STATE COLLEGE – Veteran Penn State athletic department administrator and assistant coach Fran Ganter is retiring after nearly five decades at his alma mater.
A former player, Ganter also served as an assistant for 33 years under the late coach Joe Paterno. He became offensive coordinator in 1984 and oversaw the offense for the 1986 national title team. Ganter became assistant head coach in 2000 before leaving the sidelines in 2004 to become associate athletic director of football administration.
Ganter was asked to deliver a note to Paterno with the number of a university trustee the night Paterno was fired in November 2011 in the aftermath of retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s arrest on child sex abuse charges.
Ganter in a statement Wednesday called Paterno an “influential and constant figure” in his life.
“He was tough as my coach and demanding as my boss, but was always thoughtful and understanding when it came to my family,” Ganter said of Paterno. He added that his family loved being part of the football program because “Coach Paterno genuinely cared for them and always tried to make them feel that they were an important part of the program – and for that I am eternally grateful.”
Ganter, 64, also thanked fellow coaches, staffers and current coach Bill O’Brien, and singled out his former players. “It was truly a privilege and an honor to be part of their lives,” he said.
O’Brien praised Ganter for helping smooth the transition for the new coaching staff. He said he respected Ganter’s decision to step away so that he could enjoy more time for himself and Ganter’s four sons.
“I am very proud and thankful to have been a member of the Penn State Football family for the past 46 years,” said Ganter, whose last day is today.
Ganter played on the undefeated Penn State teams in 1968 and 1969. He graduated in 1971 and started his assistant coaching career the next fall.
The native of Bethel Park was the only assistant head coach in Paterno’s coaching tenure. Ganter coordinated the 1994 offense, featuring quarterback Kerry Collins and receiver Bobby Engram, that averaged 47.8 points per game – the fourth-highest scoring average in NCAA history.
Ganter is credited with coaching other notable players including running backs and first-round NFL draft picks Curt Warner, Blair Thomas and Larry Johnson, along with kickers Chris and Matt Bahr.
Ganter and Sandusky served on the same staff for years under Paterno, and both assistants at times were considered potential replacements for their boss. Sandusky left after the 1999 season.
Ganter left the coaching staff to become an associate athletic director in early 2004, about two years after his wife, Karen, had died. The responsibilities of the desk job included scheduling and other administrative duties.
He also served as director of the Football Letterman’s Club, a group for former players which raised money for scholarships and supported current players. The athletic department statement included testimonials from eight former players including Collins and Warner.
“Fran was a great teammate, coach and administrator. He had opportunities to leave but was loyal to Penn State and his family,” said former Penn State and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Ham. “He has had a wonderful career and will be very much missed.”