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Penn State’s Franklin Will Target Terp Recruits

Monday, January 13, 2014 11:34am
  • Penn State coach James Franklin (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times/Abby Drey)
     Penn State coach James Franklin (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times/Abby Drey)
By: Maryland Insider

COLLEGE PARK – There’s serious concern among Maryland football fans about the fact Penn State has hired James Franklin as head coach. Those worries are well-founded.

Franklin spent a total of eight years as a Maryland assistant and has first-hand experience recruiting the talent-rich areas of Prince George’s County and Washington, D.C. He maintained strong ties to the area while head coach at Vanderbilt and will no doubt make the border state a key recruiting territory now that he’s at Penn State.

Penn State has always recruited Maryland hard and has done very well because of the presence of longtime assistant coach Larry Johnson, who was once a popular high school coach in Charles County. Johnson has consistently landed top tier talent from his old stamping ground.

Franklin has not announced whether he will retain any of the Penn State assistants, but there is strong sentiment among the fanbase to keep Johnson, who has been on staff for 20 years. Franklin certainly knows Johnson’s value as a recruiter, having gone head-to-head with him while at Maryland.

Penn State fans are also anxious to see if Franklin brings back Ron Vanderlinden, another popular assistant who left the program in December. It was Vanderlinden who hired Franklin while head coach at Maryland back in 2000, and they spent one year together before Vanderlinden was fired and became an assistant at Penn State in 2001.

It was during his first five-year stretch with the Terrapins that Franklin burnished his reputation as an ace recruiter as he went into Pennsylvania and pulled out some top prospects. A Pennsylvania native who played at East Stroudsburg, Franklin called Penn State his “dream job” on the day he was introduced as head coach.

Franklin took over as lead recruiter for the critical Prince George’s County-D.C. region when he returned to Maryland in 2008 as offensive coordinator under Ralph Friedgen. He quickly improved the Terrapins’ standing in those areas, which had taken a hit when Mike Locksley left the program. Now Franklin and Locksley, who became close when their tenures at Maryland overlapped, will be going head-to-head.

Franklin is outgoing, energetic, enthusiastic, smooth, savvy and sharp – characteristics that make him an outstanding recruiter. The 41-year-old now has a track record of success after leading Vanderbilt to 24-15 record in three seasons as head coach.

So Maryland head coach Randy Edsall better be prepared to defend his home turf vigorously because there is no question Penn State, under Franklin, will be pushing hard to poach elite prospects from his backyard.

There is still a Class of 2014 recruit deciding between Penn State and Maryland. McDonogh-Baltimore offensive lineman Jared Cohen, who originally committed to the Terrapins almost a year ago, is taking an official visit to Happy Valley this month. Cohen decommitted after receiving an offer from the Nittany Lions and telling Edsall that he wanted to visit the school.

Cohen stated that he might still wind up choosing Maryland, but most observers believe he is leaning toward Penn State. However, the question now is whether Franklin will honor the scholarship offer tendered by Bill O’Brien. Shortly after being hired, Franklin got several of his Vanderbilt commits to change their allegiance to Penn State, a move that is considered improper.

With the addition of the Vandy recruits, Penn State is now up to 21 commitments and might not have room for Cohen. While Edsall was perturbed that Cohen chose to consider the Nittany Lions, he would no doubt accept the four-star 6-4, 290-pound guard back into the fold since the Terrapins still need offensive lineman in this year’s class.

With Maryland moving into the Big Ten, it is certain that Penn State will become its most bitter rival and the competition between the schools will no doubt carry over to the recruiting trail.

Coaching Changes Hit Staff

Maryland lost three of its top recruiters since the 2013 season ended, as assistants Greg Gattuso, Lee Hull and Tom Brattan all left the program.

Gattuso, a fiery and energetic defensive line coach, was hired as head coach at Albany. Gattuso, who played at Penn State and was previously an assistant at Pittsburgh, had done a good job of recruiting Pennsylvania for Maryland. He helped mold Joe Vellano (New England Patriots) and A.J. Francis (Miami Dolphins) into NFL players.

Hull, the wide receivers coach and one of five African-Americans on the staff, was named head coach at Morgan State. Hull, who recruited New Jersey and Delaware among other areas, was credited with developing Darrius Heyward-Bey and Torrey Smith into NFL draft picks.

Brattan, the veteran offensive line coach who was originally hired by Friedgen in 2001, was unexpectedly fired. Brattan was an older coach, but he had a great personality and was well liked by high school coaches and recruits. He pulled some fine prospects out of Georgia and also handled Virginia.

Maryland has not officially announced any replacements, but multiple media outlets reported that Chad Wilt will take over as defensive line coach. Wilt coached the defensive line and also served as recruiting coordinator at Ball State the past three seasons.

Wilt previously worked at William & Mary, Liberty, Richmond and Virginia, so he has strong ties to that border state that is crucial recruiting territory for the Terps. The 35-year-old is a Pennsylvania native and could replace Gattuso in that border state.

There have also been reports that Maryland has agreed in principle to hire veteran NFL assistant Dave DeGuglielmo as offensive line coach. DeGuglielmo was fired by the New York Jets a year ago after previously working for the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants. The 45-year-old, who has a reputation as a bit of a loose cannon, has not coached in he collegiate ranks since leaving South Carolina for the pros in 2003.

Edsall would be wise to hire a young African-American to replace Hull in order to maintain the staff’s diversity. And the sooner the better, as the dead period for recruiting ends on Jan. 15 and Maryland still has numerous needs to address.

We recently reported that All-American cornerback Jalen Tabor had eliminated Maryland from consideration and planned to choose between Arizona and Alabama. In a bizarre turn of events, Tabor wound up signing with Florida after initially committing to Arizona. Just a few days before he was slated to start taking classes as an early enrollee, the Friendship Collegiate (D.C.) star jilted the Wildcats and pledged to the Gators.

There have been rumors for months that Tabor and fellow four-star prospect Damian Prince were a package deal, so of course the recruiting pundits are predicting the Bishop McNamara offensive tackle will wind up in Gainesville, as well. Prince, who recently moved his announcement date from Feb. 14 to national signing day, has narrowed his list to Florida, South Carolina and Maryland.

Edsall would still like to add another offensive lineman, cornerback and linebacker to this class. He may have found a replacement for Tabor at cornerback as Daniel Ezeagwu of Colonial Forge (Stafford, Va.) has named Maryland and Virginia as finalists and will take official visits to the two schools in successive weekends (Jan. 17 and 24).