Franklin’s Football Friends Will Be Penn State's Foes in 2014
James Franklin says he and his staff don’t look beyond the next game.
But let’s just say the Nittany Lion coaches peered beyond the season-opener against Central Florida.
And let's say they also looked across to the opposing sidelines of the teams on their 2014 schedule. You know what they’d see?
A whole lot of opposing coaches they used to worked alongside. Say, like nearly 20 of ’em.
That doesn’t count the fifth-year Maryland seniors that Franklin and his assistants John Donovan and Dwight Galt recruited then tutored when they were with the Terps in 2010.
Or former Penn State and State High receiver Alex Kenney, who is attending graduate school at UMass this fall and will be playing for the Minutemen when they visit Beaver Stadium on Sept. 20 – that’s just 10 months after Kenney last played in Beaver Stadium, for the Nittany Lions in their game against Nebraska last Nov. 23.
Also switching sidelines will be former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, now the assistant head coach for Ohio State. Johnson was on the PSU staff for 18 consecutive Big Ten games between the two rivals – including Penn State’s 13-6 win in 2008 and Ohio State’s 63-14 victory in 2013. (LJ was 6-12 vs. current employer.)
PLENTY OF RIVALRIES TO GO AROUND
Beginning with Central Florida, at least eight of the Nittany Lions’ 2014 opponents will feature coaches who had previously worked with Franklin and/or his assistants. That’s especially true of Terry Smith, who last year coached at Temple – which visits Penn State for a rare late-season contest on Nov. 15. And, like Franklin, Donovan’s extensive coaching background will figure into the ’14 season.
Franklin may be all about relationships. But don’t count on any verbal bro hugs in the week leading up to each game this season. Franklin, a former Green Bay assistant coach, surely knows that the Packers’ Henry Jordan once said of legendary coach Vince Lombardi, “He treats us all the same. Like dogs.” Franklin’s the same way, with the opposition.
“For us, there are no rivalry games,” Franklin said last week. “Conference games are no more important than out-of-conference games. They’re important. The most important game for us is the next game.”
(Hmmm. We’ll check back around 8 o’clock, Oct. 25, at the Beaver Stadium Whiteout vs. Ohio State. As Orwell said … sort of: “All games are equal, but some games are more equal than others.”)
We'll see if former offensive minds think alike -- offensive coordinators for three of Penn State's 2014 opponents were on the Maryland staff with Franklin. As was Donovan, who is the O-coordinator for Penn State.
Let’s do the ultimate looking ahead:
CENTRAL FLORIDA (Aug. 30, Dublin, Ireland)
The Equal Opportunity Rival theory will be put to the test on Aug. 30, when Franklin looks across the pitch in Croke Park, Dublin, and sees Charlie Taaffe. Taaffe is in his sixth season as UCF’s offensive coordinator, and is the man who’s credited with developing the No. 3 NFL Draft pick, quarterback Blake Bortles. Taaffe was the OC and QB coach at Maryland in 2001-05. His tenure overlapped a good bit with that of Franklin, who coached the Terps’ receivers and was recruiting coordinator from 2001-05. So, you have to figure they share some of the same core offensive principles. That also goes for Donovan, Penn State’s current offensive coordinator, who was also at Maryland throughout Taaffe’s tenure, as was Galt, Penn State’s director of performance enhancement.
RUTGERS (Sept. 13, Piscataway, N.J.)
No opposing coach will hit home more for Franklin than Ralph Friedgen. Ron Vanderlinden (remember him?) hired Franklin at Maryland in 2000, but Friedgen was Maryland’s head coach from 2001-10, encompassing Franklin’s two terms with the Terrapins (2000-04; 2008-10). Donovan was with the Terps the entire time. Franklin was designated Maryland’s head coach-in-waiting, but when a new A.D. came in to replace Kay Yow, that plan went to hell in a hand basket – and Franklin went to Vanderbilt. Friedgen was fired after the 2010 season, despite a 9-4 record. Friedgen resurfaced in January as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator.
“I’m excited that Ralph is back in the game,” Franklin told a handful of us in D.C., just a few miles from his old College Park stomping grounds. “I’m glad he’s back in college football. I think he’s good for the game. I think he’s good for college football; I have tremendous respect for him and his wife (Gloria). But I’m not sure when we face them is because, again, the only game that exists for us Central Florida.”
Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is well-acquainted with Norries Wilson, Rutgers’ assistant head coach and running backs coach. When Shoop was head coach at Columbia from 2003-05, Wilson was his offensive coordinator. When Shoop was fired, Wilson succeeded his boss as head coach from 2006-11. Wilson has been at Rutgers the past three years.
UMASS (Sept. 20, Beaver Stadium)
Penn State’s players will know UMass in myriad fashion. In addition to having played four seasons with Kenney (2010 was a redshirt year), they know UMass head coach Mark Whipple. That’s because he’s the dad of Nittany Lion sophomore backup quarterback Austin Whipple. Bill O’Brien, who coached for the elder Whipple at Brown, recruited the younger Whipple to Penn State.
The ties only begin there. During Mark Whipple’s first stint as UMass head coach (1998-2003), his defensive line and special teams coach was current Penn State D-line coach Sean Spencer – during the first of Spencer’s two stints at Massachusetts (2001-03; 2007-08). Franklin & Co. coached with UMass D-line coach Dave Sollazzo at Maryland for many years. Spencer also coached with UMass defensive coordinator Tom Masella in 2002-03, when Masella held the same title. Passing game coordinator Mike Cassano also coached with Spencer at UMass in 2001-03.
Then there’s first-year Minuteman outside linebacker coach Charles Walker. Walker was a defensive quality control coach for Vanderbilt in 2012-13.
MICHIGAN (Oct. 11, Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Franklin knows Michigan cornerbacks coach Roy Manning from their one shared season with the Green Bay Packers. In 2005, Franklin was wide receivers coach for Packers head coach Mike Sherman. Manning was a rookie linebacker after a stalwart career at Michigan. Sherman and his staff were fired after a 4-12 season and shortly thereafter Franklin flew to Kansas State for an interview; he got the job and was offensive coordinator and QB coach in 2006-07. After he hopped on the plane, Franklin never returned to Green Bay. (Same thing when he left Nashville in mid-January.) Manning played three NFL seasons with five teams.
OHIO STATE (Oct. 25, Beaver Stadium)
We all know about LJ. But Ohio State’s other assistant head coach, Stan Drayton, also has a tie to the Penn State staff. Drayton, who coaches Ohio State’s running backs, was on Villanova’s staff in the 1990s with Donovan. In his first coaching job, Donovan was an assistant secondary coach for the Wildcats in 1997, before moving on to Georgia Tech, where he met O’Brien, forging a friendship that lasts to this day. Drayton was the Villanova running backs coach from 1996-99.
MARYLAND (Nov. 1, Beaver Stadium)
Only Mike Locksley remains from the time Franklin and Donovan were with the Terrapins. Even at that, Locksley left and returned. In 1997, Locksley was the Terps’ running backs coach, and then added recruiting duties from 1998-2002. In 2001-02, Donovan worked under Locksley. After stops at Florida, Illinois and New Mexcio, Locksley returned in 2012 to Maryland, where he is offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach – Franklin’s old job from 2008-10. For his part, current Maryland head coach Randy Edsell – who succeed Friedgen in 2011 – coached with Donovan for one season (1998) at Georgia Tech. Maryland inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski was on the UMass defensive staff with Spencer in 2001.
And, as Franklin said recently, “The fifth-year seniors there we were part of recruiting them. I’ll be rooting for Maryland every game but one.”
TEMPLE (Nov. 15, Beaver Stadium)
Terry Smith will know almost every coach on the field when the Owls visit. Smith, the Nittany Lions’ cornerbacks coach, was on the Temple staff in 2013. As such, six of his former co-workers will be on the west sidelines for Temple – Matt Rhule, Adam DiMchele, Ed Foley, Francis Brown, Tyree Foreman and Mike Sivaro. DiMichele, a graduate assistant last season, ascended into Smith’s old job as wide receivers coach. Rhule, the head coach and a longtime Owls assistant before that, is a familiar name to Penn State fans. A State College native, he played linebacker for PSU in the 1990s. Siravo was on Shoops’ staff at Columbia in 2003-05 as linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator.
No one on Penn State’s current staff coached with Elijah Robinson, but the Nittany Lion players sure know him. Robinson, hired as Temple’s defensive line coach in the offseason, was at Penn State for a decade. He came in as a defensive tackle, but his career was cut by a neck injury. Robinson then climbed the coaching ranks, going from a student assistant to grad assistant to a short stint as a full-time coach – all under the tutelage of Johnson.
ILLINOIS (Nov. 22, Urbana-Champaign)
Once again, Franklin’s Maryland connections come into play here. Tim Banks, the Illini defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach, coached the Terps’ linebackers and then the secondary from 2003-06. Al Seamonson, the Illinois current outside linebacker coach, coached linebackers for 10 years at Maryland.
Finally, we can’t bring up Illinois and rivalries without mentioning head coach Tim Beckman.
As Franklin will learn, while Illinois may seemingly be a rival equal to every other team, no opposing coach – not even Urban Meyer -- is more hated in Happy Valley than Tim Beckman.
It’s just that kind of relationship.