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!