Exclusive Q&A: DC Brent Pry
Brent Pry talks coaching at Linebacker U, national championship aspirations
UNIVERSITY PARK: Heading into this sixth season at Penn State, Brent Pry is comfortable leading the Nittany Lion defense.
There’s a sense of familiarity, he said, not only with the community and fan base, but also among the coaching staff. Like a few other coaches, Pry has spent a number of years with James Franklin, going back to their days at Vanderbilt.
That allows the coaches to get to the heart of what matters, and perhaps not coincidentally, the Nittany Lion defense continues to look impressive under Pry’s leadership. Ranked among the best in the country by various outlets, the defense figures to again be a strong point this year as Penn State vies for another season of double-digit wins and a third New Year’s Six bowl appearance in four years.
Get ready for the season by hearing more from Pry in our exclusive Q&A with the defensive coordinator of Linebacker U.
HappyValley.com: Going into your sixth season, what are the advantages of having some longevity at Penn State?
Brent Pry: I just think familiarity; it’s not just being at Penn State, it’s being with James another year, and Spence, Terry, Coach Galt, Ricky, the whole thing. There’s a lot of value in continuity and familiarity. I think you’re able to eliminate some steps and get to the meat of things a little bit better each year, because there’s some things that you know are going to be a certain way already — you don’t need to talk about it, or you don’t need to work through it. I think the familiarity with Penn State, with the fan base, with the University, with the community, for not just me but for my family, there’s a lot of comfort in that. It’s a great place to be.
HappyValley.com: What’s the personal significance for you of being the defensive coordinator at Linebacker U?
Brent Pry: Honestly, you’re busy enough that you probably don’t think about it too much. People will say to me, “Do you ever sit back and think, here you are, a guy from Pennsylvania, and you’re the linebackers coach and coordinator at Penn State, Linebacker U?” I think as soon as I think that, it just compels me to make sure I’m doing everything I can to enhance what’s here and what these guys have accomplished over the years at linebacker, and on defense, to make sure I leave my mark the way I want to leave it. It’s a great sense of pride. You do feel that, you feel that just coaching at Penn State. Whether I’m walking in this building, or I’m walking into a high school, or I’m walking in a clinic to speak, I think there’s a great sense of pride in what Penn State is, everything that happened before we got here, everything that was accomplished; but also the work that we’ve done in our five and a half years, knowing from the inside out the challenges and hurdles, and what we’ve been able to accomplish, and the great kids we’ve been able to bring in and help develop, and being excited about the future.
HappyValley.com: As your coaching career has developed and your coaching style has evolved, how have you learned to get the best out of players?
Brent Pry: I think probably the biggest thing, there’s always growth going on, and there’s still a lot of realization going on for me as a coach. One of the most significant things is when I kind of made a decision that I was going to coach more to their instincts. That as a position coach and a coordinator, play more to what you see these kids want to do, time and time again, on film. Sometimes you’re coaching like crazy to get them to do this and they keep doing something else, well, you’ve got to take a long look at that and say, “Maybe that’s what their instincts are telling them to do.” That’s what you want. You want these kids playing fast, and here I am, going against everything that he wants to do. Can we do it his way, is there a better technique that’s closer aligned to what his instincts are telling him to do? It’s kind of ironic because it’s a game about details, but at the same time, defensively, you just can’t get hung up on all the small things. You coach them and you just have to keep it just vanilla enough that the guys can play hard and fast and physical and fun. I think that’s one of the great challenges for us as coaches, is how we make this thing complicated for the offense and for the quarterback, but simple and fun for our guys. That’s our job, when we sit in that meeting room, where our guys can play fast and with minimal mistakes and have a hell of a time, but the offense is scratching their head, going, “What are they doing, and how are they doing it?” So that’s where my attention is.
HappyValley.com: What does Micah do really well that nobody sees that allows him to be so successful?
Brent Pry: I think his best quality is his competitiveness. He’s got a lot of good qualities, but I think that’s his best quality. He could be on the bench with a broken leg or over a garbage can throwing up, and somebody dials up his number in a big moment, I know where my money is. He’s a competitor, and he finds a way to get it done.
HappyValley.com: Micah said recently that he believes the team will make the playoffs within the next two years. What about this team makes you believe that can happen, or is that thinking too far off?
Brent Pry: That’s what we all want, that’s how we talk about it. That’s what we want. Now, let’s talk about what we have to do to get what we want. We all want to be there. There’s an underlying sentiment that we had opportunities on defense, specifically, to get there last year — to go where we wanted to go, without saying it, last year. An opportunity to close some games out that we didn’t do, so I think they feel like they’re close, regardless of what analysts and commentators say. I think they feel and believe they’re close, so we’re trying to say these are the things we have to do to make up the difference. This is what has to happen. I asked them the other day, “Who in this room has gone to the playoffs? Who in this room has won a national championship?” And nobody can put their hand up. Well, then you have no idea how hard we have to work, and how big the commitment has to be to go where we want to go.
Coach Pry and the Nittany Lions kick off their 2019 schedule on Saturday, August 31 wth a 3:30 kickoff against Idaho at Beaver Stadium. Keep returning to Happy Valley.com, your source for all things Penn State and #HappyValley, all season long for more exclusive coverage of the team, and be sure to check out The Obligatory PSU Pregame Show and The Obligatory PSU Podcast featuring former Penn State and NFL defensive tackle Brandon Noble, campus icon Mike the Mailman, Chris Buchignani, and Kevin Horne.