Franklin a busy, visible coach so far

James Franklin has been a very busy guy his first two days on the job as Penn State’s football coach, and Sunday evening he got a chance to make a first impression with the players on his new team.

Franklin held his first squad meeting, and all returning players were present, including quarterback Christian Hackenberg. At this point there is no reason to believe Hackenberg has any intention of leaving the program now that Bill O’Brien has departed.

It’s unclear exactly what the coach told the players, but Franklin gave an indication Saturday about the message he planned to convey.

“I’m going to talk about the relationship, I’m going to talk about chemistry, I’m going to talk about the reason [he and his coaching staff have] been successful in the past is because of those two things,” Franklin said.

He mentioned he’s not a robotic kind of head coach, someone who just stands in front of the team and says typical coach speak kind of things.

For Franklin, it’s all about the personal relationships and trying to get through to every player on an individual level.

“I don’t get up and stand in front of them and try to act like a head coach is supposed to act,” he said. “I talk to them in very plain English. I let them know how much we care about them, and we’re going to get to work.”

It was pointed out to the coach that the Penn State players have been through more than their share of adversity with the NCAA sanctions and coaching changes, and he was asked how he plans to build trust with them.

“That’s something that’s going to be earned over time,” Franklin said. “You don’t just walk in and grab somebody’s trust. It’s how you behave and how you interact on a daily basis. I have a coaching staff and myself that we’re genuine, we’re real guys.”

Franklin has been on a whirlwind tour since Saturday morning. He started that day by addressing the players at Vanderbilt, saying heartfelt goodbyes to a bunch of young men he’s very fond of and achieved a lot of success with the past two years.

“It was very difficult,” Franklin said. “I got in this business because I love kids and I care about people. So to walk in that room and say goodbye to those guys and the text messages that they’ve sent me, the relationships that I hope I have with those young men for the rest of their lives means the world to me.”

The coach said he never turned down a speaking engagement at Vanderbilt, which in many ways he had to do to sell a program that had never had success in a city that also features an NFL team in the Tennessee Titans.

“At the time that we arrived, there wasn’t a fan base, there wasn’t enthusiasm for the program,” he said. “There was a lot of missing things, and we had to get out on campus, in the community and build a sense of pride in being Vanderbilt.”

He said that included making three stops at every fraternity and sorority house on campus to drum up interest from the students.

Franklin won’t have to do anywhere near as much of that kind of stuff at Penn State, not eventually anyway. For the time being, as a new coach he has to make the rounds as much as possible.

His Sunday scheduled included speaking at the PSU women’s volleyball team’s banquet, then at the Nittany Lions’ wrestling match, then at the Lady Lions’ basketball game.

The top thing on the agenda now is finalizing his coaching staff, and Franklin is expected to bring along several of his assistants from Vanderbilt. The coach said he would announce the entire staff all at once rather than when individual pieces fall into place.

This is a very important time in recruiting, as well, so Franklin and his staff have to hit the ground running in that regard.

Evaluating the talent he already has on his own team also will be a key, so Franklin and his assistants probably will be spending a lot of time in the film room the next couple of months. Then again, O’Brien said he went the unusual route of not watching film from the previous year when he took over, instead opting to evaluate the players once spring practice started.

O’Brien left after only two years to become head coach of the Houston Texans, but not without putting his stamp on the PSU program in many ways.

“Bill was a great coach,” Penn State President Rodney Erickson said. “I thought the world of Bill, and I hope Bill will continue to stay in touch in the years ahead.

“I told Bill someday when the Texans go to the Super Bowl, I expect a couple of tickets. I have a sense Bill had long-term aspirations to the NFL, and we talked about that on various occasions.”

Erickson will be leaving his post this summer, but he expects the new coach to be at Penn State well into the future.

“I think Coach Franklin’s sort of coming of age in college football is very important to him,” Erickson said. “I have every expectation that James could be here a long time.”