same goes for McWhorter, another greybeard who helped win a BCS title at Texas. I like the mixture of experience (Hixon, Trollo and Fisher have seen it all in their long careers) and up-and-comers like London and Butler, the latter of whom O'Brien was able to lure away from a successful program at South Carolina.

Ultimately, whether this works or not will all depend on O'Brien, who was a surprising choice to replace Joe Paterno and who has never been a head coach before. He has an enormous legacy to follow, as well as some off-the-field challenges. He has a staff full of coaches he knows and has worked with in the past to help guide him through that journey.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

It's interesting to see what would have happened with the staff makeup had Penn State hired O'Brien a few weeks earlier. Perhaps we would have seen the same names, perhaps not. But O'Brien had to rush to get coaches in place to help finish off 2012 recruiting while he wrapped up the season with the Patriots. I love his decision to retain both Johnson and Vanderlinden. Johnson has been Penn State's lead recruiter and one of the best in the Big Ten, and both he and Vanerlinden provide continuity for a defense that has been consistently good to great in recent years.

The two most critical hires in my mind are Roof and Fisher. Roof's appointment generated some grumbling around Nittany Nation, as fans were skeptical about a coach who struggled his final season at Auburn before parting ways with Gene Chizik. Although Roof had success in the Big Ten at Minnesota in 2008, he'll be under the microscope. The good thing is he understands his job is to keep Penn State's defensive tradition alive, rather than overhauling what has been a good unit. I like the Fisher hire as he brings a lot of experience to a group that needs a significant upgrade. He'll work with O'Brien more than any other assistant, and they'll collaborate with tutoring the quarterbacks and shaping the offensive vision.

Overall, I think O'Brien did a nice job. My only two concerns here are whether he went with too many familiar names from his previous coaching stops and whether there's enough youth on the staff, which can be beneficial in recruiting. Penn State has no shortage of grizzled vets, but there's not much youth other than London and Butler.

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