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I think we are in a great place academically to either graduate or continuing to work towards graduation, so getting that stuff in. Obviously game planning, I think we're in a pretty good place. Our graduate assistants have done a great job of breaking all the film down.
We had the coordinators off the road for a couple days to finalize some of the game plan with some of the assistant coaches and we'll continue to iron things out over the next couple days. As you guys know, we typically will do a full week of practice at the Bowl site and then we'll do a couple bonus days here before we leave to iron out the last few details.
It's kind of interesting, looking at all these different bowl game models. I mentioned to you guys before, in the past, Penn State used to go for two weeks, they would do a week of practice and then spend a week at the Bowl site. Matt Limegrover and I were talking in the car, when he was at Northwestern, they did the same thing because they didn't have an indoor facility.
So they would go out to the site to get better practices. There's a lot of different models in how you do things, but I like where we're at. I like where we're at from a planning perspective and from a health perspective.
As you guys could imagine, we had a bunch of guys as the season went on with bumps and bruises, so we are in a much healthier place right now. Also, our guys have still been lifting and things like that on their own.
We have had great developmental practices, which is really good for our staff development with our young coaches, like our graduate assistants, where they will be running practices, as well as helping our threes and fours getting a bunch of reps. It allows us to get the older guys a little bit more rest and continue to develop our entire roster.
And, we've had all the staffing situations to deal with. So Coach Moorhead is at Mississippi State doing a great job and Coach Huff has got an opportunity there, as well. Then, obviously there's some other whispers and rumors and things going on as well, and to me I take that as a compliment.
To me, our job, No. 1 is to make sure that our players get a great education. It's our job to make sure our guys have a great athletic experience and hopefully have an opportunity to play in the NFL. That's part of our responsibility, as well. Then it's also part of our responsibility to develop our staff and allow coaches to grow and sometimes get opportunities to move on and be head coaches. That's great, as well.
But for me, it's been an interesting couple weeks. A lot of moving parts with graduations and grades. A lot of moving parts with recruiting and the ups and downs of that, and also from a staff perspective. I like where we're at. I’m glad to be back in town, see my family, have a practice here a little bit later on today and can get back to some form of normalcy. Or, whatever you would call that, in college football.
Q. How important has Brent Pry been to your staff and has he discussed possibilities at other schools with you in the last day or so?
JF: Yeah, we talk all the time. We were in a car together for about a day and a half. We talk all the time about everything: family, career, Penn State and about other opportunities.
But, Brent's my guy. Brent's obviously been a valued part of our staff since day one and for the last seven years. He's one of my best friends and I love his family and his wife.
The hard thing for me is that I kind of feel split. I want what's best for Brent Pry and his family, but I also want what's best for Penn State and Penn State Football. So I'm kind of conflicted on that, personally and professionally.
But, like I told Brent, he's in a great situation. He's got a great job at a great place that he loves and whenever you have really good people that are talented at what they do, people are going to pursue them to in some way to try to steal some of the success that we've had the last couple years.
I take it as a tremendous compliment for our program. But, to answer your question, yes, Brent and I have had a lot of conversations.
Q. Curious on how the early signing date adds a layer of challenge with coaches that are coming and going and being discussed while you're trying to button up a recruiting class at the same time.
JF: I think for us, I've been very open about staff change [with our recruits]. When guys committed to us months ago, I told them they need to be committing to Penn State: the university, our football program and myself. I want to keep our staff together for as long as we possibly can, but there's always going to be some of that in college football and for me to say there isn't would not be truthful.
I think for the most part, with our guys, we've had multiple conversations before this, and then as things come up, I communicate it with them.
I actually think the early signing period, I'm a fan of it. I think it's a positive, but I'm not a fan of the early visits that are going to start next spring. I have concerns about that because we need to be able to do a great job with our current players in our program and on our roster, and then our coaches still need to spend some time where they can be husbands and fathers and those types of things. I'm a little concerned about that.
I think there is a sense of urgency with athletic directors and with coaches. When you lose the head coach, that's a different situation. I think that is really challenging. I think for some programs like Penn State that have a lot of stability, I don't see it -- I see it as a positive for us.
Q. What is it that you like about the early signing period and do you see that becoming permanent?
JF: Yeah, I think it is permanent. I don't think this is a trial basis. Well, I think what happens is, in major college football, for a long time now, I'd say 85 percent of your recruiting class has been committed for nine months.
So there's an aspect of it towards the end where you're just kind of going and checking on a guy that you really don't need to be checking on. It’s like, he's solid, his family is solid, his high school coach is solid and they are coming, but you still feel like you need to keep going back and dotting the I's and crossing the T's.
Matt Limegrover and I were just talking on the ride in, he called a kid just a little bit ago to say hey, and he was talking to the dad and said, "Hey, I would like to come to the house Wednesday."
The dad was like, "Why?"
"I just want to make sure that we've got everything covered and you guys are really comfortable and feel good about this whole process."
The dad was like, "Coach, I could not be more comfortable, and I really don't want you coming to the house again." It was like a leave us alone type of deal.
I think there's some benefits to it that you can get those guys signed. They are sick of the process at this point, as well, to be honest with you. In the beginning recruiting is awesome and it sounds great and by the end, everybody's had enough of it. So, [the early signing] allows you to kind of move on from those guys and start filling the last few spots you have and start working on that next recruiting class and those types of things.
It's funny, I was telling a kid and his parents on phone the other day, that this process can be as easy as you want to make it to be or as hard as you want it to be.
You know, I look at the kids that have been committed to us for a long time and their families, we go do the home visit, like I only get to go once. When I go to do the home visit, those kids, it's like a celebration of their high school years and a celebration of their future.
I was at one house other night and there were 30 people in the basement, and it was like being at the Phyrst. I've never been there. I've never been there, but you guys get the point; it was a like a party in his basement and to me that's what it should be. Then I see other guys they are stressed out.
So I think there's some benefits to the 20th of being able to get those situations over, so you truly know where you're at.
Q. Do you expect to have Brent Pry for the Bowl game and will he be here today? Also, do you expect to have Manny Bowen available for the Bowl game?
JF: Brent will be here today and I'm looking forward to seeing him. We will not have Manny Bowen for the Bowl game.
Q. As far as Saquon Barkley, different guys have decided not to play in their bowl games. Take us through the process, what communication have you had with him to make his decision?
JF: It's not my decision, and as you guys know, we got into it a couple weeks ago; I don't really love the question. I get that you have to ask the question, but I don't love the question.
It's not my decision. Saquon's made a decision and we didn't really have a whole lot of conversation about it. We've had a little bit conversation, over probably last year, but I don't really kind of get into that one a whole lot. I don't really love the whole topic to be honest with you.
I get it. I understand there's a business aspect to this and we have to be aware of these types of things, but we're excited about going to play the University of Washington and the Fiesta Bowl as a team.
Q. Tommy Stevens is listed at his own “Lion” position. What went into that, coming up with that, is it something Ricky did or something you wanted to put out there?
JF: We want to treat him like a starter, because that's really what he is for us. You know, talking to our defensive coaches, talking to our offensive coaches, we see his role expanding. Especially now that we're in a situation where we're creating more and more depth at the quarterback position.
Last year, very similar to Trace [McSorley], our third-team quarterback is redshirting and I prefer to leave it that way. Tommy creates some opportunities for us and creates some matchup problems for us and that's something he's wanted to do.
He has brought it up in the past about playing special teams. He's brought up in the past about playing defense. He's brought up in the past about coaching. He's brought up in the past about everything. He just wants to have as big of a role as he possibly can. The reality is, it makes sense. I thought it made sense to list him on [the depth chart] as a starter because that's how we view him. That's how his teammates view him and we expect his role to continue to grow. When I say offense, defense and special teams, I'm serious about that. There's really nothing off the table in terms of his opportunity to have a bigger role on our team.
Q. What was the conversation like between you and Ricky Rahne when you decided to promote him to offensive coordinator? As a former coordinator yourself, how long does it take to develop a personality or a style as a play caller?
JF: Yeah, Ricky and I have been talking about these things for 10 years. He called plays at the bowl game a couple years ago when Trace threw his first touchdown pass. I knew this was something that was a goal of his in his future.
As you guys know, we've talked about this in the past, how we do our spring games. It gives me an opportunity to evaluate guys, as well, when they are calling plays for the number two or number three offense against the number one defense on both sides of the ball. That's part of it.
It's funny, because I tell our Gas and I tell our coaches, I'm not a big believer in resumes. I'm not a big believer in interviews. I get it, especially with people you don't know, but the reality is, Ricky Rahne has been interviewing for this position since he was a graduate assistant for me at Kansas State. Ricky was the offensive graduate assistant and Scott Frost was the defensive graduate assistant on our staff at Kansas State. So he's been preparing and interviewing for this responsibility for a long time.
So yeah, is there going to be some adjustments, is it going to look exactly the way it's looked in the past, is there going to be time for growth as an offense and for coaches? No doubt about it. Our offense didn't look exactly the same in the last two years. It's constantly evolving.
Yeah, I think all of those things factor into it. The way we do things offensively and defensively is we script parts of practice. He's been doing that for a while and it is the same thing on the defensive side of the ball. There will be an adjustment period, there's no doubt about it, but I would make the argument there's less of an adjustment period doing it this way.
That was a big part of doing this. Do I go out and hire someone from the outside? When you do that, they are going to expect and you're going to expect them to [install] their offense. You don't have them come in and run what you're doing because that's not how they were successful. They were successful running their system. So this allows us to continue to build what we're building here.
I also thought it was the right thing to do for Trace and Tommy and the rest of our quarterbacks because they are very comfortable and confident in this system right now. And then also the fact that Ricky recruited every quarterback in that room. I think it just allows us to continue to keep building. It will be a process, but I'm obviously very confident or I wouldn't have done it.
Q. Are there things that you're picking up with Washington that might be similar to preparing for USC last year?
JF: I think there's similarities whenever you play a team from the same conference, unless they are a team that is really different in the style. So yeah, I think there are some similarities in terms of how the Pac 12 and Big Ten play. There's different styles.
Yeah, I think there's some of that. But you know, at the end of the day, it's evaluating their roster, evaluating their film, how they play, how they call their offense. They have had a change at their coordinator position.
It's funny, I was just talking about Ricky [Rahne] and Scott [Frost] and then Bush Hamdan, who was a graduate assistant for us. He was hired from the Atlanta Falcons to be [Washington’s] offensive coordinator. He won't do it for the Bowl game, but they have had a little bit of [staff turnover], as well.
Yeah, I think there's some similarities from a conference standpoint, but we're mainly focused on Washington and what we've seen on tape the last four or five games of the year and make sure we're watching the tapes and the games that probably have the most similarities to us. They are the games that are the most valuable.
Q. What have you seen of Miles Sanders the last two years that assures you he'll be able to take on a larger role if and when that opportunity arises?
JF: I don't know if anything assures you. We're excited about Miles and his future and obviously he's done a really good job behind Saquon Barkley and when he got opportunities, really running with it.
You really see every aspect of his game over the last two years really developing from ball security, from pass protection, in terms of just getting bigger and stronger. You look at him the other day, his lower body development, it's impressive to look at him. The game comes natural for him. He's got some areas that I think he's going to need to work on, but it’s no different from every other player in our program.
I look at it a little bit like when I was in Green Bay, we had Brett Favre and we drafted Aaron Rodgers. Aaron was able to come in there and sit behind Brett for a couple years, learn and take it all in. How many times do you see in that league, a guy get drafted in the first round and they are forced to play, and sometimes they are not ready.
I look at that a little bit like we have with Miles, he's been fortunate to sit behind a great player, a great person and a great leader, and he has been able to learn from him and allow himself to evolve into the job. Obviously you've got Mark Allen, Johnathan Thomas, Journey Brown and there's a bunch of guys that are going to have opportunities to battle for playing time.
The other thing is, I had a conversation with some of the running backs the other day that we're not even sure how the model is going to look [next year]. I think they all assume it's going to be just like it was this past year. We kind of had an unusual situation where I think you could be in a situation where you have a little bit more rotation than we had this year. It will probably be more like how we did it the first couple years.
Q. How long have you known that you wanted Phil Galiano to be a part of your staff in some capacity ad also how has the transition gone with getting him in with the specialists and out recruiting?
JF: Phil is a guy that I kind of knew from a distance. Actually he and Sean Spencer go way back. Sean coached Phil at Shippensburg, and then we had an opportunity to bring him here. He obviously had a lot of success at Rutgers, and then was with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and just a lot of experience.
He's also another Pennsylvania guy. He's got a lot of ties. We have a lot of similar people that we both know, that we both group in the same -- basically in the same conference of high schools that play against each other and then I've just kind of been around him. He's got tremendous experience. He's really passionate and he's a really sharp guy. So his family was living in the Bethlehem/Allentown area, so they are going to be moving to town, which is awesome.
Once again, when you can have some people that are already on your staff and you can promote from within, I think that's the ideal situation whenever you can do it.
We were fortunate to be able to get Phil here in this role because it made sense for him and it made sense for us. Now when we transition, he already knows how we run special teams meetings. He already knows how we practice. He knows our personnel. He knows our coaches. He knows the overall philosophy.
Is Phil going to tweak a few things? Yeah, I expect him to. But it really kind of helps in the transition rather than bringing somebody from the outside in and then it takes time between their system and how we do things culturally and philosophically; it helps.
I'm not saying that every hire that we make over the next 20 years are always going to be internal candidates, but when you have one, I think it makes a lot of sense for everybody involved.
Q. With all of your Bowl game experiences in your career, how would you compare finishing one season strong and how can a game be a springboard for the next season?
JF: Obviously, you always want to end on a positive note. There's very few teams at the end of the season that end happy. Really, you've got one, that's truly happy. It's interesting just talking to recruits, being on the road and kind of looking back and having some time for some perspective.
We lost two games this year by four points and if you go all the way back to last year, we've lost our last three games by seven total points.
So you want to end the season on a positive note. You want those seniors to have that last experience as a real positive one that they can savor for the rest of their lives.
You prefer the coaches not to go into the offseason with a bad taste in their mouth. The same for the fans and the media members and the administration. You want to end on a positive note. You want to be successful. You want to be 1-0. I don't think there's any doubt about the importance of that.
And then obviously, I do think there is some momentum that kind of leads you into the next year, and I think that's tied to the whole bowl experience: the extra practices, the extra time and just the good vibes of going away to a different environment for your players to experience.
I'm going to ask today to try to find out how many of our players have ever even been to Arizona before. All those things are part of the unique experiences through college athletics and through college football that's important.
I think it does both. I think it's important that you end the season on a positive note so everybody feels good and there's good mojo, and obviously I do think it has an impact of going into the following season based on all of the things I just mentioned: the extra practices, the last time people have seen you, how they view you, they start talking about your returning players, the previous season and the bowl game, and how it ended.