As we’d say down South, Penn State football coach James Franklin could talk a squirrel out of an acorn tree.
When the lights are on, the first-year Penn State coach is absolutely charming.
Heck, at the end of the team’s annual media day on Monday, he made sure to wish everyone in the throng to have a nice day.
It was quite a departure from being referred to in a derogatory manner as “you guys” or getting scowled at from behind the microphone.
Franklin certainly has been the consummate salesman for the program since replacing Bill O’Brien in February.
And, his message is selling like hotcakes. He and his staff currently have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes — rated among the Top 5 — for the Class of 2015.
Those numbers also have affected some numbers that are also critical to the program’s success — season tickets. According to the university, an energized fan base has purchased 5,000 more season tickets than last season.
That’s an impressive start.
But something else also started Monday — preseason camp.
That’s when the “charming” stops and the rubber hits the road.
And though the fan base is energized, there seems to be some questions about Franklin.
Can this guy really coach? Can he beat Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and Brady Hoke on a consistent basis?
Time will yield those answers.
Right now, Franklin has his share of pressing concerns as he heads into his first fall camp in Happy Valley.
Thanks to the Sandusky scandal, NCAA sanctions left the cupboard bare in a couple of important areas.
He’s got an offensive line that — as chef Guy Fieri would say — is so thin that it only has one side. The Nittany Lions are looking at four new starters on a unit that’s charged with protecting sophomore Christian Hackenberg, who could be one of, if not the best quarterbacks in program history if he spends more time upright than on the Beaver Stadium turf.
And while Hackenberg has multiple weapons at tight end and running back, he’ll be throwing to Geno Lewis and a cast of unknown wideouts. Lewis (18) and Matt Zanellato (4) are the only returning wideouts with catches for Penn State.
And Linebacker U. will start the season with a shortage of experience at its signature position. Mike Hull, who moves from the outside to the middle, is the only veteran. Who flanks him is anybody’s guess. The depth is so thin that Linebacker U. may go with two linebackers and two safeties — a 4-2-5 — an awful lot this season.
Franklin also has got to get these guys ready to play a BCS bowl game winner (Central Florida) on another continent to open the season — a five-hour time difference — and get back on schedule to face a team (Akron) that’s supposed to be one of the best teams in the MAC.
While those things might keep some coaches up at night, Franklin already has conquered a bigger challenge.
When he took over at Vanderbilt, the program had been the butt of more SEC jokes than any of its other schools. Losing and Vanderbilt were synonymous.
The late, great and absolutely hilarious columnist Lewis Grizzard once said that Spain’s military was so bad, “It couldn’t beat Vanderbilt for God’s sakes.”
Franklin went 24-15 and went to three bowl games in three seasons in Nashville. His teams finished a respectable 9-7 over the past two seasons in the nation’s best conference.
Still, Penn State will have to do a lot better than that to knock off teams like the Buckeyes and Spartans.
While the cavalcade of four-star recruits are headed this way, this season will set the tone for their arrival.
Franklin and his coaches seem geared for the challenge.
“We are excited,” Franklin said Monday. “I think the staff has done a great job of preparing. The players have been unbelievable.”
And the players say there’s a difference with their new coaches.
“You guys haven’t seen these guys,” linebacker Brandon Bell said. “That’s the difference from the old staff, there’s a lot more energy. We’re pumped. The fans are pumped. The students are pumped. Our families are pumped. Every time we go home, it’s ‘What’s going on? I see your coach.’ There’s a lot of energy going on.”
In 25 days on a pitch in Ireland, Nittany Nation will find out how that energy translates to Xs and Os.
And, whether the walk measures up to the talk.