Franklin brought criticism on himself after ‘elite’ comments

We almost — almost! — got to hear James Franklin let loose with some real frustration and perhaps even anger during his postgame press conference following Saturday’s win over Iowa.

It would have been interesting to see and hear, if for no other reason than we seldom have gotten to see the calculative, keep-things-close-to-the-vest Franklin ever deviate much from his seemingly scripted demeanor.

Indeed, Penn State did win, 30-24.

But the Nittany Lions made a ton of mistakes and were very fortunate to have won. Obviously, Franklin was asked about some of the mistakes during his press conference.

He grew a little more and more perturbed about the line of questioning as the media session was winding down.

When pressed on PSU not being able to stop Iowa from scoring a TD on a fake field goal, Franklin concluded his remarks by saying, “Awesome play by them. We won the game.”

The next question was an easy one, about Jake Pinegar having a big night with three field goals of more than 40 yards. But by that point, Franklin wanted to get some things off his chest.

He gave a one-line response about Pinegar making six of his last seven field goals, then went into something completely off topic.

“It’s kind of like the drops, it’s kind of like everything else,” he said of some recent criticisms. “I get it. You guys are going to ask tough questions, people are going to be critical of things like that.

“But around here, we are in the business of loving kids and we are in the business of developing guys, and I believe with their investment and us loving them and us believing in them and us developing them, they are going to make plays for you.”

The very next question really seemed to get to Franklin. He was asked how much his team needed the win after a couple of tough home losses and a trip to Michigan coming up.

“How much does this breathe life into you guys?” was asked of the coach.

“It’s not that dramatic,” Franklin said. “We’re 1-0.”

Then came some of the coach’s real feelings.

“When you guys do that, it’s unbelievable to me,” he said. “How much does this breathe life into you? We’re 1-0 (pounds table). We’re excited about it (pounds table). We won last week, too. We’re 1-0 last week, we’re 1-0 again. That’s it. We’re happy to be at 1-0.”

That’s the point where we almost got to hear perhaps some brutal honesty from Franklin, but he caught himself. He continued, “Don’t … I’m not, I’m not going to get myself in trouble (pounds fingers on table six times).”

What was he going to say? Was he going to get mad? Was he about to rip into people for criticizing him or the team, after a win no less?

To be honest, Franklin has become a pretty good guy for us to deal with in the media. He’s very polite, never calls out reporters and tries to answer every question respectfully, even though when you go back and listen he may not have really said anything overly revealing in a lot of the answers.

But to his credit, Franklin doesn’t bite people’s heads off, like Nick Saban often does down in Alabama and many others coaches do, including former PSU coach Bill O’Brien now with the Texans.

However, one issue a lot of people have with Franklin is that he comes across as robotic, always choosing his words so carefully that you either don’t fully believe him or think he’s just kind of putting on a PR act.

That’s why it would have been a breath of fresh air to see him lose his cool Saturday night, if he really felt like doing so. It’s perfectly OK for coaches to get mad at the media when they don’t like our questions, and their answers and demeanor can reveal a lot about them and their state of mind.

Now, the flip side of all this is that Franklin was not being asked difficult or even biting questions after the game. They were simple observations about mistakes Penn State continues to make and has yet to clean up, and those are relevant points regardless of whether the team won the game or not.

The fact that Franklin was getting perturbed by those questions was interesting in and of itself.

Did he really feel like he was being attacked getting asked about how his team could give up a TD on a fake field goal when they practiced against that play all week? Or how big it was for the Lions to win a close game given the problems they’ve had for several years now closing out games?

Those are obvious questions that Franklin should expect.

He was not, for the record, asked how on earth his offensive coordinator once again made a terrible third-down call with the game on the line in the closing minutes and needing one first down to seal the win. Any and all criticism of Ricky Rahne in those crucial situations continues to be pertinent, simply because he still has not yet figured out how to get the job done in those spots.

What’s interesting about Franklin’s attitude toward the criticism is that in a big way he brought this on himself. If he’s getting upset that people are questioning the things Penn State keeps doing poorly, win or lose, then he needs to go back and listen to what he said on Sept. 29 after the 27-26 loss to Ohio State.

“We’re going to break through and be an elite program by doing all the little things,” Franklin said. “We’re a great program. We lost to an elite program. And we’re that close.”

When I say we’ve rarely heard Franklin be raw and completely honest, the one exception was that Buckeyes postgame press conference. He promised Penn State would become elite and was passionate about it.

OK, so if a coach is going to promise something like that, he forfeits all right to come back a month later and get perturbed when he’s asked mildly probing questions about the multitude of mistakes his team just made.

Even after a victory.

Truth be told, Franklin never should have made those comments about being elite. It was foolish, because he promised such a remarkably high standard that his words forever will be used against him until — and if — Penn State ever does reach that level.

The Lions, it turned out, are far from being elite this season. Can they get there in the future?

Sure.

Maybe.

Perhaps.

Or not.

Who the heck knows?

One thing that is for sure, Penn State will never be an elite team making the kind of mistakes it made Saturday night.

And Franklin is never going to be able to avoid getting asked about such mistakes, no matter how much he chides the media for bringing them up.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” weekdays from 4 to 6 p.m. on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM.

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