STATE COLLEGE – James Franklin is the third football coach in what for many Penn State football players will be four seasons and already has left a good first impression.
The 41-year-old Franklin, who spent three years resurrecting Vanderbilt’s program and guided the Commodores to a 24-15 record, has been labeled a players’ coach by a group of Nittany Lion players who have had an oversized dash of change and more than a pinch of adversity on their Penn State plate.
Franklin became Penn State’s 16th coach on Saturday, replacing Bill O’Brien, who took over the NFL’s Houston Texans after replacing the late Joe Paterno in 2012.
Franklin wasted no time getting acclimated. He lured in four recruits, glad-handed with fans at three Penn State winter sporting events and ultimately met his new football family on Sunday night.
“I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a little crazy, watching it on TV and being home over break,” offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach said Tuesday. “There was nothing we could do about it and we knew (athletic director) Dave Joyner would pick someone great. Coach Franklin is a real players’ coach. He cares a lot about the team. That’s something I really look forward to, building a relationship with him.”
Penn State’s roster remains relatively young, but players have survived more than one passing storm.
They dealt with the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal from which came harsh NCAA sanctions, the firing and then death of the legendary Paterno, the coming and going of O’Brien and Monday’s announcement by veteran defensive line coach Larry Johnson that, according to various news reports, he was going to go to work for Big Ten rival Ohio State.
“Looking back on it we really have been through a whole lot,” Dieffenbach said. “It builds character and builds strength. We want to win some games and we think Coach Franklin is the coach to help us do that.”
Franklin has yet to officially name a coaching staff or training personnel, something the players are waiting on.
“We have a good group of guys and should be able to transition pretty easily,” said linebacker Mike Hull, a Canon-McMillan graduate. “You have to take everything with a grain of salt and keep moving forward. We’ve been through a lot, we don’t have to change who we are. The thing you really need to do is establish yourself as a hard worker and just let your coaches know you’re 100 percent dedicated to the team.”
Maintaining that strong work ethic was part of Franklin’s initial speech, according to defensive back Jordan Lucas.
“He (Franklin) introduced himself and said what an honor it was to be the coach here at Penn State,” Lucas said. “The message he gave us is that we’re going to outwork everybody and everybody is on board with it. We see his vision and we’re going to work really hard to make that happen.”
Sunday’s team meeting was a welcome reunion, according to Dieffenbach.
“We walked in there and it was really like nothing had changed,” he said. “Guys were having a great time. We joked about it. We missed each other. We couldn’t wait to get back and be together. It’s the sign of a tight-knit team. Team morale has never been higher. You have to build new relationships. Your job as a team is to buy in completely, 100 percent as team, and that’s what we’re going to do.”