Franklin ready for family reunion
CHICAGO – I have 2-year-old twins, and it’s been emotionally difficult being away from them for a mere three days covering Big Ten football in the Windy City.
James Franklin has been living apart from his wife and two daughters for seven months, which would be a nightmare for just about any parent.
“It’s been hard – hard on my wife, hard on my kids, and I know it’s been hard on me,” Penn State’s coach said Tuesday morning.
We generally don’t think about those kinds of things in sports. We see a coach who gets a new job, and we cut to the chase of analyzing his philosophies, picking his brain on various issues, trying to predict his future.
In many ways, we as sports fans forget that these are real people who actually have personal lives away from the game.
For Franklin, his personal life is about to get a whole lot better.
Friday, his wife, Fumi, and daughters, Shola (7) and Addy (6), will be joining him as they’re moving to the State College area. Mom and the kids have been in Nashville finishing up school and preparing to move, while James has been 700 miles away working in central Pennsylvania since January.
The Franklins have spent a lot of time talking on Skype and FaceTime, and they recently took a vacation to Florida. But now the family finally can be together every day once again, and as excited as James gets talking about pretty much anything, he sounded even more thrilled when discussing that good news.
“I’m a psycho dad,” he said. “It’s funny because sometimes people ask my wife, ‘Does your husband yell all the time?’ No. I mean, you don’t blow the whistle and scream at home.”
Coaches get so much credit and attention for all their sports achievements, but many of them will tell you that their wives are the true heroes in the relationship.
“My wife is clearly the boss at home,” Franklin said. “For me to come in – I’m there 10 percent of the time, she’s there 90 percent of the time – and (for me) to try to run the show, it doesn’t make any sense.”
Franklin’s eyes light up when talking about his little girls. He goes on and on about how much they love football and having the “football boys” over to the house for dinner. That was the case when he was at Vanderbilt, and will continue to be so at Penn State.
Then Franklin spent a couple of minutes talking about something you don’t hear much from coaches. He discussed the importance of the young men on the football team being exposed to a strong family unit and how that can help everyone develop closer relationships.
“It’s important for these kids to see how I am with my wife,” he said. “It’s important for them to see how I am with my kids. My wife says that in a lot of ways it humanizes me. Because with coaching, I’m a psycho. When I’m out on that football field, it’s coach, coach, coach, coach, demand, demand, demand, those types of things. Then they see me with my kids, then they see me with my wife. (it) gives them a different perspective.
“All of those things,” he added, “are valuable in building a family, which is what we’re trying to do.”
Franklin’s daughters will visit him at the office “every single day,” he said, and they get to see him in action as a coach during both practices and games.
The coach is known to get quite animated and fired up, something his little girls know all too well. In fact, somewhere in existence is a video that Franklin vowed he would share with the world at some point on social media.
“We have a video of my daughter (Shola) impersonating me one time, going berserk on the field about something, and she’s doing it. And it’s hilarious,” he said.
Just last week, during a visit to Children’s Hospital at Penn State Hershey, Franklin shared his most personal story yet since taking the PSU job. He revealed Addy has sickle-cell disease, a genetic blood disorder which affects primarily black people and can lead to several issues, including shortness of breath, jaundice, delayed growth in children and even shortened life span.
Addy was diagnosed shortly after birth, and Franklin said his wife has become an expert on the disease. One of the good things Franklin said about taking the PSU job is the outstanding medical care that’s available either in State College or nearby, and he noted his family has researched the facilities so Addy can get the best care.
Since the day he arrived at Penn State, Franklin has talked about family in two respects. He has mentioned building a family within the football program through strong personal relationships with the players, and he has made every effort to discuss and include his real family in the process.
For the past seven months, Franklin’s wife and daughters couldn’t be with him every day to get their new lives started in Happy Valley, and that took a toll on everyone. In just a few more days, though, they’ll all be reunited, which has to be a blessing for mom, dad and the two girls.
No matter how much success a person achieves in life, if you don’t have your family around to enjoy it with you, it just doesn’t mean as much.
Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.