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‘His Players Love Him’: 1st-Year Penn State DL Coach Deion Barnes Gets Rave Review From HC James Franklin

By now, the story of Penn State first-year defensive line coach Deion Barnes’s rise up the coaching ladder is well-documented. 

When Penn State won the Rose Bowl in early January, Barnes was a graduate assistant.

By the end of the month, Barnes had a full-time job on Penn State’s staff, becoming the analytics coordinator. Then, things got quite interesting.

Near the end of February word got out that Penn State’s defensive line coach, John Scott, was leaving the Nittany Lions for the NFL’s Detroit Lions, and head coach James Franklin began looking to replace him. 

After a three-week search, Franklin named Barnes the guy in a hire punctuated by a feel-good moment posted to Penn State football’s Twitter account. 

Barnes wanted the job bad, and to show how serious he was, he cut his hair.

Franklin explained to media on Day 1 of last month’s Big Ten media days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis that Barnes would have got the job without cutting his hair. 

But Barnes doesn’t regret that decision. 

“I got tired of the hair,” Barnes told reporters with a smile after Wednesday’s practice at Holuba Hall. “I had it since COVID, COVID’s the only reason I grew it out. I never had long hair like that, I just wanted to see what it looked like. I wanted this job as bad as possible, so anything I could do to make sure that thing happened. Coach (Franklin) never told me to do it. It was something I wanted to do on my own.”

Franklin told reporters in Indy that when he started the coaching search, he didn’t plan on hiring Barnes and gave him an interview mainly as a courtesy. 

But Barnes– who played on Franklin’s first Penn State team in 2014– dominated the interview, and that played a big part in him landing the job. 

He’s had the job for more than five months now.

Rich Scarcella of the Reading Eagle asked Franklin Wednesday how Barnes has handled his first training camp as a full-time coach, and Franklin said he’s handled it well. 

“His players love him,” Franklin said. “He’s very, very, very demanding. He’s very transparent and authentic with them, which I think is important. There’s still some growth that’s happening every day with going from being a GA to a full-time coach at a top 10 program and a Power Five institution. There’s an adjustment period, but he’s handled it extremely well. He’s doing very well.”

Franklin went on to say that he feels Barnes is “probably way ahead of where most people would expect and anticipate (him to be).”

“That’s coaching those guys on the field,” he said. “That’s meeting room expectations. That’s teaching scheme. That’s recruiting.”

Although Barnes’s situation is drastically different now than when he was a GA, he doesn’t feel his coaching style has changed. 

What’s different is that, now, he’s the guy the defensive linemen follow. 

“They (the players) always had the same respect for me when I was a GA,” Barnes said. “They listened to me– it’s just I wasn’t that voice in the room that was the final voice. So, now, they’re going to the beat of my drum. I wouldn’t say it’s really changed that much. It’s just, they understand it’s a different coaching style with me and being demanding on them.”

Barnes went on to expand a bit on his style. 

“It’s about being accountable,” he said. “It’s about giving your all every day. I don’t accept anything less.”

Time will tell what becomes of coach Deion Barnes. 

But right now, the guy who once wore No. 18 for Penn State appears to be a rising star in the profession. 

“He’s doing really well,” Franklin said. “I’m proud of him.”

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