Monday, January 13, 2014
Q&A: Penn State's James Franklin, Part I
By Brian Bennett
New Penn State coach James Franklin says he doesn't need a lot of sleep, which is a useful skill right about now.
James Franklin is confident he can help Penn State find long-term success both on and off the field.
After being officially hired on Saturday, Franklin has experienced a whirlwind of activity. He said he had well over 400 text messages on his cell phone Saturday and was able to respond to about 100 while lying in bed that night. But more kept piling up.
Franklin took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to chat with ESPN.com on Sunday night about his first few hours as Nittany Lions coach and his vision for the future ahead. Here is Part I of that interview.
Your introductory press conference was entertaining to watch. What kind of reaction did you get to it?
James Franklin: It’s been really good. A bunch of the recruits said they watched it, and the moms really liked it, which is always important, if you can get mom on your side. I've been to a wrestling match today, a women’s basketball game, the volleyball banquet. It was amazing how many people came up to say, 'Hey, I watched the press conference,' or 'I listened to it in my car sitting in my driveway and I couldn’t be more excited' and 'Welcome to Penn State.' That’s the thing that I sense, just walking around this campus, it’s amazing to me the sense of pride around this campus and in the community about this university. I mean, it is really something special.
You didn't really have that when you got to Vanderbilt, at least not when it came to the football program, and you had to do some things to build that pride there. How different does that make this job for you?
JF: That's not going to be an issue here. I think there are going to be other things you’re going to have to deal with. At Vanderbilt, there was a set of circumstances that were challenging, and at Penn State, there will be a set of circumstances that are challenging. But we're going to plow through it, keep a great attitude and work hard. But I think every institution is unique. And you better have a plan and a specific vision for that university.
You had your first team meeting on Sunday. What was your message to the players?
JF: Some people have exactly planned out what they’re going to say in their first team meeting. For me, I’ve always just spoken from the heart. For us, this whole program will be about relationships and making sure these guys have a great experience here. So I just talked about that, about how we’re going to win because of chemistry on the team, that we’re going to care for one another and have each other’s back. That was really my message to them, the overall theme.
Have you had a chance to speak to many players individually yet?
JF: A little bit. There’s probably 12 to 16 of these guys that I recruited. So I told all those guys that chose Penn State when I recruited them that they’re going to start at the bottom of the depth chart. [Laughs]. No, but just some casual stuff. Guys coming up and introducing themselves and saying hi. Guys I haven’t seen in a while coming up and saying hi and that they're excited about the direction where we’re going.
You said repeatedly on Saturday that you were going to "dominate" the state and the region in recruiting, which probably raised a few eyebrows from other coaches. What makes you think you can do that? Is it the experience you've had recruiting this area, plus the Penn State brand behind you now?
JF: You know, being from the state, going to college in the state at a teachers’ college, where all my buddies are high school coaches. I’ve worked in a lot of different parts of the country where high school players and high school coaches take tremendous pride representing their state at their state university. And we’ve got a chance to do that here. This is a special place. And in this part of the country, Penn State is a very, very strong brand and carries a lot of value. So we’re going to use that. We have tremendous respect for other schools in this area and this region. But we're very, very confident in what Penn State can offer.
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You've had great success as a recruiter. But how much different will it be recruiting for Penn State than maybe Vanderbilt or Maryland with the history and tradition there?
JF: I've recruited against Penn State in the past and it would be frustrating, because you would do everything right, and then the kid would go to the Penn State spring game and there would be 75,000 people there. And it would be over, just like that. So to be at a place where you have some of those built-in advantages is nice. And just being here around the people, and how excited and how supportive all the people are, is really exciting. We have that now, and we’re going to build on that. That’s why it’s important that we put a staff together like that as well.
Obviously, you're going to have some scholarship limitations early on there. As a guy who went into Vanderbilt and won, is that challenge in some ways less daunting because you won with less, or do you still see major challenges?
JF: I don’t think there’s any doubt there will be some challenges. But we’re not going to focus on or be concerned about those things. We're going to focus on the things we can control, which is making sure these kids wake up every day and maximize their experience, academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. And when you do that Monday through Friday, the Saturdays start taking care of themselves. Those other things, they're outside of our control.
Some coaches may not have wanted to take on the specific challenges Penn State has right now. Did being a Pennsylvania native and knowing Bill O'Brien make you more interested in the job and less concerned about the problems?
JF: I’m thinking long term. This program has a chance to be special long term. It does also help that I have a relationship, a really good relationship, with the guy who used to be the head coach here. So I could call and ask him specific things and get great information. All those things really helped. But for me and the staff, it's about being able to get a job where we have to work really hard, but where we have a chance long term to have a very, very special situation.
You mentioned the uncertainty in the president and athletic director positions were a concern when you interviewed. What allowed you to get past those concerns?
JF: I think the biggest thing is, after talking to so many people through the interview process, Penn State is going to attract a certain type of guy with certain values, and that’s what [it's] going to recruit and have at this university. So I’m very, very confident that we’ll get a great president and that the AD situation will work its way out. Everybody around here makes decisions with regards to what’s in the best interests for Penn State, the state of Pennsylvania and, most importantly, what's in the best interests for the kids.