Penn State

Beat writer Donnie Collins keeps you posted with in-depth analysis and commentary

Mallas retires from Penn State Scranton after four decades

Mallas retires from Penn State Scranton after four decades

Jeff Mallas didn’t walk out the door as much as he trudged toward it.

There comes a moment in every career when it’s time to leave the office for good, he knows. He decided his would come in December. But he held out some hope Penn State Scranton could get its basketball seasons going this spring. After more than four decades worth of coaching and leading and teaching and building there, it turned out, for him, that Penn State Scranton is a difficult place to leave.

After 42 years with the school — the last 21 as its athletic director — Mallas announced his retirement earlier this month.

“Believe me, it was not an easy decision,” Mallas said. “I love it there. I love the job. But, I guess, you know when it’s time.”

The time came during a pandemic, with the 10 sports sponsored by the university that competes in the Penn State University Athletic Conference shut down since last March. But it also comes with hopes of a spring restart for several sports in a department forever changed by Mallas’ leadership.

Four years after graduating from Penn State in 1975, and eight after leaving Dunmore High School following a strong athletic career with the football and track teams, Mallas joined the staff at Penn State Scranton. He served as assistant athletic director to longtime AD Joe Simoncelli starting in 1980, and in 1981, he started the campus’ baseball program.

By the following summer, Mallas worked literally alongside the Army Corps of Engineers and the school’s former head of maintenance, Herb Rogers, to clear out space near a wooded hillside to build the campus’ baseball field. Mallas would coach that club in its first 26 seasons. He said the $3 million project that remodeled the field in 2015 — and added softball and soccer fields, and a fieldhouse — might stand as an even bigger accomplishment.

Mallas coached tennis and soccer as well, and was a driving force in bringing women’s sports to the campus. Women’s basketball returned to the campus in 2002, and Penn State Scranton started its women’s soccer program three years ago, and has added a co-ed golf program.

He ran soccer camps for area youth players for more than a decade, and he is leaving his yet-unnamed replacement with recently completed refurbishments to the tennis courts and the school’s gymnasium.

Penn State honored him with the 2018 Robert J. Scannell Roll of Honor Award, which recognizes an administrator, faculty or staff member or coach who served commonwealth campus athletic programs with distinction. He was named the 2004 Alumnus of the Year by the Greater Scranton Chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association.

“But the big accomplishment,” Mallas insists, “was working with the kids, making sure they went to school, that we retain them, and that they got their degrees. Over 50 percent of our student-athletes over the last five or six years, I can say, were 3.0 (grade point average) or better.”

Mallas touted the partnerships he built with the coaches he worked with and hired over the years, maintaining that building the athletic program was always a joint effort with them.

In retirement, Mallas doesn’t plan to stride too far from Penn State itself. He’ll still serve the university as president of the Greater Scranton Penn State Chapter, and he’s hoping to see Big Ten football stadiums he never had the opportunity to visit.

Still, he’ll miss just about everything about Penn State Scranton.

“I’ve had so many people coming back to me and saying thanks for everything,” Mallas said. “I probably could have stayed forever.”

Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

Penn State officially announced Wednesday what had been widely reported earlier in the week, that it has hired former Purdue co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter.

Anthony Poindexter

Penn State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Anthony Poindexter

What is official now is what we figured would be the case a few days ago, that Poindexter will assume those same two positions on head coach James Franklin’s staff. It makes for a seamless transition from Tim Banks, who held the co-defensive coordinator and safety posts with the Nittany Lions the last five seasons before heading to Tennessee to become the Vols’ defensive coordinator earlier this month.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to be a part of the Penn State football program,” Poindexter in a statement released by Penn State athletics. “As long as I’ve played the game of football, I’ve been aware of the long-standing tradition and history of excellence here at Penn State. I look forward to being under the leadership and guidance of Coach Franklin. I’m inspired by his relentless desire to win and I look forward to contributing in any way I can. Coach Pry has assembled one of the best defensive units in the country and nothing motivates me more than young men with a will to work hard and learn. My family and I are truly grateful to be a part of this incredible University. Thank you for having us. WE ARE!”

I think, by any standard, Penn State did a pretty good job here.

It’s later than you’d want to have to make a change on the coaching staff, for sure. But Poindexter is a really intriguing fit on a staff that has seen a lot of transition this offseason, but also seemed to maintain the guise of some continuity.

They lost tight end Tyler Bowen, a fast-rising coaching mind who was also big on the recruiting trail, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. But his replacement, Ty Howle, is another fast-rising coaching mind who has a much more of a history with Penn State than even Bowen did. And Poindexter is a guy with a very similar background and coaching/recruiting strengths to Banks. Plus, through his Hall of Fame career as a player at the University of Virginia, he potentially could bring some extra credibility on the recruiting trail in a fertile area — the D.C./Maryland/Virginia zone — where Penn State would love to get an even stronger foothold.

It’s an interesting scenario when you consider the staff turnover in recent years, for sure. Penn State’s stated goal has been to reduce staff turnover. But it has responded well-enough to most of it. Would you rather have really good, quality assistants who are in demand for promotions? Or, lesser assistants who might not be quite at that in-demand level, but are certainly good enough to help grow your program over the long haul? There are cases to be made for both sides, but wherever you fall, it’s clear Penn State is starting to do a nice job rolling with it when their more in-demand guys take off for promotions elsewhere.

Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

Report: Penn State has a new defensive assistant

According to a report from Yahoo Sports, Penn State has its replacement for Tim Banks.

It’s Anthony Poindexter, Purdue’s co-defensive coordinator and a College Football Hall of Fame safety from his playing days at the University of Virginia in the late 1990s.

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Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

Former Hanover Area star enters portal

When Penn State released its first 2021 spring roster on Monday, Justin Kopko’s name wasn’t on it.

Tuesday, Kopko let fans know why.

The former Hanover Area standout who joined the Nittany Lions as a preferred walk-on before the 2019 season announced he is planning to transfer.

Kopko will have four seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-3, 318 pounder didn’t see any game action during his two seasons, but he did make an impact with the Nittany Lions scout team. Three times in 2019  — during the week of preparation leading up to the Maryland, Michigan State and Indiana games — he earned the Developmental Squad’s player of the week honors.

As one local star’s career at Penn State ends, another’s begins. Former Wyoming Area two-way standout Dominic DeLuca is on Penn State’s spring roster. He is listed as a 6-foot-1, 202-pound safety. DeLuca was instrumental as a quarterback in Wyoming Area’s win in the 2019 PIAA Class AAA championship game, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for the game-winner in a 21-14 win.

DeLuca joined the Nittany Lions as a preferred walk-on.

Big Ten revises 2021 football schedule

Big Ten revises 2021 football schedule

It’s still about seven months until the kickoff of college football season, but the Big Ten called an audible Friday.

The conference announced sweeping changes to the 2021 football slate, switching dates and even locations of several games that were scheduled for four years. Changes were made to accommodate six games that adjusted locations because of changes made during the 2020 scheduling process.

Penn State’s schedule changed, though not in the significant manner other teams had theirs altered.

The Nittany Lions still open the season Sept. 4 at Wisconsin, and their three nonconference games — against Ball State, Villanova and SEC power Auburn at Beaver Stadium on Sept. 18 — remain scheduled. But, several other games were shuffled.

Essentially, the revisions affect six weeks worth of games on Penn State’s original schedule, most notably among them the trip to Columbus to battle Ohio State. Originally slated for Nov. 20, that game is moved up to Oct. 30.

Perhaps that could be considered a bit of a break for Penn State, which had back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State on the docket. That combo is broken up, with the Nov. 6 game at Maryland in between.

Penn State was supposed to host Rutgers in the season finale Nov. 27, but the conference switched that to create more of a rivalry weekend feel to the post-Thanksgiving slate. Now, the Nittany Lions will travel to Michigan State with the Land Grant Trophy on the line to close out the campaign.

One potentially disappointing switch for fans who plan their fall outings around Penn State football: The Nittany Lions’ bye week moved. Originally slated for Oct. 2, they will now host Indiana that weekend and instead have their bye in week seven, heading into games Oct. 16.

Levis heading to SEC

Levis heading to SEC

Former Penn State quarterback Will Levis has found his next home.

The sophomore announced Friday that he as committed to the University of Kentucky.

Levis started two games for Penn State in his career, in which he has thrown for 644 yards and run for 473, accounting for nine touchdowns.

He has been strongly linked to Kentucky for a week or so, and it will be an interesting summer for him. The Wildcats starting quarterback job is wide open, with most presuming the bulk of the snaps this spring would go to either junior Joey Gatewood or redshirt freshman Beau Allen.

It’s likely they still will, but Levis pushes this battle into the summer, for sure. He won’t be enrolling at Kentucky until after he completes his degree at Penn State this spring.

So, this is probably as good an opportunity as you’re going to find if you’re Will Levis to secure a long-term starting spot in a Power 5 conference. It’s also somewhat of a gamble, because what if he doesn’t secure that spot? He’s competing with a junior and a redshirt freshman who will have a three-month head start with a new offensive coordinator and a spring practice to impress him.

So, not a slam dunk for Levis. But with what Kentucky does on offense, this might be a better fit for him than Penn State was going to be.

Former center Howle joins PSU staff

Former center Howle joins PSU staff

The search for Tyler Bowen’s replacement didn’t last long.

Ty Howle

Penn State tight ends coach Ty Howle

Penn State coach James Franklin announced Friday that former Penn State center Ty Howle will replace Bowen as the Nittany Lions’ tight ends coach, quickly working to replace an ace recruiter and a chief member of the staff who accepted a job as the Jacksonville Jaguars’ tight ends coach earlier this week.

A team captain in 2013, Howle was a two-year starter and four-year letterwinner on the offensive line from 2009-13. He started at center and left guard and was also a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection. Howle returned to the program in 2020 as an offensive analyst.

“As the son of a high school football coach, Ty’s passion for teaching the game is unmatched,” Franklin said in a statement. “In addition, he wears his pride for this university on his chest each day. His contributions as a member of the 2012 team and as a captain in 2013 will long be remembered by Penn State fans. He was a great addition to our staff as an offensive analyst and I look forward to watching him thrive in this new role.”

Howle has had an interesting rise in the coaching industry since he playing days ended.

He has worked with current Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada during his days as a graduate assistant at North Carolina State in 2014 and 2015. After that, he joined former Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher’s staff at Western Illinois, where Howle coached the offensive line, served as recruiting coordinator and eventually was the program’s assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator in 2018.

That season, Howle was the play caller for a WIU offense that ranked 21st nationally in passing offense. His offensive line allowed just 20 sacks in 409 passing attempts.

This is an important move for Penn State in a few regards. This morning, it lost a verbal commitment from one of the two four-star tight ends in the 2022 recruiting class who committed to Bowen, Georgia prep star Holden Staes.

Franklin also announced two other promotions on the staff, naming cornerbacks coach Terry Smith associate head coach and giving Bowen’s old responsibilities as offensive recruiting coordinator to receivers coach Taylor Stubblefield.

The ‘Cich-uation: Why PSU’s new OC will shake up the program

The ‘Cich-uation: Why PSU’s new OC will shake up the program

In January, Penn State coach James Franklin hired Mike Yurcich to lead the Nittany Lions offense to a new level of productivity, to take Nittany Lions quarterbacks to an elite status, to make Penn State’s offense better represent Franklin’s vision than it has since Joe Moorhead’s tenure in 2016 and 2017.

They were the same reasons Franklin hired Kirk Ciarrocca to do that same job in December of 2019.

In short, resumes matter. Just not nearly as much as production does.

Ciarrocca’s offense’s didn’t produce in 2020, and while Yurcich-run offenses at Oklahoma State and Texas posted eye-popping numbers over the better part of the last decade, it’s a stark reality in big-time college football that nothing is guaranteed. Five-star prospects wind up riding pine. Walk-ons become stars. And it wouldn’t be the most surprising story if Yurcich’s Penn State offenses look a lot like Ciarrocca’s which looked a lot like Ricky Rahne’s.

That said, there seemed to be something a little different about Mike Yurcich, at least judging by what he said his introductory press conference on Tuesday.

If you haven’t seen it, catch it here:

If you don’t have half an hour, here are some of the more interesting ideas he dropped during that session, many of which paint a picture of why he is considered much more of a sure bet to get Penn State where it wants — where it needs — to go on offense if it wants to better compete against the likes of Ohio State.

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Penn State’s makes Poindexter hiring official

The class of 2021: DE Davon Townley Jr.

It’s late. But hey, better late than never.

Today, the traditional (for lack of a better word) National Letter of Intent signing day is upon us, which means college programs like Penn State can round up their recruiting classes with the top prospects that remained uncommitted or unsigned after December’s early signing period.

That being the case, here is my scouting report on the one prospect Penn State added on Wednesday, Minneapolis defensive end Davon Townley Jr.

 

Davon Townley

Height: 6-6
Weight: 220
School: North High School (Minneapolis, Minn.)
Projected position: Defensive end

Rating: Four stars by Rivals.com, 247sports and ESPN

Other Power 5 offers: Arizona, Arizona State, Boston College, Indiana, Iowa State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington.

Projection: Everything you see on film with Townley has to be qualified by one fact.

His football career basically spans two years, his junior and senior seasons of high school. Before that, he was fairly focused on his basketball career, and he reportedly considered walking on to a basketball program wherever he decided to ultimately play football, once he took off as a defensive end prospect. Once he started playing football, it was clear he’d be a force. He clearly has the frame — 6-foot-6 and a long wingspan — to play the position and be the type of disruptor Penn State likes to have off the edge. As a senior, he played in just seven games with the season shortened by COVID concerns, but he still piled up a pretty good statistical season — 42 tackles, seven for loss and 3.5 sacks to go along with 10 pass breakups.

There are concerns, I guess. He doesn’t seem to have a consistently good first step yet. Plus, he played at a much lighter weight — 220 pounds — than he’s listed at right now (his hometown paper says he’s playing basketball at 265 pounds, which would mean he’s added some pretty significant good weight). The weight thing is always a concern when a guy is dominating because he’s more explosive than the guy across from him, but the Penn State strength team has done a pretty good job adding muscle to younger players without costing them in terms of speed and quickness.

Not sure he’s the same type of freakish athlete, but the Townley backstory and rise up the recruiting rankings is a lot like Jayson Oweh’s from 2018. New to football. So athletic that he can dominate without really knowing what he’s doing. And it’s easy to project great things once he gets in a program like Penn State’s. Bottom line is, he looks the part and is just scratching the surface of what he can be. It’s up to him from here, and that’s the big X factor. But if you’re projecting it out, you could be looking at a guy with three-year starter potential, a guy who can give Penn State a mixture of what Shaka Toney and Owen and Yetur Gross-Matos gave. This upcoming season is likely to be a redshirt campaign, but he’s easily a guy who can get into four games and be ready for serious playing time by 2021.

REPORT: Penn State loses assistant coach to NFL

REPORT: Penn State loses assistant coach to NFL

For the second straight offseason, Penn State has lost a key member of its coaching staff to the NFL.

Tight ends coach Tyler Bowen is joining new Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer’s staff as tight ends coach in Jacksonville, Lions247 reported late last night.

This is quite reminiscent of the Sean Spencer departure almost exactly a year ago. Spencer left Happy Valley to join the New York Giants staff in the same position he held with the Nittany Lions, but with him went an ace recruiter, a big personality players gravitated toward, and a guy who demonstrated the ability to reload at a position where he had developed stars, then replaced them with equally or more-effective players.

Penn State's Pat Freiermuth jumps over defender

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth made quite a leap under Bowen’s tutelage, elevating to All-American status during his three seasons with the Nittany Lions. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The tight end room at Penn State was built up and then rebuilt again under Bowen’s leadership. When he took over in 2018, he did so the year after a transcendent tight end, Mike Gesicki, had been drafted by the Miami Dolphins, leaving little in the cupboard behind him at Penn State. But, Bowen was instrumental in the development of Pat Freiermuth from a mere prospect out of Massachusetts to one of the nation’s top tight ends practically within the first month of the 2018 season. Freiermuth went on to reach all-American status with Penn State, and he’s expected to be one of the top tight ends picked in the 2021 NFL Draft.

But Bowen didn’t just ride with Freiermuth. Like Spencer, he became one of the coaching staff’s aces in the hole on the recruiting trail. He turned the Nittany Lions into one of the top destinations in the nation for top tight end talent, bringing in a consensus top-five prospect in the 2020 class, Canadian Theo Johnson, while also fostering the progress of the likely 2021 starter, Brenton Strange, a late-blooming talent out of West Virginia who took over the starting job when Freiermuth was lost for the season last fall and caught 17 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns.

Brenton Strange running

Penn State tight end Brenton Strange is one of the more dynamic young tight ends in the Big Ten. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

Penn State also has two top tight end prospects currently committed to the 2022 recruiting class: Wisconsin’s Jerry Cross and Georgia’s Holden Staes. Both are four-star prospects, but it’s worth wondering if Bowen’s departure changes their thinking on Penn State at all.

As far as potential replacements go, one seems to be really popular in the Penn State community: Adam Breneman, the 25-year-old former Nittany Lion who last month took the tight ends coach job at Arizona State. He was a graduate assistant there last season, and he must have really impressed coach Herm Edwards and his staff to get that kind of promotion after just one season.

The more likely bet, though, is that James Franklin will pursue a coach who 1.) he knows better and 2.) has a bit more experience. The first name that pops up in that role: John McNulty, the Scranton native and former Nittany Lions walk-on who has coached in the NFL and has been an offensive coordinator in the Big Ten on two different occasions with Rutgers. He also served as an analyst for Franklin on Penn State’s staff in 2019. So, there’s the connection Franklin always talks about wanting when he’s looking for new assistants.

John McNulty leading a drill

Abington Heights graduate John McNulty, who led the Notre Dame tight ends in 2020, might be a fit at his alma mater. (AP FILE)

There’s a bit of a stumbling block, for sure: McNulty just finished his first season as the tight ends coach at Notre Dame, and he loves the job and the tradition there. He did a good job there last season — the Irish tight ends were a big part of that offense, and they saw a lot of two-tight end sets because they could really move the pile in the running game — and he has been a major factor in the recruiting game for the Irish.

On paper, McNulty checks all the boxes. Whether they can get him to leave South Bend, that’s a different story. But fact is, Penn State has to get somebody now, and Tyler Bowen leaves big sneakers to fill.