Giger: Who is James Franklin, and what can PSU fans expect from him
Who is James Franklin, how did he get to this point in his career and what makes him a good fit for the Penn State job?
Franklin is expected to be introduced Saturday as the Nittany Lions’ 16th head coach, and the one thing most people know about him is that he had success at Vanderbilt. Since NO ONE has ever had success at Vanderbilt, that alone would make it appear Franklin is a good head coach.
Listen to anyone who knows college football talk about him, and they’ll tell you he’s a good head coach.
Those who know him also say he’s a bit of a control freak — not atypical for a head coach — that he’s intense, a players’ coach, a good family man and a just an all-around smart football guy.
He’s worked at a lot of places, making 11 stops in a coaching career that began in 1995, and that means he’s been able to glean a lot of information from different coaching colleagues along the way.
He’s spent all but one year of his coaching career at the college level, save for serving as the Green Bay Packers’ receivers coach in 2005. That aspect of his nomadic coaching life is important for two reasons.
First, it would indicate he’s a college guy at heart, unlike Bill O’Brien, who came to PSU as an NFL guy at heart. So maybe, despite the threat of Franklin bolting for the NFL at some point, there’s a chance based on his history that he’s happiest and most comfortable in the college game.
Second, even though he was only in the NFL for a year, he did experience life in The League and surely acquired a feel for what a player must do to reach and succeed there. He can’t sell recruits the kind of NFL coaching experience that O’Brien had, but at least he can discuss the pros with them on a first-hand basis.
Franklin played quarterback in college, and that has to be appealing to Christian Hackenberg.
O’Brien worked with Tom Brady and is considered a very good quarterbacks coach, but he was a linebacker and defensive end as a player. Whether Franklin can develop a quarterback as well as O’Brien remains to be seen, but at least Franklin can draw on personal experiences playing the position when he’s discussing fundamentals, game plans, reading defenses, clock management and other things with Hackenberg.
All but one year of Franklin’s career has been spent coaching on offense (he was a defensive backs coach at East Stroudsburg in 1996). He understands modern offensive philosophy — something O’Brien brought to Happy Valley after years of, well, whatever that was under Jay Paterno and Galen Hall.
Vanderbilt, playing with what one can only assume was lesser overall talent than Penn State, averaged 30.1 points per game this past season. Penn State averaged 28.7.
The Commodores scored more points but didn’t throw the ball as much as PSU. Vanderbilt averaged just 228 yards passing compared to the Lions’ 259. Then again, give Franklin a pocket quarterback of Hackenberg’s caliber and let’s see what happens.
Penn State had one of the worst defensive seasons in program history and wound up allowing 26.2 points per game. Vanderbilt allowed 24.6. To be fair, the Lions had all kinds of injuries and personnel issues on defense and did improve at the end of the season.
Franklin apparently has some interesting views, particularly when it comes to hiring assistant coaches. He got himself in hot water last year when he told a radio station that, before he hires an assistant, he wants to get a look at the coach’s wife.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife,” he said. “If she looks the part, and she’s a D-I recruit, then you got a chance to get hired.”
He went on to explain why.
“There’s a very strong correlation between having confidence going up and talking to women and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him,” Franklin said.
He had to issue an apology after receiving criticism for the remarks.
If anything, Franklin learned a valuable lesson for a head coach of what to say and what not to say to the media. Even if he does feel strongly about the coach-wife issue, the incident was a learning experience of how to keep certain things private if they could be perceived as politically incorrect.
The importance of that concept cannot be overstated with Franklin taking over a major program that receives much more media coverage, and especially given that there are still a lot of sensitive issues in and around the Penn State football program.
O’Brien navigated those rough waters like a pro from day one, always saying the right things, staying focused on the future rather than commenting on the past and making sure he paid proper respect to Joe Paterno. That’s what made it so strange when O’Brien ventured from the formula with his now-infamous “Paterno people” rant last month.
Everything Franklin says as Penn State’s coach will be parsed and potentially scrutinized far more than anything he had to deal with at Vanderbilt. That starts Saturday with his introductory press conference.