Matt Limegrover was fired by Tracy Claeys and the Gophers last November, but there were enough signs for Penn State coach James Franklin to believe he could be the right fit for his program.
Limegrover and Nittany Lions offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead both are Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School graduates, so Franklin was hopeful for quick chemistry with the man who would become his offensive line coach.
Former Gophers coach Jerry Kill’s recommendation carried a lot weight, too. Limegrover worked with Kill for 17 years, including 15 years as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
“I have just so much respect for Jerry Kill and his entire career,” Franklin said Tuesday. “I had a conversation with Jerry and how he felt about Matt.”
The history with the Gophers might make Saturday’s Minnesota-Penn State game a bit emotional for Limegrover, who wasn’t made available by Penn State for interviews this week.
“I imagine with Matt being let go, he’d love to do well,” Kill said.
Claeys, formerly the Gophers defensive coordinator under Kill, hired Jay Johnson to run his offense this year after the unit struggled in 2015.
Limegrover recognized the issues his offense was having last year. The Gophers ranked 13th in the Big Ten in scoring offense (22.6 points) and 12th in total offense (357 yards per game) at the time.
“Obviously, we didn’t do as well as we needed to, or I’d still have a job,” Limegrover said last November. “But from a standpoint of being an offensive line coach and being a coordinator, that took a lot out of me. And I got to the point, I didn’t know if I was doing either one particularly well.”
Kill said Limegover approached him during the season about how difficult it was to wear two hats as coordinator and line coach. Kill resigned for health reasons in late October last year before he could make any changes to help his longtime assistant.
“We talked about it before the situation occurred, that he wanted to just coach the offensive line,” Kill said. “I think with as young of a group as was there, and all the things you have to do to coach that position and try to be the coordinator at this point in time was very difficult.”
This week, Claeys and some Gophers offensive players did not talk about added significance playing against Limegrover in Saturday’s Big Ten opener. Franklin said there was a slight advantage to having someone on his staff who knows the Gophers so well.
But what was true in Minnesota has been true with Limegrover in State College, Pa. His passion for working with the guys in the trenches is clear.
Limegrover is overseeing a young line. A redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore will start against the Gophers, and four true freshman are in the mix.
“He’s got a great demeanor, a great temperament,” Franklin said. “He’s really helped our offensive line. We’ve improved. We walked into a tough situation a couple years ago on the offensive line. We’re still young and developing, and Matt’s done a good job building on that.”
A year ago, the Gophers’ firing of Limegrover and quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski came as a surprise. But Kill said Limegrover handled the situation well, which helped him find a great opportunity to continue to do what he loves.
“When he was let go … most guys just go crazy and get negative toward everything,” Kill said. “He was emotional and should have been in the first couple days. But after that, Matt handled himself professionally. He never said a bad word about anybody, and that’s why he got hired at Penn State.”