Chip Minemyer | James Franklin a coach for the Twitter age

March 29, 2014 

On the day James Franklin flew to State College to be introduced as Penn State’s football coach, Centre Hall resident Aaron King was waiting at University Park Airport.

“Hey,” King said while the coach was en route from Tennessee, “James Franklin just followed me on Twitter.”

Franklin has been all over social media — reading as much as he can about his Nittany Lions and communicating with players and fans.

He also surfs the Internet and picks up the local newspaper to keep an eye on what people are writing and saying about his team.

“I want to read everything,” Franklin said in a meeting with reporters before speaking at last Sunday’s National Football Foundation Central Pennsylvania Chapter annual banquet at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel.

Franklin is truly a coach who understands the power of modern media.

He is active on his own Twitter account. You can follow Franklin @coachjfranklin — nearly 70,000 already do. You also can follow the members of his staff.

Franklin tracks numerous Twitter accounts, including members of the media, other coaches and sports sites, and his current and future players.

“I want to understand the pulse of our team,” Franklin said. “I want to understand the pulse of our community.”

And: “If there are inaccuracies, I want to address them.”

Franklin also noted that he tells his players anything he says in a press conference. But he figures they’ve already seen his comments on Facebook or Twitter by the time he shares them in person, or by text or email.

“Thanks to social media,” Franklin told reporters, “anything I say in here they’re going to hear anyway.”

That’s an interesting contrast to the two men who held the Penn State football coaching job on a full-time basis before Franklin.

For years, Joe Paterno denied even reading newspaper and magazine stories about him or his program.

In a light-hearted conversation with reporters in 2009, however, Paterno admitted he did read newspapers — at least while in the bathroom. (Paterno said one of his favorite journalists was Grantland Rice, who was born in 1880 and died in 1954.)

And Paterno said he started, as most people do, with the headlines.

“Something that says ‘Paterno is the greatest,’ I read it,” Paterno said. “If it says I’m a bum, I don’t even look at it.”

Asked about his excursions on social media, Paterno said: “Twittle-do? Twittle-dee?”

Paterno successor Bill O’Brien was well-read but also apparently social media-deficient. Or perhaps a genius with a twisted sense of humor.

You’ll recall this classic quote from September 2012, when O’Brien was asked about harsh criticism aimed at one of his players.

“These guys are really playing hard, giving great effort for us,” O’Brien said. “To go on whatever — spacebook or tweeter — or whatever, and put stuff on there is just absolutely ridiculous to me and very cowardly, to be honest with you. But that’s just my opinion.”

A month later, O’Brien was at it again — this time reacting to a question about players engaging in trash-talking before a big game at Iowa.

“Do you know what I hate? I hate Twitter,” O’Brien said. “I think these guys are young guys, and I think ‘Tweet this, Spacebook that.’ Whatever. We’ve got to go play the game. … I think that’s just young guys tweeting this, twitting that, and that’s how it works, I guess.”

Franklin acknowledged that building bridges is part of being the new guy in a series of coaches — five in four years.

The recent list at Penn State also includes a pair of interim leaders.

Tom Bradley followed Paterno after the longtime coach was fired amid the Jerry Sandusky fallout. Larry Johnson Sr. filled in between the time O’Brien jumped to the NFL’s Houston Texans and Franklin’s arrival from Vanderbilt.

“Our seniors came here to play for Joe. I’m sure there are hurt feelings associated with that,” Franklin said. “Some of our players came here to play for Billy, then Billy leaves. So there are hurt feelings there.

“Some of the players had a little bit of a wall up when we first got here. That’s natural.”

Franklin said the best approach to breaking down those walls was an old-fashioned means of communication, looking them in the eye and talking with them — “showing them how much we care about them, on a daily basis.”

Franklin said he was still living in a local motel, but looked forward to the day he could invite his players to his own house “and break bread with them.”

“Hopefully I’ll be able to buy a house and get my family here as soon as possible,” Franklin said.

But even with that personal approach, the new guy will still be cooking on Twitter.

Or Tweeter. Or Spacebook. Whatever.

Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. Contact him at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.

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