Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop was milling about the back patio of the Sheraton Station Square hotel, admiring the Pittsburgh skyline on a gorgeous afternoon and explaining to a reporter that he does, in fact, have swagger. Penn State coach James Franklin had earlier described Shoop as a swag-less individual.
“Bob’s swag tank is on empty,” Franklin said.
Swag or not, Franklin likely values the difference in opinion. Franklin, who was in Pittsburgh Thursday as part of a 17-stop Penn State coaches caravan that continues for the next two weeks, is attempting to fashion the Penn State football program as a multitude of influences that vary on matters far deeper than swag.
Shoop is an Oakmont native who graduated from Yale and majored in economics. He’s joined by wide receivers coach Terry Smith as being a Pittsburgh guy. Linebackers coach Brent Pry has a Central Pennsylvania base but has lived throughout the East and South. Offensive line coach Herb Hand has an MBA and is an expert enough in the kitchen to have been invited to appear on an episode of the Food Network show “Chopped” set to air June 10. Four of the 10 assistants are minorities.
“I don’t think it’s just to complement me,” Franklin said. “I think it’s to complement everybody. I don’t think you want everybody with the same personality. We want diversity so that all of our players of different backgrounds have somebody they can relate to.”
Shoop, Franklin said, brings a dry sense of humor to the group. He also is awed by Shoop’s ability to dissect defenses. He remembers a time shortly after they met when Shoop used two markers to draw blitzes on a dry-erase board, making sense of what appeared to be madness.
“Have you ever seen the movie [‘A Beautiful Mind’]?” Franklin said. “Bob kind of went like this, and it all kind of cleared up to me. That’s kind of how we’ve been now.”
With Shoop and others tugging in slightly different directions, Franklin said he constantly learns from them and them from him. He’s also hoping the attainment of knowledge doesn’t stop with the football program.
In his short time on the job, Franklin said he has already discussed coaching techniques with women’s soccer coach Erica Walsh, men’s soccer coach Bob Warming, women’s volleyball coach Russ Rose and, most notably, wrestling coach Cael Sanderson. Sanderson has led his team to four consecutive NCAA titles, cutting an intimidating figure while doing so.
“More than anything I thought Cael was scary before I met him, just looking at him,” Franklin joked. “And after spending a bit more time with him I’m even more scared.”
More fans, please
Franklin said he is aware that many college football fans in Pittsburgh are not fans of Penn State. He said he has no delusions of converting any hard-core fans of other Pittsburgh-area teams to the side of the Nittany Lions. He just wants to introduce new fans to Penn State.
“There are some people that maybe haven’t grown up with a team and they’re looking for someone — we’d love to have them,” Franklin said. “I think what you hope is you develop a program and a product that people can relate to and feel connected with and are excited about.”
Mark Dent: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-439-3791 and Twitter @mdent05.