UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — At the heart of every relationship lies trust, respect and a love for one another, and that even extends to college football coaching staffs, such as the one at Penn State.
For Penn State coach James Franklin and his defensive coordinator, Brent Pry, that statement couldn’t be more true. The two have an intermingled past that goes beyond the field of play or the meeting rooms in the facility.
Pry got his start in coaching at East Stroudsburg — Franklin’s alma mater — while his current boss was learning under his father Jim Pry, who was the offensive coordinator for the Warriors at the time. As a result, a friendship was formed, and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I go way back with Brent,” Franklin said after Saturday’s game against Maryland. “His dad was my college coach. Me and Brent were just two young guys running around trying to figure it out.”
Their bond — first as friends and now as co-workers — has helped develop quite a partnership that has seen Pry spend the last eight years as a member of Franklin’s staff at both Vanderbilt and Penn State.
“Brent has been phenomenal,” Franklin said. “He’s been fiercely loyal, and I’m fiercely loyal to him.”
It hasn’t been easy to keep the couple together as Pry has been a front-runner for multiple head coaching vacancies, most notably Louisiana-Lafayette, this past off-season. That loyalty has kept Pry at Penn State and with Franklin for the time being. However, it remains to be seen how much longer he will be calling the defense for the Nittany Lions as teams with head coach openings come calling.
Until then, Pry is still commanding a defensive unit that was riddled with pre-season retirements and a plethora of question marks as the season began. Since the season began, those question marks at defensive tackle and linebacker have been answered and then some.
At defensive tackle, Robert Windsor and Kevin Givens have been big, and Yetur Gross-Matos and Shareef Miller have dominated from the outside. Freshman linebacker Micah Parsons has been a bright spot on an otherwise so-so set of inexperienced linebackers.
All things considered, the defense has continuously gotten better in large part because of growth among those on the defensive side of the ball, but also as a result of Franklin’s trust in Pry.
Franklin easily could have made a change or adjustment when Pry’s unit gave up 38 to Appalachian State in the season opener or when they gave up 42 against Michigan just a few weeks ago. Instead of making a change, Franklin stayed the course, and it has worked to the tune of the defense giving up an average of 6.7 points per game over the last three games.
Granted, Penn State has played Wisconsin, Rutgers and Maryland in those three games, but it speaks volumes in the trust the two have in each other to right the ship and show improvement.
“I think our defense probably as much as any unit just kept getting better. We came into the season with a lot of question marks on that side of the ball, at linebacker and at defensive tackle,” Franklin said. “We kind of just kept getting better.”
The Nittany Lions will be playing in a bowl game and have been playing the best football of the season thanks in large part to the job Pry has done. His staff as a whole have developed a young Penn State defense into what could possibly be a top-tier defense in the Big Ten should they stay healthy.
“That whole defensive staff lead by Brent Pry has been fantastic. These guys mean a lot to me, more than just coaches but part of my family,” Franklin said.
Having the trust in your coaches and your team goes a long way, as Franklin and company have demonstrated time and time again. And as long as Franklin and Pry are working together, the Nittany Lions defense should be just fine.