A people person
James Franklin is going to genuinely love the next 3 months until fall camp begins, not just endure them the way Bill O’Brien did.
That represents perhaps the single biggest difference between Penn State’s current football coach and its previous one, which also makes it the biggest reason to believe Franklin will stick around much longer than O’Brien did.
With spring ball over, it’s now glad-handing time for Franklin. Time to get on the Coaches Caravan bus to meet fans across the region, to speak at all sorts of functions, and to talk to donors and alums to trump up support for the PSU program in ways that have everything to do with personality and charisma and nothing to do with Xs and Os or football strategy.
Franklin, as much of a people person as you’ll meet in sports, can’t wait to do all of that. The guy’s PR skills are just off the charts.
O’Brien did all of it, too, especially his first year on the job at PSU in 2012. He went to 18 Coaches Caravan stops and spoke to thousands of people, always representing himself and Penn State extremely well but never appearing to fully embrace or enjoy all of that stuff.
O’Brien, as we all came to find out, just wants to coach football. Now that’s all he has to do in the NFL.
It might not be the case, but from what we’ve seen so far, Franklin seems to enjoy all of the extraneous stuff even more than coaching football.
He’s a natural salesman. Maybe that comes with negative connotations, but it shouldn’t always.
Franklin seems to be the real deal. If he truly is or if some of it is just an act, well, only time will tell.
For now, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He does appear to genuinely enjoy meeting people and developing personal relationships.
Let’s get one thing clear: Penn State football wouldn’t be in the strong position it is today if not for O’Brien. Just because he left after a short tenure and upset some people with comments he made on his way out the door, it doesn’t change the fact that he kept the roof on the building during the worst tornado any college football program has ever weathered.
But it’s also very possible that O’Brien had taken Penn State as far as he could in his two years.
A college coach nowadays has to have a lot of salesman in him, and O’Brien can’t equal that or the enthusiasm Franklin brings.
O’Brien is a straight shooter who doesn’t embellish, doesn’t make grand promises and doesn’t make half-man, half-lion Photoshop images and post them to his Twitter account (Yeah, Franklin did that last week, and while it looked kind of creepy, you have to think 17-year-old recruits find that stuff cool).
A buddy asked me Monday if I think Franklin is an upgrade over O’Brien. My answer: It’s too early to tell.
Franklin has never coached a game for Penn State, and until he does, the jury will be out in many ways.
But in a few short months on the job, Franklin already has assembled the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. That is, in every way, absolutely incredible.
Penn State still can’t go to a bowl game, it still has only 75 scholarships this year, it has a new coach and a fourth new coach in four years, it only went 7-5 last season, and the school still faces image issues in other parts of the country. Clearly, there are reasons for players not to pick the Lions.
And yet, remarkably, Franklin is attracting highly touted recruits at numerous positions. If that keeps up for a couple of years, the talent we’ll be seeing at Beaver Stadium will be very fun to watch.
If Franklin turns out to be as good of a football coach as he is at the personality and salesman stuff, then Nittany Lion fans could see a return to national prominence in a short period of time.
It won’t happen this year, since the current team has a number of major question marks and serious depth concerns.
But no matter what happens this season, as long as Franklin remains as committed to Penn State as he is now and doesn’t start seeing greener grass in the NFL or another college program, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be very successful.