Penn State coach spreads charm

PHOTO COURTESY JACK McCARTHY Penn State coach James Franklin (right) greets fan before Big Ten kickoff luncheon yesterday.
PHOTO COURTESY JACK McCARTHY Penn State coach James Franklin (right) greets fan before Big Ten kickoff luncheon yesterday.
Posted: July 31, 2014

CHICAGO - The Penn State community has had several months to absorb James Franklin's outsized personality and infectious enthusiasm.

This week the Big Ten got its first long look at the 42-year-old Nittany Lions coach.

At roundtable discussions with reporters, Franklin repeatedly answered questions about his style, philosophy and prospects. At a meet-and-greet with fans outside a hotel ballroom, he shook hands like a vote-seeking politician, shared hugs and signed autographs.

And he talked. A lot.

"All I can do is talk about our approach," he said. "We are very aggressive and we like to have fun. I'm not sure how people react to that [but] it's our job to do everything possible within our power to help Penn State - within the rules - to be as competitive as possible in the classroom and on the football field."

Franklin took over the Penn State program in January after 3 years at Vanderbilt, where he resurrected a Commodores program that had struggled through 28 losing seasons in 29 years.

In his final 2 years, Franklin had back-to-back, 9-4 seasons and a pair of bowl victories.

Now he'll try to build on a nascent Penn State revival that began with a pair of winning seasons under Bill O'Brien after the program was hammered with penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal.

Franklin said he'll invest in whatever time and effort it takes to build success. But it won't be nonstop work.

"The game of football is supposed to be fun and we forget that," he said. "We're going to work really hard but if we're going to work for 16 hours, I'm going to have fun for 16 hours. If I'm going to do a 17-stop caravan, I'm going to find a way to have fun at all 17 stops."

Franklin's approach is not an act, insisted Penn State senior running back Bill Belton.

"In the same breath, he's serious too because he's trying to count for something, to try to win games and you've got to have a little bit of both," Belton said. "We're excited to get out there in the field and play for him."

The 2-day Big Ten session was not without controversy.

At the SEC football media days earlier this month, Vanderbilt defensive lineman Adam Butler told the Nashville Tennessean that Franklin repeatedly told the team he was staying and reportedly broke down in tears while doing so.

"When you invest so much in a place and you invest so much in people, there's no good way to leave," Franklin said in response. "There's going to be hurt feelings."

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