Personal approach comes out in James Franklin speech

ALTOONA?- James Franklin teared up about one minute into his speech Saturday night because, well, that’s just the kind of guy he is.

He’s a football coach, of course. But in the few months he’s been Penn State’s head coach, Franklin has shown on several occasions a deep sense of caring, passion and emotion about his profession and other people that most grizzled football coaches generally don’t reveal.

“It’s not a job, not a career. It’s personal,” Franklin, featured speaker at the Blair County Sports Hall of Fame, said of how he views football and being at Penn State.

Franklin added it was even more personal for him to be in Altoona, hometown of one of the biggest influences on his professional career, Jim Pry. That’s when Franklin got a little emotional and had to fight back some tears.

Pry was Franklin’s offensive coordinator in college, and his son, Brent, is Franklin’s right-hand man as PSU’s assistant head coach and linebackers coach. The Pry family helped persuade Franklin to attend Saturday’s function, and he became the second Penn State head coach to do, joining Joe Paterno, featured speaker at the inaugural event in 1987.

Emcee and Pittsburgh sportscaster Stan Savran made note of that Penn State connection, calling it the “circle of life” while introducing Franklin. The crowd of more than 1,000 people then gave the Nittany Lions’ new coach a rousing standing ovation.

Franklin already has well established himself as an energetic, charismatic speaker, and that was on display Saturday. He pumped up the crowd with his vision for Penn State football and getting the program back to national prominence.

“Our focus is on winning Big Ten and winning national championships and making you guys all so proud of what’s going on at Penn State,” he said.

When he took the job, Franklin understood – to a large degree – the challenges that awaited him with regards to reaching those goals. The program is still dealing with NCAA sanctions, most notably scholarship limitations and depth issues, and the new coach was able to get a much better understanding of where the Lions stand in those areas during the recently completed spring drills.

“Before taking the job, I had a lot of conversations with a lot of different people, and I had a pretty good idea,” Franklin said of the potential trouble spots. “But it’s like anything else: Until you actually do it, you don’t really know.”

He singled out depth concerns on the offensive line and at linebacker for the upcoming season – those are no surprise to anyone who follows the program closely – and he added, “We have a lot of work to do in general.”

One area of work Franklin has focused on since the end of spring ball has been getting to know his players better. He has met with each one individually for about 20 minutes, going over various things about their careers, their backgrounds and learning as much about them as he can.

That, in a nutshell, is what defines Franklin best. He is all about personal relationships and building a rapport with everyone around him, and as a coach that starts with the players.

“It’s amazing how much information you learn,” he said about those 20-minute meetings.

It might be easy to assume the coach of a college football team already knows a great deal about each of his players. But when you’re a new coach of a team that has nearly 100 players, that sort of thing takes time.

“When you didn’t recruit them, sometimes you don’t know all their stories,” Franklin said. “So when you can sit down and get to know kind of their background and their families a little bit better and kind of where they come from and some adversities that they’ve had to overcome, that’s very helpful.

“It gives you a more complete picture of the team and who they are as individuals.”

For those in attendance Saturday, that’s exactly what they got from Franklin: A better understanding – up close and personal – of who he is as an individual, not just as a football coach.