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Penn State Football

‘Pretty Cool to Have him in the Building’: Penn State HC James Franklin, AHC Terry Smith Discuss Bob Palko’s Hiring

Penn State had wanted Bob Palko for several years. 

When Palko, one of western Pennsylvania’s greatest high school football coaches, retired from West Allegheny after the 2018 season, Penn State coach James Franklin reached out, and conversations started about Palko moving to the college level.

It didn’t end up happening right away. 

Instead, Palko returned to the high school ranks and took over Mt. Lebanon’s program, a decision that worked out. 

Palko strengthened his already decorated head-coaching career by winning another WPIAL and state championship with Mt. Lebanon in 2021 and earning the NFL’s Don Shula National High School Coach of the Year, where the league recognized him at the Pro Bowl.

After the following season, Palko resigned. But despite leaving Lebo, Palko made it clear that he had no intentions of walking away from coaching for good. 

It’s uncertain whether Palko will return to high school coaching one day, but for now, he’ll be working in the Big Ten.

Earlier this week, Penn State hired Palko as their director of high school relations. 

According to Penn State’s official job posting, here’s what that position entails.  

  • Assist in getting teams to Penn State Football’s Lion Strong 7on7 and Big Man Challenge Camps.
  • Assist in Penn State Football’s annual clinic for high school coaches from throughout the region.
  • Reach out to 5 High School / Junior College Head Coaches a day.
  • Assist with all Unofficial Visits & Official Visits.
  • Assist with recruiting on gamedays.
  • Serve as staff’s liaison to the Pennsylvania State Football Coaches Association (PSFCA) and assist the group with their annual coaching clinic held locally.
  • Assist the recruiting staff’s efforts with respect to writing, texting and direct messaging high school football coaches to establish a relationship and keep them informed of all events and changes in the football program.
  • Mentor all student-athletes by having a presence at all workouts, practices, and in the training room; meet with student-athletes.

Franklin described it as a “pretty common position” that “I’ve kind of had on my wishlist for a long time.”

Considering Palko’s won nine WPIAL championships– eight with West Allegheny, another with Mt. Lebanon– and a state title with each school, it’s fair to say he’s qualified.

Franklin had wanted to bring Palko on board for a while, and Palko decided he was ready to make a move. 

“In a lot of ways, that worked out perfect,” Franklin told reporters at Penn State’s coaches’ media availability in the Lasch Building Thursday. “In some ways, this is kind of a retirement job, the way we have it structured and set up.” 

Franklin described Palko as “a guy that understands the game” and “most importantly, understands young men.”

“He’s won, I think, nine WPIAL championships, two state championships, was national coach of the year, was part of the Army All-American Game for 12 years, so he knows other high-profile coaches throughout the country,” Franklin said.

Franklin’s known Palko for a while through recruiting and was impressed by the environment that he created within his teams. 

“Whenever I went into his high school, I liked going into his high school,” Franklin said. “He was organized. He was fun. He loved the kids. He had passion for the sport and for the game. And I’d leave every time saying, ‘God, if we ever had an opportunity, I’d love to get that guy on our staff.'” 

The process of getting Palko to Penn State following his resignation from Mt. Lebanon was a short one. 

“It kind of moved fast,” Franklin said. “I called him and offered him the job. He said he was coming. I said, ‘You have to talk to your wife.’ He said, ‘No, we’re coming.’ Which is what you want, you know.”

Penn State’s associate head coach, Terry Smith, had a role in getting Palko to Penn State.

Smith has been coaching at his alma mater since Franklin took over in 2014.

Before that, he, like Palko, was a head coach in the WPIAL, running Gateway’s program from 2002-2012 while Palko was at West Allegheny.

Smith told reporters Palko would be a “tremendous resource and asset” for Penn State.

“I’ve known Bob for, shoot, forever,” Smith said. “He’s been around. He’s been a great coach in the area. Legendary. If you’re from western PA, you will clearly know who he is. We’ve had a great relationship. I was part of him coming here. We’ve had several talks, and this has been ongoing for a few years, too.”

Smith also said Palko has a “championship-caliber mindset” that will help Penn State recruit western Pennsylvania’s top high school talent. 

“He’s dealt with all types of positions and people, and we’re just excited to have him here,” Smith said. It strengthens us in the state of Pennsylvania.”

“We’re going to tap into his mindset, his championship mindset, and just bring out all the good things that he’s done all over his course of years.”

Now that Penn State has Palko on board, Franklin said it’s “pretty cool to have him in the building.” 

“I think he’ll be a really good resource for our players in a lot of different ways,” Franklin said. “He’s going to be a guy that’s around going to be around our players 18 hours a day.”

Palko not coming to Penn State in 2019 and instead going to Mt. Lebanon, where he added another district and state championship, ended up being the right call. 

Now, Palko’s coming to Happy Valley, and Smith is delighted. 

“It’s finally the right time for him, and we’re just happy to have him here,” he said.  

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