STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — As he formally introduced the nine assistant coaches who will make up his staff at Penn State for his first season, head coach James Franklin declared Friday that there are “no returning starters at any position.”
OK, maybe one definite returning starter; quarterback Christian Hackenberg is as close as a college player can get to being the franchise. New offensive coordinator John Donovan likes what he has seen on film from an athlete who threw for 2,955 yards and 20 touchdowns last season as a true freshman.
“He’s got a lot of talent,” Donovan said Friday at Beaver Stadium. “We’re really excited to work with him. I know it’s hard for him because he had such a tight relationship with (former) coach (Bill) O’Brien. I was fortunate enough to work with coach O’Brien and I’ve had communication with him. He loves that kid.
“I think he feels better about guys that he knows that are here now that will take care of that kid and teach him the right way and keep him progressing the way he will, and should. ... I think (Hackenberg) is going to be excited about what we’re going to do and the team that he has and the potential that he’ll have.”
Donovan, who was a restricted-earnings coach at Villanova in 1997 when the Wildcats went undefeated in the regular season and ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division I-AA, is one of seven assistants who followed Franklin to Happy Valley from Vanderbilt. An eighth coach, special teams coordinator and running backs coach Charles Huff, worked on Franklin’s staff there in 2011.
Quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne also is looking forward to continuing Hackenberg’s development.
“I think my strength is going to be in preparation and things like that,” said Rahne, a former quarterback at Cornell. “But I’m also going to coach him on fundamentals. I believe in footwork, that quarterbacks play with their feet. Accuracy and power come from proper foot placement.”
Hackenberg has some inherent traits that have impressed Rahne on film.
“It’s the poise and the command he seems to have not only of the offense and his teammates, but just the situation,” he said. “He played in some pretty big games this year in front of some big crowds. He had a little bit of a rough time against Ohio State but after that, he wasn’t gun shy. He came back and he battled and probably played his best football.”
Franklin said Donovan called every offensive play at Vanderbilt during the three years they coached together there, but no final decision has been made on who will handle the play-calling this season.