Franklin and the Media, A Lesson in Time

By: Thomas Frank Carr

ESPN Radio 1450 Reporter


It’s sometimes hard to mark the passage of time.

Every day you wake up to the same routine. Wake up, work, eat, sleep (throw in children if you have them). It’s this process that like the tide, moves in waves from one day to the next, one year to another. Change is generally incremental, not drastic. It’s only when we look up and notice the difference our surroundings that we realize how far we’ve moved.

That’s what happened at Penn State Football Media Day.

Sure, Penn State Football has been through some sort of hurricane/tsunami in recent years that has completely changed the landscape of football in Happy Valley. Yes, the sea occasionally still throws up a whale carcass or two in the form of ‘new court documents’.

But it is the slow change in the demeanor of Penn State Head Coach James Franklin that really shows how far we’ve come in just two and a half years since he was named head coach. Instead of a gregarious coach who wanted to get along with everyone, we have a grittier, slightly hardened edge to James Franklin.

Franklin arrived from Vanderbilt with a sheen to him. A new shiny toy for Penn State fans to get excited about. He was young, energetic and full of grandiose promise.

“We are going to dominate the state.”

It was a phrase that was tweeted, quoted, and printed on tee-shirts. It was Franklin’s bold proclamation that Penn State would become a recruiting giant to rival Ohio State and Michigan.

For the most part, Franklin has delivered on this promise. Penn State has gotten very good talent from Pennsylvania in recent years, including everyone’s darling tailback, Saquon Barkley.

Yet very few coaches would utter such a phrase. Given the gravity of the situation Franklin waded into, and the fathoms of issues he would have to deal with, that was a bold promise to the Penn State fan base.

Then there was the time and period that Franklin insisted that media members say hello to him on teleconferences. For a time, there wasn’t a press conference that contained less than three “Hi Donnie’’s session. (Referring to Donnie Collins of the Times Tribune). Franklin was going to make the media like him… even if it was done somewhat forcibly.

Inevitably Penn State lost games. This past season was particularly brutal with an opening day loss to Temple, and four straight losses to end the season, including a blowout loss to Michigan State. As fans and critics became increasingly negative, Franklin remained adamantly positive.

“I’m going to come in here and be positive, even if it kills you and you want me to be positive. Love our players, love our players, love our media. Love everybody.”

We can cruise past several months until this Tuesday. Fresh off a summer break run-in with the media over whether or not he said that Ohio State was negatively recruiting against Penn State using whale carcasses Sandusky related material, Franklin had a much different tone to his comments.

“Excited about looking forward, not back,” Franklin said in the third sentence of his statements.

It’s not the words he said that were a change. It was the tone in which he conveyed that message.

There was a finality to his voice that had not been present in the past. He was telling the media what questions would be met with a wall and what would not. He then went on to give more ‘don’t ask’ topics including freshman

“Guys, I know you’re going to ask about the impact of freshmen and newcomers, and I can sit here and make projections on very little evidence at this point.”

“We’re going to start camp with Nelson at right tackle, which I know is different for you guys from the way it ended in the spring. There’s a number of reasons why we’re going to do that which I will not go into at this time.”

These are by no means aggressive statements or demonstrative in nature. The stance on not asking about freshman is a stance long held by Joe Paterno, a senior media member told me. The issue with Andrew Nelson may be injury related and that is a topic that Franklin has always declined to discuss.

Alone these are not an indication of anything. But if you look at them together, Franklin’s approach to the media has changed drastically. It simply is the process of maturation for a coach on a national platform.

And it will continue, day after day, wave by wave.