Thought this would be a quieter day, unless head coach James Franklin announced some staff hires.
Man, I was wrong.
According to Sean Fitz of Lions247, linebacker Troy Reeder is no longer with the program:
— Sean Fitz (@seanfitz247) January 12, 2016
And then, there’s this, from Pennlive’s Bob Flounders, on backup cornerback Daquan Worley:
PSU CB Daquan Worley, redshirt Fr reserve in 2015, will not return, I have confirmed…Story in works
— Bob Flounders (@BobbyFlo7) January 12, 2016
This brings to nine the number of Penn State coaches, players and verbally committed recruits who severed ties (or in offensive coordinator John Donovan’s case, were fired) with the program since the end of the season. All but Donovan have left within the last week.
OK, so clearly, some — maybe most — in Penn State’s fandom are starting to get a bit worried. That’s a lot of departures, in a short amount of time, for a fan base that is simply not used to seeing coaches or players just pack up and leave. Head coach James Franklin hasn’t addressed any of it, and I’m not sure he will, nor am I sure what he’d say if he did address it. But the discussion I’m having with a good fan on Twitter right now is whether he should.
He’s the rare fan who wonders what the use would be of even addressing it. I, on the other hand, see the use: Fans are concerned, and they could use a pep talk from the head coach. But ideally, I think he’s right. Coaches come and go. Players transfer. Commits decommit. That happens everywhere. It’s a story because it’s at Penn State, for sure, because this has never happened here. But Penn State is no longer immune to this.
And individually, every one of these departures can be explained away very rationally;
–John Donovan: Fired after Penn State finished outside the top 100 in the nation in total offense the two seasons he was in charge of the offense. Firing wasn’t unexpected.
–Christian Hackenberg: The junior quarterback declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft despite a pretty good, but not dominant, 2015 season — forgetting to thank James Franklin on the way out the door. The plan always seemed to be for Hackenberg to play three years and leave.
–Austin Johnson: A junior defensive tackle, Johnson also declared for the draft. That said, he had his degree, and he is projected to be a first-round pick. Very little reason for him to stay.
–Karamo Dioubate: Rivals.com’s fifth-ranked player in the state, and a defensive tackle, Dioubate reportedly de-committed from Penn State. Happens every year. Kids commit to early, then change their mind. Can’t miss what you never had, right? Dioubate still hasn’t addressed the move to my knowledge, but there’s little credible speculation that he left because Bob Shoop was on his way out the door.
–Bob Shoop: Signed a three-year contract worth $1.15 million per year to become Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. Maintained his desire to be a head coach during an interview leading up to the TaxSlayer Bowl, and with a solid defense in place at Tennessee next year, it’s clear he felt heading south could help him become a head coach more quickly than staying at Penn State, where the Nittany Lions are replacing three star defensive linemen next season.
“I like the fact that this isn’t a rebuild,” Shoop said of Tennessee’s defense Tuesday during his introductory press conference in Knoxville.
–Eugene Lewis: Announced Monday he was leaving Penn State as a graduate transfer and heading to Oklahoma. Lewis was a sometimes-dynamic receiver for Penn State, but he wasn’t a consistent one. With freshmen Juwan Johnson and Irvin Charles due for more playing time next season, it stood to reason they’d take it from Lewis. Didn’t get a lot of playing time this season, and Lewis wasn’t expected to get much more next season.
–Herb Hand: Offensive line coach left Monday to take O-line post at Auburn. Had very little success bringing along the veteran offensive linemen he inherited with Penn State. Some fans wanted him fired, along with Donovan. But he got a soft landing back in the south with a good friend, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. Sometimes difficult to turn down a friend asking for a favor.
–Troy Reeder: Moved into the starting lineup after Nyeem Wartman-White’s season-ending knee injury in the opener and went on to become the fourth-leading tackler. Maybe the most surprising departure of them all. With Wartman-White due to return, and both Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell back to start on the outside, Reeder might have been in a fight for playing time with highly regarded youngsters Manny Bowen and Jake Cooper. Reeder announced today he was transferring to Delaware, where he’ll play for the team his father did and with his brother, who is committed to the Blue Hens.
–Daquan Worley: The backup cornerback announced he was transferring today, as well. He didn’t play at all at Penn State, and in a loaded defensive backfield, he might not have played next year, either.
Bottom line is, it’s a different world for Penn State, as college football has become a bigger business and there isn’t a Joe Paterno-like institution running the program. Penn State hasn’t lost a player it can replace — and it arguably didn’t lose one that it was expecting a ton of playing time from next season. And the coaches, individually, all had personal reasons to head where they did. I mean, if Bob Shoop was looking for just anywhere to go, why did he turn down an interview with Auburn last month?
But I still believe Franklin is going to have to address the concerns, because this is just not a fan base that is 1.) used to this or 2.) handling it all very well.
UPDATE, 3:35: I literally took a shower and, by the time I got out, word came that another player is transferring.
Source tells me that @PennStateFball LB Gary Wooten has transferred to Duquesne. Backup player.
— Pgh Sports Now (@PghSportsNow) January 12, 2016
Wooten was a top backup at middle linebacker the last few seasons, but strangely, he never seemed to get in the actual games. And it’s not because Penn State hasn’t lost any middle linebackers for extended periods of time. Wooten had all of seven tackles this season.
Look, I don’t want to boil it all down to this. But it’s very clear that, with next year being a critical year with scholarships, and Franklin starting to settle in as head coach, it’s very likely that he laid it all out — playing time-wise and future-wise — with the scholarship kids he didn’t expect to play very much next season. And pretty much every case, the players transferring were ones who committed to previous staffs who were going to be in very intense battles for playing time in the spring with younger players brought in by Franklin. The writing was on the wall for a lot of these players.
UPDATE, 4:52: Troy Reeder released a statement on his transfer. Sounds like the draw to go back home was a big one.
Thank you Penn State. Truly a special place, but I couldn't be happier to say I'm home! pic.twitter.com/G7v7iUELpL
— Troy Reeder (@troyreeder42) January 12, 2016