Penn State head coach James Franklin likes to say he is constantly evaluating the football program, and he repeated it after Saturday's one-sided loss to Michigan State, another game in which the offense struggled to score.
"We're evaluating every single day," Franklin said. "The evaluation will happen between now and the bowl and then after the bowl."
Evidently, it didn't take long for Franklin to evaluate an offense that has been one of the worst in the nation during his two years at Penn State. He took a huge step toward change in that area Sunday by firing offensive coordinator John Donovan.
Donovan had been offensive coordinator in Franklin's five seasons as a head coach - three at Vanderbilt and two at Penn State. He also worked on the Maryland coaching staff from 2008 through 2010 with Franklin, who was offensive coordinator in those three seasons.
"I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in over the last five years," Franklin said in a statement. "I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future."
Penn State football spokeswoman Kris Peterson said Franklin would not be available for further comment. Donovan could not be reached.
Franklin said a "national search" would begin for a new offensive coordinator, but it is not known whether one will be hired before Penn State's bowl game. Franklin and offensive line coach Herb Hand, who was offensive coordinator at Tulsa, have past experience in the job.
Franklin has a history of loyalty to his assistants, nearly all of whom followed him from Vanderbilt when he was hired to succeed Bill O'Brien on Jan. 11, 2014. Thus the move to terminate Donovan, and especially doing so less than 24 hours after the 55-14 defeat at Michigan State, was somewhat unexpected.
Donovan, who began his coaching career at Villanova in 1997, never could put a spark in a dull Penn State offense despite the presence of quarterback Christian Hackenberg, considered a high NFL draft choice if he decides to leave school early.
This season, freshman running back Saquon Barkley has reached the 1,000-yard rushing mark and sophomore wide receiver Chris Godwin needs 32 yards to reach 1,000. Yet the Lions have struggled to move the football and score, with problems along the offensive line and at Donovan's position group, tight ends.
In finishing the regular season with a 7-5 record, Penn State ranked 101st in FBS in scoring (23.7 points per game), 106th in rushing (136.3 yards per game), 82d in passing (208.9 yards per game), and 108th in total offense (344.3 yards per game). In addition, the team was 125th - out of 127 FBS teams - in third-down conversions (28.1 percent).
The offensive struggles made Donovan a popular target of critics on social media. In his only availability of the season with reporters on Oct. 15, Donovan said he does not pay attention to critics and that "I couldn't tell you" if the criticism had been fair.
"I stay in my bubble here," he said from his office. "I try to worry about, week to week, who we're playing. I don't want to get involved in anything that could be a distraction to the kids or to us. So I just do what I do."