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James & The Giant Pitch: Penn State Football and The Franklin Effect

by on August 17, 2014 9:00 PM

Perhaps the most amazing quality about James Franklin is that his goals become your goals, too.

Yours, as in future freshmen, fans, followers on Twitter, fellow coaches, football players, frontline staff, front-running media and fund-raisers.

He's F’ing contagious. Fabulously, fun-nomially, frantically, Franklinly so.

Call it The Franklin Effect.

“More than anything, that’s who I am,” he explained along the Coaches Caravan trail in May.

“I made up my mind a long time ago I wasn’t going to be a head coach who read a coaching book about how you are supposed to be. I wasn’t going to step out there now and be something I’m not.”

That explains the pie-eating contests, musical chairs, bowling outings, social media surges, daily 22-minute head and goatee trims, selfies with dinosaurs, and endless #107kStrongs.

“I must stay true to who I am,” Franklin added. “I think that’s why a lot of times I think people relate well to us because I think it comes off as genuine. I could not function and do it successfully by trying to be different than I am.”

GOOD, BETTER, BEST

Unabashedly, Franklin says anything is possible. What’s the team’s best summer GPA? We’ll beat it, he says.

Best mark ever, be it for Beaver Stadium attendance, a Nittanyville camp-out, practice punts over 40 yards long and 4.0 seconds high and outside the #hashmark, a checkers game, a golf cart ride to the stadium with daughters Shola and Addy that ends in burnt rubber, an assistant coach’s 40 time or another assistant’s broad jump, or a caravan stop?

We’ll beat it, he says. You’ll beat it, too, he says.

Facilities that are 15 years old and leaking at the edges during rainstorms? We’ll fix it and not only make them better, but make them the best, he says.

Ficken’s kicking a bit erratic? He's been Norman Vincent Franklined to the point where Sam’s a captain.

Different color jerseys for the first team, second team, third team? No. Offense wears white (except for QBs, who wear blue). Defense wears blue. Injured or limited action players wear light blue. Same idea with the preseason depth chart. Players are listed by academic class. First team, so says his message, is an achievable goal.

That message can certainly be a bit cornball with a hint of hokum at times, but this is a guy who admittedly cries during TV commercials and team meetings. He knows how – and seemingly loves -- to play to the camera, but also can deliver Kodak moments that seal the deal with kids who never heard of Polaroids.

It’s James & The Giant Pitch:

We can be better – you can be better – than ever. It is a message welcomed with both ears and one heart by a Nittany Nation that has been pounded every which way but lose (24-13 is darn good, all things considered) over the past three seasons. Despite all the flotsam and jetsam and to his eternal credit, Franklin has never played the Sanctions, Lawsuits, New Bosses and Still-Bickering BOT cards. Instead, he's publicly ignored that junk and recycled a passion that had, in some quarters, been lost.

AM I WRONG?

When P.J. and his B94.5 band of interns play their promo, “Where James Franklin is happening,” they ain’t kidding. Second on the State College pop station’s “Top 10 On The B” list is “Am I Wrong,” by Nico & Vinz. The lyrics have The Franklin Effect written all over them:

Am I wrong for thinking out the box from where I stay?
Am I wrong for saying that I choose another way?

I ain't tryna do what everybody else doing
Just cause everybody doing what they all do
If one thing I know, I'll fall but I'll grow
I'm walking down this road of mine, this road that I call home

So am I wrong, for thinking that we could be something for real?
Now am I wrong, for trying to reach the things that I can't see?

Joe was your (grand)Pa. O’Brien tried to make you Billieve. But Franklin – his ambition, like his head, is smooth and hardly blind. It’s out there for all to see, Tweet after Tweet. Lacking motivation? Let’s #hashtag it out.

Again and again over the past 219 days, beginning with Dave Joyner and Co., the parade of Penn State people that has gone before Franklin and walked away impressed is amazing. High school four- and five-stars, Penn State students, boosters, a media corps that is thanked for its presence. They all have been Franklin Effected. It’s effective.

He affects people.

Last week I had Penn Staters a half-century apart in age, less than three hours apart in real time, rave to me about their interaction with Franklin, be it in person or over the airwaves. He’s all folks want to talk about. A twenty-something who works for Yahoo Sports. A student leader from California with whom he’s bumped shoulders. An influential alum. A social media savant from the South. Franklin is First and Foremost on their football minds. And that was just over a 24-hour cycle.

He remembers names, endlessly offers “thank yous,” hops from chair to chair to spend equal next-seat time with dinner guests, asks students how their summer jobs went, and DMs, texts and phones like a Mad Man pitching the best product in the world.

He shoulders out so many bro hugs that you half expect another James – ortho pioneer Dr. James Andrews – to jet up from Alabama to do rotator cuff surgery on Dr. James Feelgood. James Franklin isn’t quite the LeBron that is James, but in some ways he is. Forget LeBron’s Sports Illustrated “I’m coming home” pronouncement. Franklin said it first.

DOING THE (ALPHA) WAVE

This was what Franklin will frankly tell you what he was made to do. He says he’s really an introvert, forced by circumstances to be an extrovert. (Hey, he has a psych degree, so maybe he’s right.) But actions speak louder than words. Franklin’s brain, I bet, is wired differently. Lots of alpha waves.

Researchers at the University of Technology Sydney have found that if someone has high amounts of alpha brainwaves, he or she is at least three times as likely to be an extrovert. Their study found that people with increased brain waves have higher levels of creativity, an improved ability to problem-solve, a flow state of consciousness (solving said problems without stressing) and enhanced positive thinking.

So, Franklin is an alpha male. What’s new? 

“I would hope that (fans) see a guy that is passionate and emotional and caring for people in general and for Penn State, for my family and for the community,” he said in the spring. “I hope that's what they see. I hope they see a guy who's hard-working and conscientious. That's how I would like to be perceived.”

O’Brien was the good soldier, the voice of Penn State's caravan stop after stop and just about everywhere else, wearing a tie that literally bound. But he was much more comfortable wearing sweats while grabbing a couple Coors Lights and Wednesday night wing specials at Duffy’s while b.s.’ing with a pair of writers. 

Paterno, the life of the party for decades, basically shut it down with public events in 2010, and saved it all for the practice field.

Franklin admits that he was made to be a head coach, even though for 16 years he was a vagabond assistant, pitching a tent and driving his 1988 white Honda from stop to stop. Talk about goals. He knew who he was and what he could become. And became – at $4.3 mil per. Franklin sold himself, now he continues to sell others.

“I think in a lot of ways I'm probably a better head coach than I was as a coordinator or as an assistant,” he said over the summer. “I think I just have some traits that probably benefit me in that way in terms of people and dealing with people and interacting and having fun and being comfortable in all the different roles that come with being a head coach.”

EFFECT-IVE

Soon, in just a dozen days, Franklin’s role as Penn State’s 16th football head coach in 128 seasons takes on a new form.

There are massive and myriad caveats. The 2014 season is a sanction-induced bridge year and Franklin is building the program for the long haul. Still, the trip to Ireland will be the first glimpse into seeing if James Franklin is Effect-ive on the playing field, too. As Nico & Vinz sing and Franklin pitches as he tries to effect change:

"Am I tripping for having a vision? My prediction: I'mma be on the top of the world."


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Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979. He is a senior lecturer in Penn State's College of Communications and teaches a pair of classes in the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism: “Sports Writing” and “Introduction to the Sports Industry.” He created and taught for several years the Center’s course on “Joe Paterno, Communications and The Media.” Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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