Before fielding team, coach building trust

UNIVERSITY PARK – James Franklin isn’t as concerned with the end result as he is about the road between here and there.

Before the Nittany Lions began their first spring practice Monday afternoon under their new head coach, Franklin clued in the media on his philosophy.

“We’re a process-oriented organization – not a goal-oriented organization,” he told the assembled throng at Beaver Stadium. “We’re not trying to win the Blue-White Game. We’re trying to win today’s practice.”

Amidst the implementation of schemes, the usual spring position changes based on need and opportunity and what seems to be a high level of successful recruiting, Franklin’s first order of business is more intangible.

Since much of his staff is still in the process of relocating from its last stop – eight of the 10 full-time assistants, including strength coach Dwight Galt, were with Franklin at Vanderbilt – some of the families have not yet moved to State College.

That’s allowed the staff members, some of whom are sharing quarters, to burn the midnight oil in the Lasch Building and get better acquainted with the team.

And Franklin believes that’s vital since some of the players “have had three head coaches in a short period of time” so he’s focused on “building relationships, chemistry and trust.

“I think they’re very close as a team, the players,” he added, “but we need to make sure we’re very close and have great chemistry as an entire organization.”

He even disclosed Monday that he will welcome parents, should they desire, to attend practice, saying, “It gives me an opportunity to get to know these parents because I haven’t been to their homes and broke bread and home visits, and school visits and things like that, and we want to do this together.”

The players and the staff were on spring break last week, and the coaches returned on Friday, refreshed and read to “cross the Ts and dot the Is,” Franklin said.

“We want to make sure we’re all on the same page,” he said, adding the transition is not that much different than a new year at the same school.

“Whether you stayed at the previous institution or moved on, there’s things to go back and clean up,” he said.

He admits, though, there’s a learning curve since, “I know how we want to run our program. We have to figure how to run that program within the Penn State system and under the Penn State umbrella.”

Because this is the Lions’ first experience under him, he’s given each player written examples of their on-field responsibilities as well as film splices, either from Vanderbilt or even the NFL, on how their particular position is to be played.

“We’ve been as thorough, as detailed, and as organized as you can possibly be with the players as well as the coaches,” he said.

But as much as he’s focused on the field, Franklin is more CEO than strategist – unlike Bill O’Brien, he does not intend to call the plays – and he’s been busy with community involvement, “shaking hands, kissing babies” and doing what he can to restore Beaver Stadium’s sellout status.

“I’m talking to as many people as I possibly can, asking as many questions as I possibly can,” he said. “The people in the community have been great. The administration has been unbelievable.”

He’s been impressed with the support Penn State’s teams receive, mentioning wrestling, basketball and volleyball, and he’s hoping that will carry over.

“That is the thing that probably blows me away more than anything is the support this university and these athletic programs get,” he said. “We want to build on that. You’ve heard me say before we’re going to sell out every single game next year. I believe that. I’m going to keep pounding the table on that because we need to do that from a recruiting perspective. We need to do that from a financial perspective. And I truly believe once we get everybody pulling the rope in the same direction that we can build something really special here.”

But it will be day by day, without looking too far ahead.

“We’re going to focus on doing the little things extremely well,” he said, “and by doing that, the big things will take care of themselves.”

There once roamed a legend here, not that long ago, who made quite a career out of embracing those very words.

Rudel can be reached at 946-7527 or