Bill O'Brien

NCAA to reduce scholarship sanctions on Penn State

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Penn State’s — and state lawmakers’ — prolonged fight with the NCAA over historic sanctions levied on the football program is about to bear some fruit.

The NCAA announced Tuesday that, “[d]ue to Penn State University’s continued progress toward ensuring athletics integrity,” its executive committee has agreed to gradually restore scholarships the football program had lost in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. The move to restore scholarships, arguably the most crippling of the sanctions, was based on a recommendation by George Mitchell, who had been hired by the NCAA as an independent “integrity monitor.”.

The original sanctions called for a cap of 15 scholarships beginning in 2013 and running through 2016; the NCAA limit at the FBS level is 15.  Additionally, whereas FBS programs are permitted 85 scholarship players, the Nittany Lions would be allowed just 65.

The new directive from the NCAA, however, will allow Penn State to increase by five its scholarships in 2014, increasing to the full allotment of 25 the following year.  The program will be back up to its full allotment of 85 scholarship players beginning in 2016 — at least two full years ahead of what the original sanctions had called for — after moving to 75 in 2014 and 80 in 2015.

“The decision is the result of a thoughtful and deliberative process to ensure we reached the most appropriate outcome,” said Rita Hartung Cheng, who chaired the recent Executive Committee meetings regarding Senator Mitchell’s annual report and chancellor of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. “During our discussions, we had the benefit of engaging with Senator Mitchell’s expert perspective and the views of our Big Ten colleagues.”

Other sanctions, including a four-year bowl ban and $60 million fine, remain in place, although the press release stated that the NCAA “may consider additional mitigation of the postseason ban in the future depending upon Penn State’s continued progress.”

Even if the bowl ban remains in place, the restoring of scholarships is by far the biggest win for the football program in general and head coach Bill O’Brien specifically.  That specific sanction has crippled O’Brien and his coaching staff on the recruiting trail; the additional scholarships will now allow the program to make bigger inroads in the recruiting game, the lifeblood of any program, and begin scaling back its “run-on” program beginning as early as this recruiting cycle.

O’Brien has been a big part of the progress over the past couple of years as Penn State continues to climb out of the hole created by the Sandusky scandal.  That progress was noted by embattled NCAA president Mark Emmert.

“The goal has always been to ensure the university reinforces clear expectations and a daily mindset within athletics that the highest priority must be placed on educating, nurturing and protecting young people,” said Emmert in a statement. “The Executive Committee’s decision to restore the football scholarships provides additional education opportunities and is an important recognition of Penn State’s progress.”

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett was happy with the NCAA’s decision.

“I am pleased that the NCAA is recognizing the important changes and reforms that the university has undertaken and will continue to make moving forward,” he said.

Vandy swiping San Diego State assistant Osia Lewis

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs stands near the bench area in the second half of  the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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For the first time this offseason, Rocky Long will be forced to fill a hole on his San Diego State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Vanderbilt had hired Osia Lewis away from SDSU. Thursday, school officials confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lewis will indeed be leaving the Aztecs for a job with the Commodores.

Lewis had spent the past five seasons coaching the defensive line with the Aztecs; it’s expected he’ll have similar duties with the Commodores. What’s not expected is for Lewis to have the specific title of line coach as Derek Mason had previously announced the hiring of Oklahoma’s C.J. Ah You for that job.

Not only had Lewis spent the past five seasons with Long at SDSU, but he was also on Long’s staff at New Mexico for five years (2003-07) as well. During Lewis’ time at SDSU, at least one defensive lineman per season earned All-Mountain West honors, the Union-Tribune noted.

Bret Bielema looks to Kansas for Arkansas’ new RBs coach

Samford v Arkansas
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A week after losing his running backs coach to the NFL for the second straight year, Bret Bielema has looked to the Big 12 for yet another replacement.

Arkansas confirmed in a press release Friday night that Reggie Mitchell will replace Jemal Singleton as the Razorbacks’ running backs coach.  Singleton left last weekend for the same job with the Indianapolis Colts.

Mitchell spent the past six season in the same job at Kansas.  The past two seasons, he held the title of recruiting coordinator.

From 1997-2009, Mitchell was an assistant with Big Ten programs, with stops that included Minnesota (1997-98), Michigan State (1999-2004) and Illinois (2005-09).

“I got to know Reggie during my time in the Big Ten and he was known as a dominant recruiter,” said Bielema, “Over his career he’s recruited and developed elite running backs and athletes that had great college careers and advanced to the NFL. I’m excited about the opportunity to have Coach Mitchell join our staff.”

Stanford confirms hiring of Oklahoma D-line coach Diron Reynolds

Stanford coach David Shaw prepares to lead his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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Stanford has officially poached Bob Stoops‘ Oklahoma coaching staff.

Following up on reports from earlier in the week, the Cardinal confirmed in a press release Friday that Diron Reynolds has been added as David Shaw‘s defensive line coach.  The move is a return home of sorts for Reynolds as he served as an assistant defensive line coach for the Cardinal in 2014 before spending one season with the Sooners in 2015.

Reynolds replaces Randy Hart, who announced his retirement three days ago after spending six years at the school.

“We are very excited to have Diron return to Stanford,” said Shaw in a statement. “Not only did he work well with Coach Hart a year ago, he is well-versed in our scheme and brings a unique blend of college and NFL experience.”

In addition to his time at Stanford and Oklahoma, Reynolds served as an assistant line coach with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings from 2007-13. Prior to that, he worked with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-06.

Reynolds’ first job at the collegiate level came at his alma mater, Wake Forest, in 1999-2000. He was the defensive tackles coach at Indiana before moving on to a decade-long stint in the NFL.

Done Knott: Iowa State LB ends injury-plagued career

IOWA CITY, IA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Running back Damon Bullock #5 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dives in front of linebacker Luke Knott #21, of the Iowa State Cyclones, in the first quarter, on September 13, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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Never fully healthy since an initial injury, Luke Knott has decided to hang up his cleats and get on with his post-football life.

Iowa State announced in a press release Friday that Knott will forego his final season of eligibility in the sport because of lingering hip issues.  The linebacker first hurt the joint in 2013, which forced him to undergo his first surgery.  A year later, he was forced to undergo another medical procedure.  In April of last year, he suffered a setback in his battle with the ongoing hip issues.

Despite the surgeries and setbacks, Knott managed to play in all 24 games the past two seasons, starting eight of those contests.  Knott started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 before the initial injury sidelined him after six games.

In 2014, he was third on the team in tackles despite never being 100-percent healthy.

Below is a statement from Knott, followed by one from first-year head coach Matt Campbell:

Obviously, I thought about this a lot. Two years ago when I had my first hip surgery, my first thought was, ‘I’m a 19-year-old kid and I am having hip surgery?’ I made the decision to take it head on, go through rehabilitation and keep playing football. Then I had hip surgery again a year later. That was the first time I thought that football may not be in the best interest for me. I didn’t want to give up football because I didn’t want to walk away from my teammates. I barely made it through last season. You can tell when you watch the film. This is an exciting time for Iowa State and I wanted to be a part something special next year. However, going through the initial workouts, I just didn’t have it in my hip. It’s time start a different career. I have to start thinking long term. I want to be able to run around with my kids, and something like that puts it in perspective. I want to thank Coach Campbell and his staff. They were really understanding and helped ease my mind. They knew my history. This coaching staff knows what they are doing. I told Coach Campbell that the hardest thing for me was to walk away now when I feel we are on the cusp of something great. I already have a job lined up in Kansas City after graduation. Coach Campbell told us to use college football to get a degree and a career, and I felt that I have done that. I want to thank all of my coaches, my teammates and the fans. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time as a Cyclone.”

“I don’t know if anybody loves Iowa State football more than Luke Knott. Luke obviously comes from a great family and a great tradition at Iowa State. You just want to put your arms around a kid like Luke, because here is a guy who was straining and doing everything in his power to play, but his body wouldn’t allow him to play anymore. The thing that I appreciate more than anything is that he has already been a part of the culture change here. He was doing a tremendous job leading our program. I hope Luke stays around us. He’s a special young man and he’s already left a great legacy here at Iowa State because of his commitment to be the best.