Perhaps the biggest reason for PSU fans' frustration with Donovan has been his inability or unwillingness to address recurring shortcomings. Despite assembling some good offensive seasons together, the Franklin-Donovan duo has been plagued by some of the same issues for years, going back to their time at Vanderbilt. Third-down efficiency is one of those categories, as no one will be surprised to learn. How many times did we see 3rd-and-9 plays result in a 7 yard pickup the past two seasons? Well, ask a Vandy fan. Donovan's offenses have ranked near the bottom of the FBS in third down efficiency for pretty much the entirety of his career.
Another complaint heard 'round Happy Valley was that, although sanctions have crippled the Nittany Lions' positional depth (both in practice and in games), the Franklin-Donovan connection has not used the talent it received to any sort of acceptable standard. According to official NCAA stats, Penn State, ended the season ranked 108th in total offense. Consider that Penn State boasts likely future NFL draft picks in Hackenberg, Barkley, and Godwin, as well as several of the top tight end recruits in the nation. Consider also that the offensive coordinator was responsible for coaching those tight ends, who have alternated between non-involvement and ineffectiveness through 2014-2015. Sure, sanctions reduce the quality of their practice reps, but Hackenberg, Godwin, Hamilton, and Geno Lewis have all been practicing and playing in games together for multiple seasons at this point. Surely such a talented offensive corps has no business being ranked in the bottom 15% of all FBS offenses?
Now, a lot of people will probably point at Hackenberg and say that his struggles the past two season have greatly hurt the Penn State offense. That's fair. They will also say that "Schemes don't win games, players do," and "Players make plays." Also true. However, I will humbly point out that Hackenberg did make plays. He did win games, sometimes all by himself. Just not with John Donovan.
So, though we may never know what finally led Franklin to trade in his fierce loyalty for cold pragmatism, it is well received in the Nittany nation.
Now begins the process of searching for a new offensive coordinator, and the excitement that comes with it. What type of offense will he run? Will it entice Hackenberg to return for his senior year? Will it be a big name or an unknown?
For myself, several names have been intriguing already. Mike Munchak, for one. A Penn State legend and as good an offensive line coach as one could hope to find, but realistically a long shot to return to Happy Valley. He has a good gig in the NFL right now, Herb Hand is entrenched as the OL coach, and there is the awkwardness of the fact that Munchak would probably have more "star power" in Happy Valley than his head coach.
Another name that interests me, though it is also a long shot, is Charlie Fisher. He served as the quarterbacks coach under Bill O'Brien during a two year stretch that saw him transform Matt McGloin from scrappy scattergun into Burlsworth trophy-winner and coach Hackenberg to Big-10 Freshman of the Year honors. Fisher was also instrumental in recruiting Hackenberg, a 5-star recruit and the top pro-style quarterback in his high school class. Since leaving Penn State, Fisher has been offensive coordinator at the University of Richmond. Yes, the Richmond Spiders who upset JMU on College Gameday. The same Spiders that have become veritable offensive juggernauts since his arrival. This is the one hire that I could see persuading Hackenberg to stay in school for his final season.
More names will be tossed around in the future, and perhaps we will analyze some of them further once a clearer picture develops. These are my two for now; how about you?