He Ain’t Gonna Sell Out the Akron Game!

by Ben Goldfarb on January 12, 2014

in Penn State Football

James Franklin hit the ground in State College with both wheels running, promising to sell out Beaver Stadium for every home game and stating that he would even blow up balloons at kids’ birthday parties. While these promises seem a bit hyperbolic, Franklin’s debut media meetup was nonetheless singularly impressive. Exuding self-assurance bordering on cockiness, he took command of the room and did not falter on a single question. He answered most directly and with confidence, and those he chose not to answer, he waltzed around like a career politician.

It was his penchant for the latter that inspired “my friend” Davy Jones of the Patriot-News to write the following:

“To be specific, it’s pretty clear James Franklin is full of crap. But a lot of that is in a good way.”

Jones went on to describe a 441 word Franklin arabesque around a delicate subject that he didn’t want to address in front of a room full of hungry media hounds. Later, Jones wrote:

“Remember how O’Brien just wanted to be a football coach and had very little use for the rest of the happy horse crap? I actually liked that about him. He was genuine to the core.

“Well, it’s possible to like the 180-degree opposite, too. And maybe that’s what Penn State needs at this juncture.

“Franklin likes to talk. He likes to play the game outside the lines as much as the one between them. But from all the guys around the country I know who’ve dealt with him, I haven’t heard one say he’s not genuine. He really loves all of it. He just needs a 36-hour day and 10-day weeks.

“He is perfectly willing to take on every job description of Penn State football coach that anyone wants to lay on him. That seems to include peacemaker.”

Yeah, like the ever cynical Jones, I like this guy. Straight talk mixed with bullshit — a man after my own heart.

Remember what I told you about large universities being hotbeds of political intrigue (from personal experience) and that the head coaching position sits right on top of that powder keg, requiring someone who knows how to deal with the petty exercise of power that frequently tears universities apart? Unlike O’Brien, this guy appears to be equipped to handle it. He’s going to take everybody out to lunch to get to know them (another inflated promise, but indicative of a uniting spirit). Describing himself as “a college guy through and through”, he will make time for the politics.

One of my favorite barbs directed at academia: “In acadème, the fights are so vicious because the stakes are so small.”

Anyone who occupies as highly visible a position as head football coach in a university that remains in denial about its dominant culture of football is going to have to surmount this petty bullshit. He can be aloof to it like O’Brien and let it grind him into the ground, or he can acknowledge it and relish taking on the role of uniter, as Franklin appears to want to do. While this crap almost never comes up in casual fan debate about coaching candidates and in football blogs like this (except when I feel like it), it must be a major consideration.

With O’Brien, the times were different. First of all, Penn State football was on the verge of extinction, with no one knowing quite what form its NCAA punishment would take. Who would take a job under those circumstances? The BoT was at war, the “Paterno People” were screaming bloody murder about the statue and the firing, and everything else was up in the air. The University found a guy with brass balls willing to brave the fetid miasma who could manhandle the football program; however, never having been a head coach, O’Brien faltered on the finer points of university politics, which can be as raw and bloody as the Saturday battles in the trenches.

This is why hiring anyone who hasn’t been the point man in that sort of situation is a major crap shoot. You don’t want an “earn while you learn” guy getting his feet wet in a top-tier program and quickly realizing that he’s in over his head. He needs to get his baptismal of fire elsewhere, where he can establish a proven, politically propitious track record beforehand. This is why Larry Johnson, “Scrap” Bradley, and yes, even Bill O’Brien were unsuitable candidates. Assistant coaches are shielded from most of the political crapola.

I think Franklin knows how to play this game, and I think he even relishes the pressure it will bring to bear upon him. This is crucial to his success and that of the football program at Penn State.

Nobody is going to make the “Paterno People” happy until they get their statue back and their wins reinstated. Probably not even then. They still seem to want their pound of flesh. However, Franklin, who showed due deference to the Legend of St. Joe throughout his press conference, will try to heal some of the wounds. He won’t shy away from it. By facing the undercurrent squarely, I hope that he can put this divisiveness behind us. It is certainly time. Once removed coachwise from the seaminess, it is unfair to put the new guy in the middle of this passé and sometimes puerile debate. We need to look forward, not back.

Someone asked Franklin about hiring Vanderlinden and Johnson. He waffled, as indeed he should have. Hell, he ain’t going to hire Ron Vanderlinden, you idiot! He worked for the guy at UMd! When does that ever work out? It’s one thing to be elevated to boss from being one of the boys, but for the boss to wind up working for one of the boys is almost unheard of. As for LJ, he’s a good guy caught in an unfortunate squeeze. Franklin must assemble his own team and make the program his own. He broke off talks with the University of Texas when it became clear that the “good old boys” there wanted him to keep four of Mack Brown’s assistants on the staff. I still have the feeling that LJ and Vanderlinden were compromises forced upon O’Brien in a similar manner, in Penn State’s case to assuage fears that the program would deviate from Paternoland completely and lose many fans in the process. Again, the time for that kind of concession has passed. Sentimental reasons be damned — Franklin gets to hire the guys he must manage. We need new ideas, not ties to the past. Sorry, nostalgia buffs, but I’m hoping that a new broom sweeps clean. Let’s hope that the administration gives this guy free rein and attaches no strings.

I think they will and they have. Joyner seems to have learned from his mistakes with O’Brien and he seems to have grown a pair. He and Erickson are also probably lame ducks, so they have more freedom to make ballsy decisions. This was a good one, bought at an unprecedented price for Penn State: $4.5 million per year for six years, plus or minus, with additional bonuses.

Perhaps, Franklin has the vision, the political presence, and the can-do spirit that it takes to convince LJ to take on a recruiting position if he replaces him as defensive line coach — not as an appeasement or a make work position, but because he believes that a net benefit will accrue to him and to the program if he keeps Larry around. It’s his decision. It better be.

There is even an Irish connection for those who lament that the Croke Classic next year won’t be O’Leary vs. O’Brien. Franklin’s military dad married his mom while in England and had a honeymoon in Ireland. Thus, Franklin might well have been conceived on Irish soil.

I have good, optimistic feelings about Franklin and where this whole program is heading. Time to heal. Time to “get over it”.

But unless he decides to commit a healthy chunk of that big, fat salary to purchasing 10,000 tickets, he ain’t gonna sell out the Akron game!

K. John January 12, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Personally, I don’t think there is any such thing as Paterno People or Joebots. There are only Penn Staters and in my experience the overwhelming majority of them have similar views of Paterno and his legacy. Some are more vocal than others to be sure. It is more important to some than others but make no mistake, most of them feel similarly. How similar you ask? I know a broad range of faculty, students and alumni that number in the hundreds. How broad? Broad enough that if you wanted to do scientific polling, I think they would be fairly representative of the University Community. Penn Staters are pretty well united in their views of the board, Paterno and the NCAA. And guess what, you are right, they won’t be satisfied until the statue is returned, the wins are restored and the sanctions are removed.

Based on what you have said, I think you are in the extreme minority but not in the essentially non-existent minority that supports the board and its puppet in Old Main but in the minority nonetheless. I don’t see any of conflict others see among Penn Staters because most of them feel the same way give or a take a standard deviation. The removal of the statue and the wins have become a symbol for most Penn Staters, the sooner the administration realizes this the better for everyone. The sooner they embrace the past the better. That is about all I have to say regarding the Paterno People, Joebots or whatever derogatory nickname some wish to refer to the overwhelming majority of students and alumni as.

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 1:11 pm

How do you extrapolate the notion that I “support the board and its puppet in Old Main” from what I wrote? Just because you disagree with me about overemphasizing St. Joe’s legacy and the disproportionate amount of time and effort being devoted to its restoration doesn’t mean I’m in blanket agreement with the BoT.

Perhaps the majority is of the PS4RS persuasion, but I view football as recreation and entertainment, which certainly takes a backseat to the mission of the university. After all, we have all agreed that there is no dominant culture of football at Penn State.

—TNT

K. John January 12, 2014 at 1:25 pm

I did not say you supported the administration. I said, “…I think you are in the extreme minority BUT NOT in the essentially non-existent minority that supportsthe board and its puppet in Old Main…”. By extreme I mean much smaller than majority. I in no way think you support the administration. I think that you, like myself straddle the fence between the majority and the minority. I just think that expecting the majority to simply move on at this point is foolish. The Board, Freeh and the NCAA have made that impossible.

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 1:33 pm

The only legacy issues I see as important moving forward are the remaining sanctions. They impact the program directly, and with the NCAA having shown some willingness to abate, further concessions are worth pursuing.

Franklin has at least paid lip service to “success with honor” and in that connection, he should make all Penn Staters happy. That’s what we’re all about.

—TNT

Joe January 12, 2014 at 12:33 pm

First of all fuck David Jones. Yes the question needed to be asked and it was and it was answered with a response that had been rehearsed for a few hours before the presser, but he said all the right things. So for now done. I made the mistake of watching Flounders and Jones’ post-presser commentary and if there ever was a reason for the downfall of the media and journalism today, these two would be the poster boys!

Sure there was a some stuff that he “promised” that would be, if they happened, be the equivalent of the loaves and fishes, but he truly did “win” his first meeting with the PS populace. Everything I’m seeing today from outside the PS community borders on rave reviews. Andy Reid, Bill Snyder, Kirk Herbstreit, and numerous others are touting what a catch he is for PS. Even the PS4RS BoT members are on board the bus with his hire.

And I do agree with you that where OB just wanted to be the football coach, Franklin seems willing to embrace the entire bear! It’s time and it will be a tough row to hoe, but he seems willing to walk into the maelstrom.

I saw he’s announced some of his staff that will be leaving Vandy. Don’t know much about these guys, but I think the big one is the S&C coach, Dwight Galt who Fitzgerald worked under at Maryland and apparently was Fitz’s mentor. Incidentally, Galt’s kid was an assistant under Fitz and is headed to Houston, so getting a quality coach in this position was a big deal.

http://www.statecollege.com/news/local-news/penn-state-football-franklin-to-bring-four-key-assistants-from-vanderbilt,1438846/

I think LJ is a 60-40 to stay. Looks like there is some room in the organization for him, most likely at DL coach if he wants to stay. Strollo is most likely gone as Franklin is bringing his TE coach. I agree with your logic on Vanderlinden, but who knows what their relationship is/was or what got Vanderlinden fired (or should I say caused him to resign) in the first place.

So on first blush after watching the presser, I was impressed. Although based on the previous occupants of the PS HC office, his exuberance is going to take a little getting used to in the near term.

And I like the way he said that PS was Pennsylvania’s school-too bad Pitt; too bad Temple. Loved it!

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 1:28 pm

Yeah, the dismissal of Pitt as a tacit regional school was classic. Franklin doesn’t mind ruffling a few feathers by making arrogant assertions, that’s for sure! And I love it.

You think I’m queer for Davy Jones, but I’m not. Even if I was gay, I’d have better taste than that. (But I think I’d also have slim pickings elsewhere in the PSU beat press corps.) I lazily used Jones’ diatribe to introduce my points and also because it is rare for a columnist in a traditional newspaper to declare someone “full of crap.” You see, those were the exact words that ran through my mind listening to Franklin, particularly when he said he would turn down no speaking engagements including the balloons in the backyard bit and when he asserted that he would sell out Beaver Stadium for every game.

Don’t get me wrong. I like the guy and I think he’s just what this program needs to move it firmly and decisively into the post-Paterno era. We got him at the right time. Spent big bucks on him. He better put his money where his mouth is.

I saw a tweet by a bozo citing “sources” that said Vanderlinden would be interested in coming back. I saw another tweet that comically suggested that “sources” need to take a vacation soon.

The LJ situation needs to be handled delicately, but quickly. There will be some negativity for Franklin to overcome if he lets LJ get away, but when I see the “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” look in his eyes, I know that he’s up to the task of uncompromisingly being his own man. And if LJ don’t fit, he must acquit.

I’ve been tuning into the coaching and recruiting commits. Things are moving along well.

Sorry about your experience with Flounders and Jones! It must have been torture, given that it involved not only those two clowns but also Audrey’s hand-held, non-HD camera and streaming feed. The BTN’s feed was HD with decent audio — and they used a tripod!

Exciting times for all!

—TNT

Joe January 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Also saw that O’Connor (QB from Florida) is now all-in and will be in class tomorrow. I guess it helps that he was recruited by Vanderbilt.

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 6:35 pm

He shoots, he scooooooooorrrrrrrrrrres!

—TNT

K. John January 12, 2014 at 1:31 pm

I for one think LJ is staying in one fashion or another. He is simply the best defensive line coach in the country. That is why O’Brien kept him. That is why I think Franklin will try to keep him. That is also why I think he tries to bring Vanderlinden back into the fold and retain Mac. I wouldn’t be shocked if he reached out to Charlie Fisher who I’m told is still in the area.

Joe January 12, 2014 at 6:29 pm

I doubt Vanderlinden will be back. I saw that Brent Pry is one of the coaches coming along with Franklin. From BSD:

“Pry was one of Franklin’s top deputies at Vanderbilt, serving as assistant head coach, and co-defensive coordinator in addition to linebackers coach. A coach-of-all-trades, in his previous coaching stints, Pry had also worked with defensive backs, linebackers, and linemen and special teams units. As previously mentioned, the Altoona native last week turned down the head coaching job at Georgia Southern, where he coached in 2010. His hire likely closes the book on Ron Vanderlinden’s potential return to Penn State.”

I really think the only one that has a remote chance is LJ, but I’m thinking that gets slimmer every hour that goes by. Remember Franklin is a pretty good recruiter in LJ’s Virginia, Maryland & DC area, so there may not be that big of a loss there. And Vanderbilt’s defense was pretty good the last couple of years. OC is the position I’m most interested in as the guy they have today has not produced results over the past two seasons.

I think Mac is just sticking around to help out LJ, but I think he was only prepared to commit to OB for a couple of years when he came on staff. I think retirement beckons.

I’m also hoping we don’t end up with a pure transplant of the current Vanderbilt staff (I would prefer a little diversity of experience), but that may not be the case.

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm

I hope to hell it is the case that Franklin brings in a non-Vandy OC. As you said, the defense there was pretty good over the past couple of years. The offense never gets a mention. If Franklin doesn’t realize that he needs to do better for an OC, particularly with a potential NFL QB (ahhh, the hyperbole), then he isn’t the astute judge of personnel we hope he will be.

I agree with you about Mac. I think he was on the verge of retirement when O’Brien tapped him, and he’ll probably be in the wind soon.

I’m inclined to agree about LJ, too. If he’s retained, it will be more for his recruiting and his team relations than for his position coaching. However, Franklin seems to want to be deeply involved in recruiting, and he wants to the the daddy to the team, a position presently occupied by LJ. I have no doubts that LJ is a superb defensive line coach (not THE BEST, as K. John keeps asserting — how the hell do you objectively gauge that he’s the best of 120 such guys — but a damn good one). Still, Franklin won’t be able to keep LJ if he has someone else in mind for the coaching part of the job, which is damn well his prerogative, and he really won’t need him to hang around for recruiting if Franklin himself supplants that function. Thus, I have to say that I’m stuck on the notion of dwindling hope for LJ and his big fans.

—TNT

K. John January 14, 2014 at 6:30 am

Looks like LJ was offered the position and declined. I just hope the rumors of him heading west a few hundred miles are not true. He is a great recruiter playing by Joe’s rules, can’t imagine who good he would be playing by Urban Meyer’s rules, or lack there of. And yes Turkey, he is the best. He is at or near the top of every metric I can think of. If you don’t think he is the best, name a better one.

The Nittany Turkey January 14, 2014 at 7:20 am

I’ll stipulate to LJ being the best in your mind, and that’s all that counts. In my mind, he’s very good. I can’t apply a superlative to anyone without specific performance criteria, concrete measurement, and a comprehensive knowledge of the field — and that’s the whole nine proverbial yards. No, I can’t and won’t name someone better, but that doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t exist. In summary, I declare your assertion barroom bullshit, but let that not detract from the fact that I respect LJ and wish him well.

I’ll write separately about LJ. Sorry to see him go, but I think he did what was best for him after careful consideration.

—TNT

K. Joyn January 14, 2014 at 8:04 am

I would offer a few metrics.

Scouting
Recruiting
Quality of play
Dealing with player turnover
Pushing players to the next level

I can’t think of a single defensive line coach that rates highly in every metric.

The Nittany Turkey January 14, 2014 at 8:18 am

Apparently, Urbz subscribes to your newsletter.

Come on, those are all subjective “metrics” for which actual measurement is impossible. One man’s word against the next. As usual, your opinion versus mine, only I’m right in this case because no yardstick exists. I’m safe in asserting that he’s very good, but your assertion that he is the best is indefensible and eminently assailable.

In my mind, Larry COULD be the best, but there is NFW of knowing that he actually IS the best. No way.

I hope you’re not a lawyer, because if you employ arguments like that in court, you’re not likely to win cases.

Take a few years off to develop a bullshit statistic like baseball’s wins above replacement or something, willya? Then we STILL won’t know who’s best.

—TNT

K. John January 17, 2014 at 10:19 am

Actually, I would disagree, strongly. I think you can measure all of those factors. Just because something is qualitative does not mean it is entirely subjective. I happen to be a statistician and I have a great deal of experience with qualitative metrics.

I would love to take a few years off and develop some meaningful statistical methods for football and get paid for it.

The Nittany Turkey January 17, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Yes, you would.

Not entirely subjective? Even a fraction of a scintilla of subjectiveness transmutes a fact into a supposition. Put that in your student’s t-distribution and smoke it!

I never made it past Stat 101 but I do know that representing opinion as fact is the province of the partisan fan, so I congratulate you on your loyalty and understand completely how you can apply superlatives to a prince of a guy like LJ. He still deserves to be LIONized in our hearts and minds!

Good luck with the meaningful stat methods for football! As you can tell, I think Wins Above Replacement is complete and unmitigated bullshit for baseball.

—TNT

Joe January 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Well, a 4 star DE and a 3 star OL have just switched their commitments from Vanderbilt to PS. Let the wailing and gnashing of teeth in Nashville begin!

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 1:13 pm

You know, most of the tweets I’ve seen from Nashville are very supportive of Franklin and his new venture. That shows me a lot of class. Many of “ours” similarly wished O’Brien well when he took the Texans job. I get the feeling that Penn Staters and Vanderbiltians tend to have a lot more class than the average Joe (no pun intended).

—TNT

Joe January 12, 2014 at 6:19 pm

Tweets maybe, but don’t go to the Vandy SB Nation blog (Anchor of Gold)-most have been pretty vicious, toward Ped State, Franklin and the recruits that de-commited. I give them some slack because they are new to this football success stuff and have yet to come to grips about the business side of this sport that includes a large dose of dishonesty and “hooray for me, the hell with everybody else”.

The Nittany Turkey January 12, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Hell, OUR SB*Nation blog sucks the big one, too, which is why I usually don’t bother reading it. It’s a pit fueled by writers who do not a) know how to write, and b) do not know the difference between fact and opinion. Is it any wonder that the commenters are equally crappy?

—TNT

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