Penn State Football: Recapping the Biggest 2014 Offseason News so Far
It seems like the 2013 football season ended an eternity ago. Enough has changed in and around Happy Valley in the last six months to fill a calendar year and in a place not particularly accustomed to change, State College is looking at a much different program than the one that upset Wisconsin in late November.
Welcome to big time football and the constant change that involves.
Here's a recap of the evolution Penn State has encountered so far this off season.
A Change at the Top
On New Year's Eve, Bill O'Brien stunned Nittany Nation with the announcement that he was leaving Penn State for a job as head coach of the NFL's Houston Texans. After having one head coach for nearly 50 years, the Nittany Lions would be searching for their fourth coach since November of 2011.
After a thorough search, interim athletic director Dave Joyner pulled off the impossible by luring the young, energetic, in-demand James Franklin from Vanderbilt where he had made history with a perennial doormat.
A Pennsylvania native, Franklin won over fans at his introductory press conference with phrases like "I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Pennsylvania heart" and, in reference to his recruiting strategy: "Dominate the State."
While O'Brien may have been the perfect person for the job in 2012, the hiring of Franklin numbed the pain of losing "BOB." Two years ago, Penn State tried to get candidates like Franklin but couldn't, due to the stigma surrounding the program. O'Brien made the job desirable again and will always hold a place in the heart of Penn State fans.
From Blue to Red, LJ Switches Sides
Following O'Brien's resignation, longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson was named the interim head coach and he expressed his desire to hold the job permanently.
Having never been more than a position coach in college, Penn State chose not to award him the promotion and hired Franklin instead.
After a brief flirting session with Franklin, Johnson decided it was time to move on so he headed west to Columbus.
In an ironic twist, O'Brien did Penn State one last favor, taking Ohio State defensive line coach Mike Vrabel with him to the NFL. Little did fans realize at the time, that opening would cost them the longest tenured coach in State College.
Johnson played a key role in the recruiting and development of several Penn State players but he'll roam the sidelines in scarlet and grey next season. That will be a touch pill to swallow for many fans.
Recruiting Steals the Headlines
Franklin didn't waste much time in making fans forget about the names Larry Johnson and Bill O'Brien. After retaining all but one previously committed recruit, Franklin filled the 2014 recruiting class with players from all over the country, including Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
The current class is ranked third in the country and has spent time at first, according to 247Sports.
Franklin has commitments from four of the top six players in the state. In total, Penn State has verbal commitments from 10 4-star prospects, per the 247Sports Composite scores.
The new staff at Penn State is building their team by having more success on the recruiting trail than any Nittany Lions staff has had in recent memory.
Spider Moves On
After joining the program as an assistant equipment manager in the early 1980s, Brad "Spider" Caldwell became a staple of Penn State football.
Former players adore him. His wife took on the responsibility of sewing player names on the jerseys. When O'Brien accepted his players' request to put the number 42 on their helmets to honor injured leader Michael Mauti before Senior Day in 2012, Spider was up to the challenge.
To many, Spider is family and he epitomizes the atmosphere people associate with Happy Valley.
Spider and Mrs. Caldwell are moving to their vacation home in Vermont where he will serve as athletic director for Fair Haven Union High School.
Regardless of where he lives, he'll always be at home in State College.