Penn State

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

Shorter commits to Florida

Shorter commits to Florida

Penn State receiver Justin Shorter can’t prevent an interception by Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr. in November. (Stacy Bengs / Associated Press)

Lost a bit in all the sadness Sunday, former Penn State receiver Justin Shorter made a decision on where he’ll continue his college career.

Once a five-star prospect, Shorter never really got going at Penn State. He had some injury concerns early during his true freshman season in 2018. He got healthy to start 2019, but he took a hit to the head against Maryland and missed a few games. He finished strong with a season-high three catches against Ohio State in November, but he had a few key drops the week before against Minnesota and lost his starting role. He decided to transfer during the week leading up to the Rutgers game.

On the season, he had 12 catches for 137 yards Penn State last season. Just not much of an impact.

It will be interesting to see if he can look more like the five-star prospect with Florida than he did for Penn State.

 

Sports and life, and getting through it all

Sports and life, and getting through it all

I’m going to paraphrase part of Jerry Seinfeld’s speech at the Baseball Writers Association of America banquet in New York City from last week, because I used to think it was a great quote and now I think it’s the truest thing I’ve ever heard: In this world, we have two things, real life and sports. And, one helps you get through the other.

Honestly, I don’t know where Kobe Bryant falls on that spectrum this morning, and God knows I’ve had enough time to think about it. It takes a lot to stun those of us who’ve been in the sports reporting business for a long-enough time. You expect the unexpected. You see the worst in people you were convinced were good, and you see the best in people you were convinced fell short of good. All the time.

And then a day like Sunday comes along. My wife and I took our morning walk. We cleared some brush that fell into the yard after a bit of a windstorm the night before. We went inside and made BLTs for lunch. We sat down to watch a show. Typical Sunday, until I got a text message from my good friend Darren Headrick, the talented play by play voice of the Kentucky women’s basketball and baseball teams who became close as a brother during his handful of years behind the mic for the RailRiders. “Kobe Bryant has died in a helicopter crash,” the text said, followed by a link to the story. “What?? Is this real?”

I don’t know if I’ve totally come to grips with the fact that it is, almost 24 hours after the helicopter he and eight others were flying in crashed into the hills just outside of Los Angeles. I don’t know if I ever will, or if I want to, and trust me, I’m not even a guy who had the Kobe Bryant posters or sneakers or even rooted for him throughout a basketball career in Los Angeles that put him firmly — and conservatively — among the top 20 players who ever dribbled a ball.

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Urschel added to CFP committee

Urschel added to CFP committee

Former All-American Penn State guard John Urschel will start a three-year term on the College Football Playoff selection committee this spring. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

John Urschel, then of the Baltimore Ravens, doing what he does best, teaching a STEM lesson at Dundalk High School to launch Texas Instruments’ STEM Behind Cool Careers series in 2017 in Baltimore. (Steve Ruark/AP Images for Texas Instruments)

The College Football Playoff selection committee’s advanced mathematics credentials just soared through the roof.

The committee added three new members today, including former All-American Penn State guard John Urschel. He, Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman and Colorado athletic director Rick George, now assume three-year terms starting this spring. They replace former Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Robert Morris president Chris Howard and Oregon AD Rob Mullens, who chaired the committee last year. Their respective three-year terms expired.

Urschel is the first committee member of the 13-person committee who has Penn State ties, and he’s one of two players on the panel, joining Ronnie Lott.

That’s quite an honor, for sure, for Urschel, who is the epitome of what college football should be about.

“Tom, Rick and John each bring an exciting breadth of experiences and expertise to the committee,” CFP executive director Bill Hancock said in a statement. “All three will continue the CFP tradition of committee members with high integrity and passion for the sport of college football.”

In other committee news, it announced Iowa AD Gary Barta will chair the 2020 committee. So, good day for the Big Ten, which got new and high-profile representation on the board next year.

Moorhead the new OC at Oregon

Moorhead the new OC at Oregon

New Oregon offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead ran Penn State’s offense in 2016 and 2017.

This took a while, from first reports that Moorhead had the job, through further reports that maybe he didn’t at that point. But while Oregon still hasn’t officially announced the move, it appears like the announcement is merely a formality now.

Joe Moorhead will be the new offensive coordinator at Oregon.

Thus, an end comes to what had been the craziest fact concerning the Penn State football program of the offseason, for my money: Ricky Rahne, John Donovan and Josh Gattis — three assistants on James Franklin’s early Nittany Lions staffs — all had current FBS jobs as either a head coach or an offensive coordinator, and Moorhead, inarguably the biggest Penn State-fan favorite among all of them, didn’t.

Anyway, Oregon likely will be a Pac-12 favorite next year, and this is a perfect kind of stop for Moorhead, if he’s hoping to get back to being a head coach quickly. Potentially a big impact for him there.

Facts, patience and open minds should rule the day

Facts, patience and open minds should rule the day

I want to start writing about football again, and I’m sure most everyone reading this blog is pretty OK with that. But with the recent lawsuit filed by former Penn State player Isaiah Humphries and his allegations of hazing by former teammates (not to mention further allegations head coach James Franklin ignored him when he reported the alleged hazing), I just think it would be proper first to address that story before we start talking about something much less serious in nature, like the Xs and Os and the 2020 season.

The problem is, I just don’t have much to say about any of it. I have been asked some questions though, either by text or email or over social media. I’ll address those here, and, hopefully, we can use that as a starting point for where this story goes down the road, if it goes anywhere at all.

-What do you know about these allegations? Have there been rumors floating around about them?

Here’s what we know, for a fact. (And we live in a world where people ONLY want to hear about facts…right?)

  • Humphries filed a lawsuit seeking civil damages against Penn State, Franklin and defensive tackle Damion Barber. In that suit, Humphries made explosive allegations against all three and several others, saying they either participated in or covered up a violent, largely sexually oriented hazing ring. Among the other Penn State players he mentioned in the suit: linebackers Micah Parsons and Jesse Luketa, and defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos.
  • Penn State says it investigated Humphries’ allegations at a university level, then asked the university police department to investigate, and that the university police department asked Centre County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna’s office to review its findings. The DA’s office ultimately determined it would not file any charges.

That’s where we’re at.

-Didn’t Barber miss a game early in the year due to a suspension? Did that have something to do with the allegations?

Barber didn’t play in the season opener against Idaho on Aug. 30.

“He was suspended for a violation of team rules,” Franklin said on Sept. 3.

Did that rule violation have anything to do with Humphries’ allegations? Don’t know that answer. Franklin doesn’t typically discuss the violation of the rule. But it’s fair to say that Penn State was confident enough with the findings of its investigation into this that no widespread punishments — if any  punishments, at all — were doled out.

-What do you make of the Humphries suit and the Lynch suit being filed by the same lawyer?

I don’t want to think it means anything, interesting as it is. Could be coincidence, and if so, it’s not fair to speculate on reasons he took the cases (which could be easily argued as, because it’s a duty of his job). If he has some kind of itch to tear down Franklin or Penn State football or whatever, I don’t personally know what it is or why that would be the case. So, not fair to assume that has to be the case, right?

For those unfamiliar, Dr. Scott Lynch was the Penn State team doctor from the 2014 season through 2018, and he accused Franklin of pressuring him to clear injured players to return to the field before he felt they were ready. That suit was filed last August by Lynch and Philadelphia-based attorney Steven Marino.

Marino is both a Penn State graduate (and former student-athlete; a gymnast) and the attorney who filed suit on Humphries’ behalf this week.

-Did you get to know Humphries? What kind of person is he? Someone who would do this for attention, for money, for immediate eligibility if he knew he was transferring?

Never met him. Never spoke to him. Don’t know.

-Players seem to be punching holes through Humphries’ claims on Twitter. What do you make of that?

Nothing. I expect anyone currently part of the team would deny anything untoward happened. They have a lot to gain and lose. People are going to believe them or not believe them, typically dependent on their like or dislike of Penn State football.

There are three Twitter comments I found particularly interesting. Well…two, really, since former Nittany Lions tackle Ryan Bates — who wrote some pretty inflammatory opinions about Humphries (“…he made a name for himself for being a trouble maker…”) — deleted his post. I don’t know what to make of that.

But two others who were part of the 2018 team with Humphries before transferring out made interesting comments they kept posted:

One is former Lions defensive tackle Corey Bolds, who transferred after the 2018 season and is now at Rutgers:

The other: Offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins, who was a PSU backup for several years before transferring to Duquesne last season:

I don’t know what to make of the Jenkins statement either, but I do know (or, I should say, I figure) these guys have nothing to gain by making statements.

-How can Penn State find itself in this position again? Wouldn’t you think the university would want to be 1000% sure there’s no smoke, no fire with the allegations? 

Yes, I would think that. And I believe the athletic department and the university believe they investigated this fully and are confident they’re in the clear.

Is it, in reality, in the clear? Again, we have just two indisputable facts here — Humphries filed a hazing suit; Penn State said investigations found nothing to bring about hazing charges. We need more concrete information to know if Penn State investigated this thoroughly.

-Playing devil’s advocate: If what Humphries is saying is legit…Then what?!?

Then, a lot of changes will and should be forced at Penn State.

Obviously, you can’t have what Humphries is alleging going on at your university, never mind just the football program. You’d have to dismiss any player deemed to be part of such actions from the university, even ones who played comparatively minor roles.

You’d also have to fire Franklin. Maybe some other programs might be brazen enough to attempt to stand by a coach accused of covering up sexual assault in the year 2020 (or whenever this case actually gets heard, if it even does), but I can’t believe Penn State would/could even try. After the Jerry Sandusky scandal and years worth of talk about Joe Paterno and the coaching staff maybe not bringing allegations to greater public light, I’m not sure how you can have a sitting coach who ignored — as Humphries claims he did — a player reporting assaults in the locker room that were proven to be legit.

But, we’re a long, long way off from Humphries’ allegations being proven true in a civil court. The burden of proof is entirely on him, and his team is going to need some pretty good evidence. The allegations aren’t the case. The flashbacks to dark Sandusky history aren’t the case. The case is the facts and the case is the concrete proof, and Humphries either has concrete proof to back up his claims, or he does not.

At Penn State, consistent staff change still has a strange feel

At Penn State, consistent staff change still has a strange feel

Former Penn State receivers coach David Corley (seen here chatting with receiver KJ Hamler in 2018) would have been a rarity years ago, after lasting just one season as a Nittany Lions assistant. Change on the coaching staff has become much more prevalent in the last few years, though. (Abby Drey/Centre Daily Times via AP)

I’m one of the few sports writers who happily will admit I enjoy conversing with some fans on Twitter, and @PGQue is one who gives me some interesting things to think about consistently. If this person thinks it’s important to stop the “WR coaching carousel,” I’m confident most fans feel the same way.

This message came Friday, shortly after Penn State’s third receivers coach in three years, Gerad Parker, left the Nittany Lions for the offensive coordinator’s post at West Virginia. Now, James Franklin will spend the coming days and weeks, however long it takes, looking for receivers coach number four in the last four seasons.

My response to that tweet and the nervousness in general over how many assistants have come and gone from Happy Valley over a pretty good stretch of seasons now: I don’t think it’s a big deal to have some change on a staff year-to-year; in fact, I think it might actually be beneficial in many cases. Certainly, that’s debatable. But generally speaking, successful programs can weather consistent turnover among their position coaches. After all, Alabama has had four different receivers coaches in the last four seasons — Holmon Wiggins last season, our old buddy Josh Gattis the season before, Mike Locksley in 2017 and Billy Napier in 2016 — and they’re doing just fine in Tuscaloosa.

It’s far less about the coaches and far more about the players, in that regard.

Yet, you hear often among Penn State fans and some in the press about the need to find staff stability in Happy Valley, and that’s simply something fans of other successful programs don’t seem to get too worried about.

The source of the consternation here is pretty obvious. But is the reason for it necessary?

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Facts, patience and open minds should rule the day

REPORT: PSU loses another assistant coach

A little breaking news on a late Friday afternoon…

Gerad Parker

Penn State receivers coach Gerad Parker

FootballScoop.com first reported that Penn State wide receivers coach Gerad Parker is leaving the program. Looks like he’s going to be the new offensive coordinator at West Virginia:

Bruce Feldman has since confirmed the news.

Parker was a solid hire a year ago for a Penn State receivers group that struggled badly in 2018, and this is a good promotion for him (even if Penn State’s receiving corps was hardly devoid of the drops issues that plagued it a year before).

For Penn State, it has to be a little bit of a concern. It will be looking for its fourth receivers coach in the last four season in the coming days, having gone from Josh Gattis in 2017 to David Cornley in 2018 to Parker last season to…whoever gets the job next year. Surely, James Franklin is aware of the state of coaching in today’s game, but he’ll likely admit he wants more of a consistent voice than that running a position year-by-year.

Ex-PSU OC gets Pac-12 coordinator’s job. But…

Ex-PSU OC gets Pac-12 coordinator’s job. But…

…it’s not the one you assume.

Washington logoJohn Donovan, who ran Penn State’s offense in 2014 and 2015, the first two seasons of head coach James Franklin’s tenure, is back in major-college football, agreeing Friday to become the offensive coordinator at the University of Washington.

Donovan spent the last four seasons as an offensive assistant with the Jacksonville Jaguars since being fired by Penn State in November of 2015. He worked with tight ends, running backs and quarterbacks, and he’ll coach quarterbacks at Washington, as well.

“Coach Donovan has a great deal of experience at both the college and NFL levels, learning from a lot of great offensive minds about coaching the kind of aggressive, pro-style offense we want to play here at Washington,” new Huskies head coach Jimmy Lake said in a statement released by Washington. “From my own experience, I know how much a coach can learn and grow by spending significant time in the NFL. I’m excited for him to get to Seattle and get started.”

The Penn State fan reaction to this is going to be one of two things: A confused headscratch, or an outright guffaw.

The Nittany Lions were no bueno offensively under Donovan, even with a true freshman running back named Saquon Barkley in 2015. Penn State ranked 113th in the nation, which is not good, in points per game in 2014 (20.6) and they followed that up by ranking in the 100s in more than a half dozen other key statistics the following season.

Judge those numbers, and combine them with the fact that Donovan has never coached further west than Georgia Tech in a coaching career going on 23 years, and you have a curious hire, for sure.

My take on the whole thing, and I know it’s going to be unpopular: I don’t think two seasons struggling at Penn State — or anywhere else, for that matter — is completely indicative of what kind of coach you are. Donovan came to Happy Valley with a system that was pretty effective in the SEC (you can argue his offenses were the best in Vanderbilt history), but when he arrived in central Pennsylvania, he had a beloved starting quarterback with two seasons of eligibility left who was far from a cozy fit in that system. He had a brutal offensive line, Saquon before he was Saquon, and Chris Godwin before he was Chris Godwin, Mike Gesicki before…

You get the picture.

I get it…”But if he was so good he’d have developed those guys quicker, like Joe Moorhead did?” And, my response to that is going to be unsatisfactory to some fans: That was a strange time in Penn State’s history. Its future stars were learning, and there’s a big difference between being a second- or third-year player in a college program than a true freshman. That’s why every program in the nation would like to have Micah Parsons right now; players who can make that immediate of an impact are precious.

With time, with some players that fit his system a bit better, maybe Donovan is a lot more successful at Penn State than those numbers looked.

All that said, if you want to argue about the moment things changed for Penn State under Franklin, pushing itself at least to the cusp of being a national championship contender, you can probably argue the Marcus Allen blocked field goal against Ohio State in 2016, or the Barkley overtime run against Minnesota (or Irv Charles catch, if you want). But the John Donovan firing that led to the Moorhead hiring and the change in offensive philosophy has to be pretty high on the list.

It was a necessary separation, but one I didn’t necessarily think at the time should be Donovan’s last crack at a job like this.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of such a great university, with unbelievable football tradition, like the University of Washington,” Donovan said in the statement. “Thanks to Coach Lake and everyone involved for this opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting started. Go Dawgs!”

Lions land two on AP All-Bowl Team

Lions land two on AP All-Bowl Team

There was nobody close to Journey Brown in the Cotton Bowl, as he rushed for 202 yards and earned a spot on the Associated Press All-Bowl team. (Associated Press photo)

Well, they got it right.

The Associated Press announced its 2019-20 All-Bowl teams, and Penn State landed two players on the list after its 51-39 win over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl.

Bet you can guess which two.

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Moorhead the new OC at Oregon

Former PSU OC a candidate for major role out West

Former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead reportedly is a contender to be the next offensive coordinator for Pac-12 and Rose Bowl champion Oregon. (Joe Hermitt/PennLive.com via AP)

Joe Moorhead isn’t going to be out of work long, you’d think.

He might even get to stretch his reputation to the west coast.

According to a report from the Oregonian, Moorhead is emerging as “a leading candidate” for the vacant offensive coordinator’s post at Oregon.

Moorhead was fired at Mississippi State after the Bulldogs looked sloppy against Louisville in the Music City Bowl late last month, but after the success he had at Penn State, it’s difficult not to associate him with the big-time openings around the game. Oregon’s job opened after Marcus Arroyo left Mario Cristobal’s staff to become head coach at UNLV.

Not certain where Moorhead will wind up, obviously — would have been interesting to see if he became a candidate at Penn State, assuming he was fired a few weeks earlier — but Oregon would be a good landing spot. They’re a bona fide contender in the Pac-12, and Moorhead has no fingerprints as of yet on the West coast. It could only help to resurrect his chances of being a FBS head coach again by having success in another major conference.

Moorhead’s next step will be interesting to follow over the next few days. Here’s a thought, though, if he’s maybe interested in branching out further: If they fail to lure Jason Garrett to New York, perhaps there’s a fit between Moorhead and the Giants. They’re looking for an OC, and Moorhead has obviously done great work with their best offensive player, Saquon Barkley.