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‘You Felt his Passion for Penn State’: HC James Franklin Explains Hiring Deion Barnes

Penn State: Deion Barnes

Penn State coach James Franklin spent 6:23 of his press conference on the first day of spring practice Tuesday answering a two-part question about Deion Barnes. 

Penn State fans and former players have been gushing about Barnes for a lot longer than 6:23.

Barnes, a former letterman for Franklin at Penn State, joined his old coach’s staff before the 2020 season as a graduate assistant and stayed in that role through 2022.

In January, he was promoted to analyst.

Then, in late last month, defensive line coach John Scott Jr. left Penn State for the Detroit Lions.

Almost immediately after Scott left, fans began pushing for Barnes to get the job.

Former DT PJ Mustipher vouched for Barnes as well.

Now, Franklin has been known to hire assistants from the outside.

He hired his offensive coordinator, Mike Yurcich, from Texas after the 2020 season.

He hired defensive coordinator, Manny Diaz, after Diaz’s tenure as the University of Miami’s head coach ended uncerimonisouly in December 2021.

As for position coaches, well, Franklin has mainly hired from the outside, too. Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein came from Boston College. Safeties coach Anthony Poindexter came from Purdue.

Cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, a Penn State letterman, came from elsewhere, too. Franklin hired Smith away from Temple ahead of starting his head coaching journey at Penn State in 2014.

But Franklin doesn’t have a problem with promoting from within. He showed that after the 2020 season, when he promoted Ty Howle from offensive analyst to tight ends coach, and he showed it again earlier this week when he promoted Deion Barnes from analyst to defensive line coach.

“You could make arguments both ways,” Franklin told reporters, “But I was very impressed with Deion and how he interviewed.”

There are a lot of things that impress Franklin and seemingly everybody else about Barnes.

The list ranges from Barnes’ ability to related to players, to his experience as a trainer in Philadelphia and at Northeast High School, to Branes, just 30, finishing up his Masters Degree.

Penn State’s search for Scott’s replacement lasted a little under two weeks. In that time, Penn State interviewed many. Some came from college, some from the NFL. Some were legitimately being considered and others were being interviewed more to see if that person could be an option for a job down the road.

Barnes being a Penn State letterman didn’t hurt, either.

Like Howle, Barnes played at Penn State in the 2010s and eventually found his way to Franklin’s staff after his playing career ended.

Unlike Howle, Barnes played for the man that’s now his boss. Howle played at Penn State from 2009-13, so his PSU career ended right before Franklin’s tenure started. Barnes didn’t spend a lot of his college career playing for Franklin, but he was one of the best players on Franklin’s first team in 2014.

Under Franklin and first-year defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, Barnes had a breakout senior season. He went to the NFL after racking up 44 tackles (21 solo), 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks.

He went un-drafted in 2015 NFL and spent time with the New York Jets and Kansas Chiefs— also  playing with the AAF’s San Antonio Commanders— before going into coaching.

It took longer than some expected, but eventually, Franklin and Diaz decided Barnes was the right guy.

“Although Deion is a letterman and although the players and former players felt strongly about me hiring Deion, ultimately, I had to hire the right person,” Franklin said. “If that ended up being Deion, then great. It’s a win on a lot of different levels. But I needed to make sure of that. Throughout that process, it just became more and more obvious that this was the right thing to do.”

Many who follow the program that the search was taking forever and were concerned that Penn State was going to start spring ball without a full-time defensive line coach.

Franklin explained the wait.

“First of all, it depends on your lens, right?” Franklin said. “Long. Some people go a long time (without hiring a coach), we’re usually able to move quickly. But the length of it, I was hoping to be able to get done before spring break. Then I didn’t feel like it was a rush to do it because my plan was to do it in person when we got back, either Sunday or Monday.”

Franklin referenced Barnes coaching and playing for quality defensive line coaches, and also referenced the two defensive coordinators Branes coached under at Penn State.

Deion Barnes loves Penn State and loves coaching, and Franklin said that love came through when Barnes interviewed for the job.

“You felt,” Franklin said. “Not only did you hear it, but you felt his passion for coaching d-line. You felt his passion for Penn State, and you felt his passion for this specific group of defensive linemen that he has a relationship with. So it was kind of all of that. It was all of that.”

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