Franklin stonewalls Meyer comparison, but jokes about Hackenberg’s looks
CHICAGO – James Franklin fielded about 100 questions Tuesday, most of which were serious while two were downright silly.
Coaches sit at tables spread out across a ballroom for two hours on the second day of Big Ten media days, with reporters from around the conference popping in and out to ask questions. At one point, an Ohio State reporter walked up and asked the Penn State coach a couple of football-related questions.
Then the reporter asked, “Do you have a little Urban Meyer in you?”
The look on Franklin’s face – a baffled stare of bewilderment – was priceless.
He stared at the reporter for six seconds – a loooong six seconds of silence – and said, “I’m not even sure what you’re asking or how you even expect me to answer that question.”
The explanation behind the question was that Meyer came to Ohio State two years ago and brought some different perspectives to the Big Ten.
“I am very comfortable in my own skin and in who I am and how we run our program, and so are our coaches,” Franklin said. “And all we’re trying to do is be the best James Franklin or the best (offensive line coach) Herb Hand in representing Penn State and representing the Big Ten. I’m not trying to be anybody else but James Franklin.”
About 10 minutes later, the second crazy question of the morning made Franklin chuckle.
“From what I understand, you might have a little bit of a man crush on your quarterback (Christian Hackenberg?)” a reporter stated, following up on some comments Franklin had made Monday.
This time, the Penn State coach played along and offered up a humorous, descriptive answer.
“He’s 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, he’s like the alpha male,” Franklin said. “He cut his hair, but in the spring he had this beautiful hair, and it didn’t matter wherever he was, whether the wind was blowing or not, when he stood there it was like this fan blowing and his hair would just kind of go. When he smiled it would be like the Colgate commercial. He’s a good-looking man, and I don’t like standing too close to him because it shows everybody how unattractive I am.”
The coach concluded his fascinating response by adding, “I wouldn’t necessarily say man crush, just intimidated by his good looks.”
The two-hour Q&A session at Big Ten media days usually is the most revealing of the entire year since so many topics are covered. Here’s a look at some of the major points Franklin addressed Tuesday.
The team will have 72 scholarship players to start the season.
A few walk-ons who received a scholarship last season because there were some left over in the program will not be given a scholarship this year. Franklin, who would not reveal the names, said last year was a special situation because of PSU’s predicament and that the players understood they were getting one-year scholarship commitments.
Franklin is in favor of four-year scholarships for high school recruits.
The team has what Franklin calls the “dawn patrol,” which is reserved for players who miss class or get into other trouble. The player has to show up at 5 a.m. on a Monday and do a lot of running or other tough work as punishment.
Talking about recruiting linemen, Franklin said, “We don’t want those big nasties anymore.” He was referring to going after lean types who are in the 6-foot-5, 270-pound range and have more speed than the typical 300-plus pounders.
The coach said he’s pretty relaxed on game day. He’s confident and has fun, plus he wants to see the players have fun in the game after working hard all week.
The plan remains for offensive coordinator John Donovan to call the plays from the coach’s booth.
Franklin told a humorous story about offensive line coach Herb Hand and his appearance on the show “Chopped” last year. All the coaches were cheering Hand on when he made it past the first round but busted on him jokingly after he was eliminated. Franklin also said the first time he met Hand was when he walked into the Vanderbilt locker room after getting the job and accidentally kicked Hand, who was sleeping there.
Franklin believes the playoff system is good for college football. He also supported the BCS, which he said got things right more often than not.
The team will practice on Sundays each week during the season and take off Monday. That includes the Sunday after returning from Ireland, no matter how late the team arrives.
On graduation rates, he said a coach can only have so much influence.
Getting a bowl game back this year “would be a shot of enthusiasm and excitement.” Franklin probably will address the situation once with the team during preseason camp but won’t let it be an issue when the season starts.
He’s so focused on the first week that he said “honestly on my mother” he couldn’t say who the team plays in week four.
RB Zach Zwinak has had fumbling issues the past two years, but Franklin said he won’t focus on any of that and is only thinking about things going forward. Running backs coach Charles Huff chases after the backs during practice and does whatever he can to try and jar the ball loose so they learn how to protect it.
RB Akeel Lynch would be starting at many other schools, the coach said.
Assistant head coach Brent Pry has extra responsibilities with that title, including speaking engagements when Franklin can’t attend and handling concerns of other staff members or players.
Franklin was asked if Jay Paterno’s lawsuit and other outside issues like that detract from the program. He would not go near that question and, as he did with most other non-team issues, he said he’s only focused on his team and the season.
Franklin admitted, “I live a fairly pathetic existence” that includes no hobbies and spending all of his time with members of the football staff and his family.
He said it will be a “nightmare” getting an entire football program and all travel equipment through customs for the trip to Ireland.