Penn State's Franklin sticking to his own plan

Posted: May 16, 2014

As you'd expect, most of the questions Tuesday night at the Penn State Coaches Caravan were for the new football coach, including the final one from a Nittany Lions fan at the Valley Forge Casino.

A clean-shaven man asked James Franklin: How do you get your own head so smooth?

"It's a process," Franklin told the crowd. "I'm a little bit of a perfectionist."

Franklin shaves it "every single morning" at 4:50 a.m., he said, splashing shaving cream all over the place. "It's got to be perfectly smooth in every direction."

That's one way to look at the new man in charge in Happy Valley. Franklin seems to be paddling furiously beneath the water to look perfectly smooth on the surface.

Not that he tries to hide his energy level.

"I wouldn't be surprised if the guy does backflips getting out of bed in the morning," Penn State field hockey coach Char Morett quipped Wednesday, when the caravan moved on to the Rittenhouse Hotel in Center City.

"It's good to see Cael crushing Red Bull," Franklin said of Penn State wrestling coach Cael Sanderson, also on the caravan, which included four coaches at Valley Forge and in Philadelphia.

Franklin's energy is focused, though. The man sticks to the playbook, not revealing more than he intends.

By the university's count, there were 725 Nittany Lions fans at the Tuesday night reception headlined by Franklin in the basement of the casino. The vast majority first lined up to have a photo taken with the football coach.

Franklin posed the exact same way six or seven times a minute for 41 minutes. Every person got a firm handshake, a moment of eye contact, a chance to introduce themselves, then a chance to smile as Franklin held up his index finger for the camera.

Occasionally, a Penn Stater wanted to add a thought or two after the photo, but Franklin was already on to the next handshake and moment of eye contact. Any cumulative chit-chat, even just a sentence or two, would have put the schedule behind.

Meeting and greeting seems to be part of the job for Franklin, just as recruiting is clearly in his blood. Franklin announced Tuesday night that on game days, Penn State players would be walking a greater distance through the crowd into the stadium, a ritual that is common in the Southeastern Conference. And the players won't be wearing headphones, the coach said.

When Franklin, who grew up in Langhorne, said at a press session, "I've stayed very authentic to who I am," that sounded like a message he clearly wanted out there to counter the thought that just because he is a salesman, and a good one, it doesn't mean he is merely some slickster. He used the word authentic in a couple of consecutive sentences while discussing his passion and pride for Penn State and other talking points, including Vanderbilt's unprecedented success on his watch.

No question, he is willing to push his administration. At the Q-and-A, Franklin mentioned that the bells and whistles in Vanderbilt's facilities were at the bottom of the SEC.

Penn State is below Vanderbilt, he noted.

"We've fallen behind," Franklin said.

Not in the size of the Lasch football building. That's plenty big. Just in areas within, such as technology. Even the carpet, which he noted was "peeling." He also mentioned the word branding when talking about needed upgrades.

"He doesn't turn off for even a second; he's always thinking and planning," said Sanderson, the wrestling coach, who has won four straight NCAA titles.

Especially when Beaver Stadium's 107,000 seats aren't all used these days. Franklin pushed on the ticket front throughout the caravan. That's the point of the thing.

On the field, Franklin isn't over-promising right away, noting that a couple of defensive linemen were switched to the offensive side this spring and immediately reached the top of the depth chart.

Asked what additional demands he has at Penn State, Franklin said it's really the same as those at Vanderbilt. That launched him into a pitch about selling great academics and chasing your dreams, having the highest graduation rates in the country and also winning at the highest level.

Maybe the demands are the same, but Morett, the field hockey coach, noted that Penn State's new football coach told her he had just started drinking coffee in the last two months.

Makes sense. Penn State is not a Red Bull-only kind of job.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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