Penn State needed a strong recruiter to replace Josh Gattis on its coaching staff. The Nittany Lions got one of the most well-regarded recruiters in Florida.
The Nittany Lions needed someone with some diverse geographical ties. They got a Palm Beach County native who also played and coached at West Virginia.
They needed a wide receivers coach. They got — well, they got a running backs coach.
James Franklin and the Lions made it official on Thursday, announcing the hiring of Ja’Juan Seider, whom they lured away from Dan Mullen’s staff at Florida, as the new running backs coach.
Though Penn State had just hired David Corley two weeks earlier for that same role, in a bit of coaching staff calculus, he will instead shift over to coach the wide receivers, a position he held last season at Army West Point.
Penn State also announced a promotion for Franklin’s long-time defensive line coach, Sean Spencer, who received the title of “associate head coach,” a move indicative of a pay raise. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry had previously held that title.
The word Franklin continually uses when hunting for new staffers is “fit” — valuing personality and ability over any specific role.
So it wasn’t a surprise to see that word pop up again in Franklin’s school-issued statement about his newest coach.
“As soon as I met Ja’Juan, I knew that he would be a great fit for our staff,” Franklin said. “He comes highly recommended from a lot of people in the industry I respect. Ja’Juan has a quiet confidence and a natural charisma that will relate well to our running backs. His experience as a player and a coach will complement our offensive scheme.
“He is also widely regarded as one of nation’s top recruiters and his ties to this region will be beneficial. We are excited to have Ja’Juan and his family join this community.”
Both Corley and Seider popped up on Penn State’s radar at the start of the month around the time of the annual AFCA Convention. The Lions originally needed to replace Charles Huff, who oversaw running backs since Franklin arrived in 2014 and left to join former offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead at Mississippi State.
Corley got the job initially, but when Gattis left to coach wideouts at national powerhouse Alabama last week, the Lions were able to land Seider to replace him.
Of the two new assistants, only Corley had experience working with wideouts in the past, allowing Seider to remain as a running backs coach. That may have been a decisive factor in leaving the Gators, as Seider had coached running backs for the past four years — three at his alma mater, West Virginia, and last season at Florida.
But after Jim McElwain was fired and Mullen took over in Gainesville in December, Mullen elected to bring his own running backs coach with him from Mississippi State, asking Seider to shift to tight ends.
“My family and I are so excited to join the Penn State staff in Happy Valley,” Seider said through the school. “We are honored and privileged to be a part of a football program that is so rich in tradition. I believe coach Franklin is doing something special here, and I can’t wait to chase championships in Big Ten country.”
Seider’s recruiting bona fides will be put to the test in the 2019 cycle, as the Lions have only a handful of offers out to in-state prospects and could use a boost from talent-rich areas like Florida.
On the field, the Lions will have to deal with plenty of turnover with the departures of top coaches in Moorhead, Gattis and Huff as well as star players like Saquon Barkley, Mike Gesicki and DaeSean Hamilton.
But the defensive coaching staff will remain the same with Pry leading Spencer, Terry Smith and Tim Banks. Pry, Rahne and Spencer are the lone assistants left from Franklin’s original Penn State staff that came with him from Vanderbilt.
On Thursday, Spencer — who has turned down multiple offers from other programs in the past — was rewarded for his loyalty.
“For the last seven years, Sean has done a tremendous job coaching and developing talent,” Franklin said. “He is deeply admired by both our players and coaches. Sean’s boundless energy, on and off the field, is what makes him unique. I appreciate his loyalty to our program and he is very deserving of this role.”