Connect with us


How Have Former Nittany Lions Fared in the Coaching Ranks?

The Penn State coaching tree continues to get larger each season.



Nittany Lions
Oct 10, 2015; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg (14) signals during the second quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Indiana 29-7. Mandatory Credit: Matthew O'Haren-USA TODAY Sports

What happens to college athletes after their collegiate careers is always a mystery. Some will play professionally, some will pursue careers in their majors, and others will coach their respective sports. Penn State football is alike in what its players will do after their time in State College. Here are five former Nittany Lions who have decided to put on the coach’s headset

Ex-Nittany Lions Bill Belton and Christian Hackenberg Team Up Once Again

Two former Penn State teammates have become high school coaching staff colleagues. Bill Belton and Christian Hackenberg are both coaches at Winslow Township High School in Camden County, New Jersey. 

Belton was a four-star running back in the class of 2011. He finished his Penn State career in 2014 with 2,061 yards and 18 TDsThe most famous touchdown in his career was the two-yard rushing TD in the fourth overtime of a 43-40 victory against Michigan in 2013. 

After a short stint in professional football, Belton returned to his high school alma mater, Winslow Township, as an offensive coordinator and was eventually named head coach. 

Hackenberg was a five-star quarterback from Virginia and was seen as a can’t-miss QB prospect. That was largely true for some time in his Penn State career. 

Hackenberg’s freshman season in 2013, where he threw for 2955 yards with 20 TDs and 10 INTs with Bill O’Brien as head coach, largely contributed to his being drafted by the Jets in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. 

Hackenberg bounced around many NFL teams and even a team in the Alliance of American Football. Now, he serves as the QB coach for his former teammate. 

Matt Rhule

Matt Rhule was born in New York City before his family moved to State College. Rhule went to State College Area High School and then walked on as a linebacker for Penn State. 

Rhule played for the Nittany Lions between 1994-1997. After his time in blue and white, Rhule bounced from program to program, slowly being promoted to more prominent coaching roles. 

His first head coaching job came at Temple, where he coached the Owls from 2013-2016. Temple appeared in the AAC Championship game in 2015 and 2016 and won the school’s first conference championship since 1967 in the latter year.

Rhule took a more significant job when he left Temple for the Baylor Bears. Baylor went 1-11 in 2017, then 7-6 in 2018, then finally 11-3 in 2019. Rhule progressively took Baylor from the bottom of the Big 12 to the conference championship game two years later. 

Rhule’s reputation for program rebuilding was obviously on the mind of Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper when he hired Rhule in 2020. However, Rhule only lasted until the 2022 season, when he was fired. 

Rhule is back to college coaching and is in his first season as the Nebraska Cornhuskers’ head man. 

Al Golden

Another former Temple head coach who played in Happy Valley was Al Golden. 

Golden was a tight end for the Lions from 1989-1991. In his final season, Golden was named a captain for the Nittany Lions. 

After one year in the NFL, Golden began his coaching career. He served as Virginia’s defensive coordinator from 2001-2005. From there, Golden accepted the Temple job.

Golden was the second-youngest head coach in college football when he took the job with the Owls. He took an ACC job when the Miami Hurricanes offered him its head coaching position after the 2010 season. Golden coached the Canes from 2011-2015, when he was eventually fired.

Afterward, Golden served various roles in the NFL before taking Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator job when Marcus Freeman was promoted to head coach in 2022. Golden still serves as the Irish’s DC. 

Billy Fessler

Billy Fessler was a walk-on quarterback for the Nittany Lions between 2014-2017. After his playing career, Fessler became a graduate assistant for Slippery Rock for one year, coaching the running backs. 

Fessler’s former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead became head coach for Mississippi State in 2018. In 2019, Moorhead recognized Fessler’s talent as a coach and named him a graduate assistant for the Bulldogs. 

Fessler then worked as an offensive graduate assistant at Ohio State from 2020-2021. In 2022, Fessler rejoined Moorhead as his QB coach and co-pass game coordinator for Akron, where Moorhead is the head coach. In 2023, Fessler was promoted to offensive coordinator for the Zips. Fessler is tied for the youngest coordinator in the FBS at 27 years old, creating a bright path for the former Lions QB as a head coach.

Thank you for reading Basic Blues Nation. Please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and insights on your favorite Penn State athletics.

For feedback, questions, concerns, or to apply for a writing position, please email us at or direct message us on our social media. It’s due to your support that we can become one of the market’s fastest-growing Penn State sports outlets!

Jersey born and raised. When was the last time you missed a Penn State football game? I don't know either. Let's talk sports. Ravens, Yankees, Penn State everything.


Spinstralia Casino: online pokies real money, real fun! Get in on the action today!