NORFOLK, Va. – Jen Rahne was on a group text last November with her close friends, Amy Pry and Fumi Franklin. And you should know that “close” doesn’t adequately describe their devoted relationships.
They had spent nearly a decade as confidants and constant companions while their husbands coached football, first at Vanderbilt and then at Penn State.
They shared babysitters, vacationed together, helped each other when their kids got sick and did what the wives of college football coaches do everywhere – they bonded in order to make the long days and nights while their husbands were away doing their jobs more palpable.
The group text began a day or so after Thanksgiving. Ricky Rahne had previously stepped down as Penn State’s offensive coordinator to become head coach at Old Dominion and his Monarchs had just won their last five games to become bowl eligible.
James Franklin is, of course, Penn State’s head coach and Brent Pry was his defensive coordinator.
Amy Pry got things going by texting that her husband would be named head coach at Virginia Tech. The text messages started flying back and forth. “I was so happy for Brent and Amy,” Jen Rahne said.
But then it stopped when Amy Pry, texted, “Oh my God, we play you!”
Jen Rahne realized that was true, and not only do Tech and ODU play, they meet in the season opener. The Hokies and Monarchs square off at S.B. Ballard Stadium Friday at 7 on ESPNU.
It will be Brent Pry’s first game as a head coach and the game will attract a ton of national attention, and especially attention in Penn State Nation. When Penn State’s former defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator square off as head coaches, that’s big news in State College, Pennsylvania.
Because both coaches hired liberally from Penn State, many on both staffs not only know each other, they are close friends.
Jen immediately realized the importance of the game, and the mixed feelings that would be involved, and texted; “I need to take a moment.”
When they resumed texting, Fumi texted, “Oh, I’m so there. I’m coming to that game.”
As luck would have it, Penn State plays at Purdue on Thursday night. So Fumi Franklin, along with 22 other coaches wives and family members from Penn State, are indeed coming to Norfolk.
They will be at Ricky and Jen Rahne’s house watching the Nittany Lions Thursday night – Ricky will be with his team.
The next day, the Penn Staters will tailgate with ODU’s coaches’ wives and families in a lot adjacent to the Webb Student Center.
And guess who’s coming to the party?
And that wasn’t always a given.
When Brent Pry and Ricky Rahne appeared at a Norfolk Sports Club forum this summer, Pry said Amy and Jen will “have a heck of a tailgate party.”
Not so fast, Rahne replied. He said that while Jen is a wonderful person, she is also very competitive and likely wouldn’t share her tailgate with a Hokie, not even her good friend Amy.
Ricky came home and mentioned Brent Pry’s comments.
Jen agreed that she was indeed competitive. But she loves Amy Pry. So, she called her and invited her.
Fumi Franklin, Amy Pry and Jen Rahne
“I think so much of her,” Jen said. “If I were to describe her in one word, it would be loyal. She is loyal like nobody’s business.
“That’s why I asked her to come to the tailgate. There aren’t many (opposing coaches’ wives) I would invite to come see us on game day.
“But Amy, she’s special.”
The ties between the head coaches’ wives are strong, but the ties between the two programs also run long and deep. There may not be two FBS programs that share more connections than ODU and Virginia Tech.
ODU special teams coordinator Kevin Smith, wide receivers coach Mark Dupuis and offensive coordinator Kevin Reihner all coached at Penn State with Pry and Rahne. Tight ends coach Justin Harper was a standout for the Hokies from 2004-2007.
Defensive coordinator Blake Seiler and safeties coach Remington Rebstock coached at Kansas State when Franklin and Rahne worked there.
Assistant Director of Operations Tristin Iannone and Aaron Rittgers, assistant director of sports performance, both came with Rahne from Penn State to ODU. Graduate assistant Michael Shuster played at Penn State.
So did standout tight end Zack Kuntz, who was at Penn State for three years before transferring to ODU, where he led the nation’s tight ends in receiving last year.
“I’m still very close with the players there,” he said. “We text quite a lot. They are still my guys.
“I’m also close with a lot of people on Virginia Tech’s staff. Even their equipment manager was our equipment manager at Penn State.”
Tech offensive coordinator Tyler Bowen worked closely with Rahne and Pry at Penn State, as well as Reihner. “He was in my wedding,” Reihner said. “We’re very close.
“I think my wife is happy that we’re playing each other. Our phone calls used to be three hours. We used to talk about football and schemes. Now, we just kind of call each other and ask how the wives are and then there’s a pregnant pause and we hang up.
“My wife gets a lot more time with me.”
Ryder and Ricky Rahne, at left, and Brent Pry, third from the right, before a Penn State game.
Tight ends coach Fontel Mines was ODU’s tight ends coach in 2020, when the Monarchs did not play because of the pandemic, and 2021. In interviews last week, he credited Rahne with giving him the room to grow as a coach.
Perhaps the most well-known member of Tech’s staff among ODU fans is likely Dwight Galt IV, who came to Norfolk from Penn State in 2019 to head the Monarchs’ strength and conditioning program. Greg Allen, his top assistant at ODU, went with him to Blacksburg.
Defensive coordinator Chris Marve worked with Pry and Rahne at Vanderbilt. Associate Athletic Director and Chief of Staff Michael Hazel, Assistant Director for Football Operations Justin Jusznyski, Football Operations Assistant Jake Schell, Equipment Manager Stewart Carter and analyst Jan Johnson Jr., who played linebacker for the Nittany Lions, all came to Blacksburg from State College.
Joe Joe Headen, who starred at defensive back for ODU last season, was recently hired to help Tech’s recruiting efforts.
The final ODU connection at Tech is Executive Associate Director of Athletics John Ballein, second only to Whit Babcock in the Hokies’ athletic department.
Ballein got his master’s degree at the ODU while coaching high school football in Portsmouth and Chesapeake. Because he knew of ODU’s great potential, and because Tech recruited heavily in the Hampton Roads area, he and then coach Frank Beamer agreed in 2012 to begin a series.
Tech signed a three-game deal with ODU that included a game in Norfolk. It was a breakthrough moment for ODU. The Monarchs were still in FCS and were moving up to FBS.
Tech’s willingness to come to Norfolk signaled to other Power 5 schools that ODU was place they should consider visiting. Since then, the Monarchs have hosted North Carolina and North Carolina State and will be hosting Virginia and Wake Forest in future years.
Jen Rahne and Amy Pry
Ballein was Beamer’s right-hand man and his family remains enmeshed with Tech football — his daughter, Jalyn Ballein, is director of on-campus football recruiting.
When he sent a signed contract to Dr. Wood Selig, ODU’s director of athletics, Ballein included a personal check made out to the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation.
“I’ll always be a Hokie,” Ballein said at the time. “But ODU will always be my alma mater.”
Ricky Rahne and Brent Pry carried on a fierce competition in practice when Pry’s defense lined up against Rahne’s offense at Penn State.
“I’m a competitive person and I don’t hold my tongue very well and neither does Brent,” Rahne said.
“And coach Franklin wanted that. Compete is one of our three C’s here (care and character are the others).
“We were going to compete because we wanted our players to compete. If we as coaches weren’t going to compete and show passion, what were the players going to do?”
They managed to put that competitive spirit away off the field.
“We had a great working relationship and a good friendship,” Rahne said.
And while they are close and think a lot of each other, Rahne said their wives are closer.
“Our wives hung out together more than we did,” Rahne said. “We hung out together at retreats or the (national coaches’) convention or some recruiting or travel camp trips.
“But as a football coach, when you get time off, you want to spend it with your family. When we’re working, our wives spent a lot of time together. And as coaches, we work a lot of hours.”
Franklin insisted on Penn State’s football offices being open to families, and Rahne and Pry carried that philosophy with them to Norfolk and Blacksburg. It’s not unsual to see toddlers ambling around the L.R. Hill Sports Complex. Coaches and their wives or girlfriends also often host players for dinner.
The scene in the south end zone at S.B. Ballard Stadium after games last season was touching. Wives, girlfriends and children would flock on the field to be with ODU’s coaches.
Even so, coaches are gone for weeks at a time recruiting and during football season, there are no days off. If your husband coaches for a successful program, he’s often away during Christmas at a bowl game.
Amy Pry is something of an interior designer, so she would direct Christmas decorating at the Franklin and Rahne households.
“My house never looked better,” Jen Rahne said.
Catherine Pry and Jake Rahne
While their husbands were on the road, the Franklin, Rahne and Pry families would pile into their cars and drive to Florida on an extended vacation at a home the Franklins own there.
It is a natural process across the nation for the wives to form a partnership, Amy Pry said.
“You come into a new city, and you don’t know anyone,” she said. “The wives become your support group.
“You have a need for companionship, a need for family. You become family with other wives pretty quickly.
“You’re there for the others when things are bad. They’re there to help you when your children are sick. You need that support when your husband is gone and your mother’s not there.
“Jen and I did so much together. We had babies together.
“We kind of grew up together.”
So did the Pry daughters, Madeline and Catherine, Franklin daughters, Shola and Addison, and Rahne’s two boys, Ryder and Jake. Pry’s son, Colby, is a college freshman.
At one time, Jen and Amy jokingly predicted that Ryder and Madeline would eventually date. But of course, when the Rahnes moved to Norfolk, that talk ended.
Ryder, 13, has changed a lot since moving to Norfolk. He seems to have grown a foot and is now taller than his mother and an outstanding lacrosse player. Jake plays hockey and now that the family is close to Virginia Beach, has taken up surfing.
Yet even as their lives changed, they remain very close with the Franklin and Pry daughters, Jen Rahne said.
“Wives have to be incredibly independent,” Jen Rahne said. “But at the same point, when your husband says ‘We’re leaving,’ you have to say ‘OK, I fully support you. Let’s go.’
“That can be tough on the kids. That’s one of the reasons all of these kids are so close. They understand each other. They know what they’ve all been through. They’ve all moved and had to make new friends.
“My boys understand that the Pry girls are going to start at a new school in September. They were just there.”
Jen Rahne said her husband and Brent Pry did not become really close until they left Vanderbilt for Penn State.
“They were the first guys on the staff to travel there,” she said.
Madeline Pry and Ryder Rahne
“They both took a suit, two pairs of clothes and maybe a set of workout clothes and never came back to Nashville,” she added. “They lived in a hotel, and went to Target and bought all new clothes, and just stayed in their rooms and worked.
“That’s when they became close. They were evaluating every player at Penn State. Day and night.
“I’ll never forget the time they finally left the office and went out to get a beer. They are go-get-a-beer guys, guys you’d like to have a beer with. And they’re in a college town and it took them so long before they went out.
“When it comes to buckling down and getting serious, they do it.”
Pry joked that when he was offered the Tech job, no one told him he would be opening at ODU.
“I hate that we have to square off in the first game,” he said. “But it also makes it fun.
“Ricky’s one of my best friends in coaching. Our wives are very close. You know, we started this thing together with coach Franklin at Vanderbilt and that’s been so very special.
“And I love what Ricky has done at Old Dominion. I was so excited when he got the job at Old Dominion. He’s really turned things around there.”
While at Penn State, Rahne had chances to take jobs at other FBS schools but never considered leaving until ODU approached him.
“I had been on campus and when I did my research, I thought this was a place where we could build something special,” Rahne said. “When there were other openings, coach Franklin had never encouraged me to leave. But he encouraged me to go after the ODU job.”
Rahne has been a great fit in Norfolk. Tall, good-looking and personable, he has worked hard to promote a program whose fan base has dwindled under the weight of three losing seasons in a row, and a fourth in which the Monarchs did not play.
ODU sold more than 12,400 season tickets this season, a 72 percent increase over last season, and the opener with Tech is a few tickets away from selling out.
Rahne also thinks that Pry is the perfect fit at Virginia Tech. Although he was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Pry was raised in Lexington, Virginia, and has that western Virginia drawl that Hokie fans have found endearing.
Pry worked at Virginia Tech for three seasons under Beamer and legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
“I’ve always thought he’d be a great fit there and part of it is his passion for that place,” Rahne said. “No one respects coach Beamer and coach Foster more than he does.
“Not everybody is going to fit in every job. Brent is just a great fit there.”
Amy Pry said her husband speaks of Virginia Tech with reverence.
“If you ask Brent how he feels about Virginia Tech, he swallows hard and starts to tear up a bit,” she said.
“I’ve seen it happen several times. It makes me love him even more.”
Asked to reveal something people might find surprising about Pry, Rahne said it’s his love of the Allman Brothers band.
“He loves his family more than anything,” Rahne said. “I think football is second. I think. But it might be the Allman Brothers.
“I’ve been with him places, when we’ve had a few hours, he’d go visit the grave site of one of the Allman Brothers. It’s a big deal, a major deal in his life.”
Amy Pry said Rahne loves music as much as her husband does, and the ODU coach concedes that’s true. Rahne wasn’t born until after the Beatles broke up, but he is almost as taken with John, Paul, George and Ringo as Pry is with the Allman Brothers.
“But my taste is pretty eclectic,” he said. “I like the Beatles a lot. I always have. But I like Nirvana. I like Punk. I like some country music.
“But I’m not going to act like when I lived in New York City that I didn’t go to some places where John Lennon had been. Yeah, we’ve got that in common. We both like live music. In that sense, we are kindred spirits.”
Jen Rahne said she understands why Brent Pry is a good recruiter.
“Brent is a charmer,” she said. “He’s got a tiny bit of a twang in his voice and when he walks into a room, he makes everyone smile.”
When the Rahne family got ready to leave State College for Norfolk, it was Amy and Brent Pry who hosted their going-away party.
“We felt so fortunate and blessed to have Ricky and Jen in our lives,” Amy said. “They have been amazing to us. We truly want them to be successful. I couldn’t be happier for them.”
Amy Pry said she doesn’t intend to spend a long time at ODU’s tailgate.
“I don’t want to make it awkward,” she said. “I want to go there. I want to hug their necks. I’ll be so excited to see them, and maybe talk a little smack.
“I miss those girls. I miss their faces. It will be awesome and special to get back with them, even if it’s just for an hour. It will be an hour of cherished time because those ladies are so very special.”
Jen Rahne said she is expecting more than 50 people to attend the tailgate. Usually, she and other wives prepare the food. But not this time.
“But I’m having it catered,” she said. “That’s one less thing to do.”
And she’s going to provide ODU attire for the Penn State wives and family members to wear.
“If you’re coming to our tailgate, you’re going to wear ODU gear,” she said.
This is but the first of 10 consecutive games between Tech and ODU, which next year’s game set for Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
“We’re throwing a big tailgate this year,” she said. “But this gets reciprocated next year.
“I told Amy, ‘Next season, I’m coming to your tailgate.’ “
As guys who coached together, and ran similar offenses and defenses, you’d think both sides would be well prepared for what they will face Friday night.
“One thing I’ve been careful not to do is think I can get into Brent’s head and figure out what he’s doing,” Rahne said. “Every year things change, personnel changes.
“Both teams will be making adjustments throughout the game.”
Reihner said that on gameday, the fact that friends will be coaching against each other will be evident in pregame, as they greet each other on the field.
Then it will all quickly be forgotten.
“In this profession, you play against friends all the time,” he said.
“It’s not usually to this extent and that’s certainly a neat layer to the game.
“But at some point, it’s simply going to be just a game.
“We’re not going to be thinking of the guys across the field. That doesn’t enter your mine during a game. All we’re going to be thinking about is trying to beat a very good football team.”