Things had fallen apart at Rutgers. Four games into the 2019 season, head coach Chris Ash got the boot, and John McNulty was gone as offensive coordinator too. So on the morning of September 29, a smarting McNulty got in his car, left Piscataway and headed home.
He was out of work for a mere handful of minutes.
His phone rang on the way. On the other end: Penn State head coach James Franklin.
“He said, ‘Hey, why don’t you just come out here?'” McNulty recalled.
So for the first time in nearly three decades, the Abington Heights native officially was back at his alma mater, working alongside Franklin’s staff as an offensive consultant.
It was the first stretch of a coaching career that started in 1991 in which McNulty wasn’t working with players, wasn’t roaming a sideline or calling plays from the press box. But his time back in Happy Valley was a benefit, he said, especially considering he got to know a staff that brought glory back to the Nittany Lions.
“They didn’t have a statue up for me at Penn State; I didn’t play that much,” McNulty said. “I was kind of blown away by the opportunity.”
He’s a Penn State legacy, but McNulty said he walked in not really knowing much about the coaching staff as a whole. He had talked to Franklin only a handful of times. He was teammates with cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, a wide receiver on the Nittany Lions teams McNulty played for in the late 1980s. But that was the extend of his familiarity.
“I walked right in, I think it was Iowa week, and it was like, ‘Hey, who’s this guy?’ McNulty recalled. “But luckily we (at Rutgers) had already played Iowa, and we had already played Michigan. So, at least I could feel like I helped add something, and once I kind of got the lowdown on how they ran their business, I was able to, I think, help. They did a lot more for me than I did for them.
What he learned was how well-organized Franklin was, and how he delegated responsibility.
He called Ricky Rahne, the former offensive coordinator and current head coach at Old Dominion, “tremendously sharp.” He said the same for defensive coordinator Brent Pry. But overall, it was how the offensive staff worked together that stuck with McNulty most.
“I think it was good to watch an operation working at a high level with a group of guys who had been working together for a decent number of years,” McNulty said. “It was good to see just how important that is, and how important the young guys can be, the quote-unquote young guys who are the GAs and the analysts. Some people don’t use them at all, but they were invaluable there.
“To be able to see that at that level just really helped me see a whole different way of doing business.”
Donnie Collins has been a member of The Times-Tribune sports staff for nearly 20 years and has been the Penn State football beat writer for Times-Shamrock Newspapers since 2004. The Penn State Football Blog covers Nittany Lions, Big Ten and big-time college football news from Beaver Stadium to the practice field, the bowl game to National Letter of Intent Signing Day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5368; @DonnieCollinsTT