James Franklin had been taking reporters’ questions for about 40 minutes — on his past coaching stops, his football philosophies and his future plans for his new team — never missing a chance to inject urgency in his comments.
Penn State’s 16th head football coach can’t wait to get started. And he has a long to-do list.
Franklin has to meet a new group of players, assemble a staff, establish a winter program and hit the recruiting trail. He and his family have to find a place to live, too.
“It is going to be a sprint from here on out,” Franklin said. “And that is talking to the current players. That is going to be contacting recruits. That’s going to be contacting former players. That’s going to be contacting influential supporters of the program and of the university. We’ve got a lot of work to do in a very, very short period of time, and it’s time sensitive because of the recruiting process as well.”
Shortly thereafter, Franklin noted that if everyone stopped asking him questions, he could get started. The comment drew laughs. More questions followed. Franklin continued for nearly another 40 minutes.
He outlined his recruiting approach first.
“We are going to dominate the state,” Franklin said. “We are going to dominate the region.”
Franklin’s predecessor, Bill O’Brien, worked with his assistants to establish a solid, 19-player recruiting class that has room for more players since the NCAA reduced the scholarship ban on the program last fall.
Currently, the Nittany Lions’s 2014 recruiting class is ranked 20th nationally by 24/7 Sports and third in the Big Ten. It is unclear if any of Vanderbilt’s current verbal commitments will follow Franklin to Penn State. Meanwhile, defensive tackles Tarow Barney and Antoine White, offensive tackle Chasz Wright, receiver DeAndre Thompkins and quarterback Michael O’Connor remain committed to Penn State and will enroll early.
As for who will lead them and Penn State’s current returning players through winter conditioning, it is still up in the air.
Longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson has not returned messages seeking comment on his future after he briefly served as Penn State’s interim head coach during the search that ended with Franklin. Johnson, who’s been at Penn State for 18 years and is one of the Big Ten’s best recruiters, remains on staff along with O’Brien holdovers offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and tight ends coach John Strollo.
Longtime Penn State linebackers coach and vaunted recruiter Ron Vanderlinden has also remained quiet on his future. He resigned along with quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher shortly after the season ended. It is unclear whether Vanderlinden — who hired Franklin at Maryland — would be willing to return if asked.
Franklin said he will be sitting down with the current coaches soon to see where they may fit on his staff.
“I am fiercely loyal as a person in general and I’m going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I’ve worked with in the past,” Franklin said. “But I also know that we’re going to sit down and have some discussions with some people that are here. I think there are some people that can help us in the transition. Guys that have Strong Penn State ties, guys that understand this place.”
Five of Franklin’s assistants at Vanderbilt followed him to Nashville after working alongside him at previous stops.
Offensive coordinator and running backs coach John Donovan, special teams and tight ends coach Charles Bankins and strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt all were hired by Franklin after coaching with him at Maryland. Galt’s son, Dwight Galt IV, was an assistant strength and conditioning coach for Craig Fitzgerald at Penn State last season.
Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne worked at Kansas State with Franklin and helped mold Josh Freeman into an NFL prospect.
Brent Pry, who served as the Commodore’s assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator while tutoring linebackers, coached Franklin while the latter was a player at East Stroudsburg.
Franklin hinted that certain personnel could be better fits in familiar environments, however.
“Although we had a plan that was very effective at Vanderbilt, you also better have a plan that is specific to that institution,” Franklin said. “When you have people that have a history and understand the place, they can help with that. So I'm looking forward to getting a chance to sit down with the coaches as well as some of the administration and put together the very best staff that we possibly can put together for Penn State University.”
While Franklin still has to get to know his new players, he’s firmly aware of the potential the Penn State offense has with Christian Hackenberg returning. Hackenberg flourised in his first season in O’Brien’s pro-style offense and earned the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award for his efforts.
Franklin, said Penn State’s offense will retain the pro-style iterations.
“I know they're anxious as well to get playbooks, to get video to all those things,” Franklin said. “What I would say is we're going to run multiple pro-style offense, defense, and special teams. To me, I'm not a guy that's going to pigeon hole what we're going to do. I think my philosophy is you go out and hire really smart people, and you have a system that has flexibility to take advantage of all your strengths and hide your weaknesses. I think that's what we all try to do in whatever organization or whatever business you're in.”