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An Unplanned Hire: How Deion Barnes ‘Blew Them All Away’ and Became the Penn State DL Coach

Penn State: Deion Barnes

When Penn State lost its defensive line coach, John Scott Jr., to the Detroit Lions this winter, Deion Barnes’s name immediately came up as one that could replace him.

Some wanted Barnes.

For one, he’s a young guy who played for his now-boss, James Franklin, at Penn State and had established himself as a rising star in the coaching ranks. 

Barnes had already received one promotion in the offseason, going from graduate assistant to defensive analyst, and had a good rapport with Penn State’s players. It didn’t hurt to have one of the leaders from last year’s Rose Bowl-winning team, defensive tackle PJ Mustipher, openly endorse Barnes at the NFL combine. 

Barnes’s progression wasn’t lost on Franklin.

“But, Deion just kept growing,” Franklin told reporters on Day 1 of Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis. “He just kept growing as a coach, as a recruiter, when it comes to scheme and philosophy, when it comes technology, all of it, he was just growing and growing, and he earned a lot of respect from people in the building.”

But some people didn’t want Barnes to get the job. 

After all, Franklin has built his staff on guys already established before coming to Penn State. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz had been the head coach at Miami. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich had been in the same position at Oklahoma State, Texas and Ohio State. Offensive line coach Phil Trautwein had been in the same role at Boston College. 

With Penn State already a good team and not far from being a great one, it would have made sense for Franklin to go with somebody more experienced, a position coach at either the college or NFL levels, to run his defensive line. 

I asked Franklin about Barnes, and he said he initially planned on picking somebody else. 

“I didn’t think I was going to hire him,” Franklin said. “A lot of times in coaching, you view guys; he was a player for me, a graduate assistant for me, and sometimes coaches feel like players have to leave and then come back.

Then the interview happened, and Barnes crushed it.

“We interviewed him, and it was probably one of those interviews where you interview somebody to basically cover your bases,” Franklin said. “We interviewed him and a bunch of established college coaches and a bunch of established NFL coaches, and he blew them all away. He dominated the interview. From that point on, I started looking at Deion as a legit candidate for this position.”

It wasn’t just Franklin who Barnes impressed. 

Diaz was impressed, too. Barnes wanted the job badly and cut his hair to show Franklin how serious he was (Franklin told reporters that Branes would have got the job without cutting his hair. 

Penn State’s coaching searches usually last but a week. This search took two weeks. 

But finally, the night before spring practice, Franklin announced to his team that the new defensive line coach was already in the room. 

The players went wild. 

Of course, we won’t know how good this hire will be for a while. 

We’re still more than a month out from the season. But the offseason is all about recruiting, and Barnes has impressed in that department. 

In a little more than 24 hours, Penn State landed two four-star defensive linemen in Liami Andrews (Brookline, Massachusetts) and T.A. Cunningham (Miami, Florida).

The jury is still out on how far Barnes will go in coaching, but considering that he rose from graduate assistant to defensive line coach in two months, the odds are in his favor. 

“He’s doing great,” Franklin said. “Our players love him. They were behind him 1000 percent. The big question was recruiting. Hadn’t done it, [but] so far, so good. He’s been attacking that and selling why Penn State has been so impactful in his life, and it hits home with a lot of recruits. 

“Deion’s doing well. I am really proud of Deion.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ggVO19BxZ0A&t=13s

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