Illinois Assistants Are Familiar Faces for Penn State Players

Story posted September 28, 2012 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Lawrence

When the Penn State Nittany Lions walk into Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois on Saturday, they will see some familiar faces on the opposing sideline.

Those faces? The Illinois coaching staff.

When NCAA president Mark Emmert handed down sanctions upon the Penn State football program on July 23, the rest of the college football world shifted their eyes from Emmert’s podium in Indianapolis to State College. With all Penn State players being allowed to transfer without penalty, the “free agency” had officially begun.

Every Division I head coach in the country faced the dilemma of whether or not to recruit members of the Penn State football team. To that question there really is no one correct answer. Nobody can fault a coach for going out and trying to put together the best team possible. At the same time, there are unwritten guidelines in the coaching profession that most understand in these sorts of scenarios.

Illinois first year head coach Tim Beckman exploded onto the college football scene when he seemed to forget these guidelines.  At one point, Beckman had as many as eight different assistant coaches on or around the Penn State campus.

“It takes a lot to bother me,” Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien said Tuesday regarding Beckman’s recruiting philosophy. “So I will tell you that, again, our players, myself, our staff, we’re very focused on the task at hand.”

As much as O’Brien claims it won’t be a motivating factor for his team, the players certainly have not forgotten what took place in that week in July. On one day, the Illinois coaching caravan made a stop at Nittany Apartments. There they waited, all day, waiting for the opportunity to talk to a player as they left their room.

"It's just motivation," said senior defensive tackle Jordan Hill. "[But] when it affects you in a negative way on and off the field, then you know it's going too far."

Many would be willing to forgive Beckman had he actually went in with a strategy. Lane Kiffin knew USC was thin at running back when he recruited former star Penn State running back Silas Redd. Oklahoma had some suspensions at the wide receiver position when Bob Stoops went after Justin Brown. Mack Brown’s Texas Longhorns needed a kicker and conveniently brought Anthony Fera back to his home state.

On the other hand, Beckman treated the situation as if it was recruiting high school athletes; if you offer enough of them, eventually some will hop on board. The Illinois coaches would talk to any player that would listen. Position or age were irrelevant.

Beckman said Tuesday that he has not regretted his decision to recruit Penn State players and that no rules were broken. He also says that he notified O’Brien initially, however O’Brien claims that the first time the two spoke to each other was at Big Ten Media Day.

Ultimately, Illinois only signed one player from the Penn State roster. Ryan Nowicki, a redshirt freshman offensive tackle who was buried on the depth chart. Nowicki was not the big time player Beckman had been looking for.

What’s also being lost in all of this is the changing culture across the Big Ten as a conference. With all of coaching turnover that has taken place throughout the conference, former traditions are being lost amongst the new coaches. Formerly, in recruiting, there was an agreement that no coach would actively recruit a player who was committed to another conference school. Urban Meyer took little time dismantling that pact after being named the head coach at Ohio State last December. Four of Ohio State’s class of 2012 signees were initially committed to Penn State.

This group of bruised and battered Nittany Lions has no shortage of bulletin board material. And at the end of the day, whatever hostility the Penn State players and coaches have against Illinois will have no impact on the scoreboard.

“That’s the last thing on our minds,” said senior quarterback Matt McGloin.

"I believe as we sit here today, we have got [the team's] attention on a very good Illinois team and a tough game coming up in Champaign," O'Brien added.

The NCAA’s sanctions allow Penn State players to once again freely transfer following the conclusion of the 2012 season. If last summer is any indication, Beckman may be playing the role of coach, scout and recruiter when the Nittany Lions come to town.

Matt Lawrence is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mdl5249@psu.edu.