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Penn State Football: James Franklin's First 100 Days

by on April 20, 2014 9:50 PM

Monday marks the first 100 days of James Franklin’s employ at Penn State. Or, given the speed with which he’s gotten things done, daze.

Or blaze.

Either way, nothing seems to faze this guy.

Dominate the State? This guy’s dominated everything from the selfies in Pegula to the national recruiting rankings of Rivals, Scout, ESPN, 247 and iTunes.

He’s owned them all. His first hunny have been a real honey.

Granted, it wasn’t the best first 100 days ever by an American leader. That honor goes to another Franklin – as in Franklin D. Roosevelt. Between March 8 and June 16, 1933, FDR created The New Deal with it the FDIC, the Federal Securities Act, the Civilian Conservation Corps. and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Since Jan. 11, 2014, here is James Franklin’s New Deal: He’s created the Signing Day signing party, the Signature Event, the “#WeAre…Better” signing tease, the “#107kStrong” marketing headlock, the FrankLion face and the Amos and Hack Lion Logo Eyes. Impressively, he’s also created a lot of new Penn State football players, signing them at the last minute for the Class of 2014 and at seemingly every minute since for the Class of 2015.

Most of all, he's started to create faith, hope and the promise of returned glory. On Day One, he said that was Job One.

“I think with everybody pulling the rope in the same direction there is no reason why we can't take this program where everybody wants it to be,” Franklin said 100 days ago. “We should take great pride in representing the state of Pennsylvania. We should take great pride in having the ability to play for Penn State University, and that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to unite the coaches, we’re going to unite the community, and build this program where everybody wants it to be.”

Of course, even Franklin’s first 100 days can’t top God’s first six. But He did take Day 7 off. All Franklin did at the end of his first week was take a red-eye back from California. Seated next to, says Franklin, a really fat fellow. Talk about taking one on the double-chin. 

PUTTING THE SOCIAL IN SOCIAL MEDIA

At least Franklin got some sleep that night. That hasn’t always been the case. Franklin, as his staffers will tell you, requires only five hours of sleep each night. That gives him more time to post, Tweet, text, phone, FaceTime, Google and DM.

He also hugs it out, high-fives, points No. 1 and poses, fist-bumps, claps, slaps, skips, chases, shrieks, screams, smiles and kisses. And that’s just when he’s chatting up a homeless guy at the Starbucks on College Ave.

He’s been everywhere, man. He’s gone to or is planning to go to a sociology class, meet the Thespians, watch Penn State wrestling, hockey, basketball and volleyball. Speak at a high school banquet in Lancaster, a state of the program night in Harrisburg, a hall of fame dinner in Altoona and a coaches clinic in Allentown. He took in an NCAA Division basketball tournament game at his alma mater. He’ll soon embark on the 17-stop Coaches Caravan. And none of that includes Franklin's expeditious recruiting expeditions.

He moves so fast even Waldo can’t find him.

Can Franklin keep up this pace, running four-minute miles when the steeplechase, high jump and pole vault are still on the card? And what will happen if Penn State continues its downward progression of victory counts -- from nine in 2011 to eight in 2012 to seven in 2013? Applause won’t be cheaper if the wins only come by the half-dozen. 

Franklin has focused on the far future, the years after the 2014 season, noting that it will take awhile to right the ship back into the Top 25 and higher. That would be reasonable even if there hadn’t been a scandal, sanctions and an early-exit by Bill O’Brien. After all, the last time Penn State was No. 1 in the rankings – any time, not just at season’s end – was in 1997. Christian Hackenberg was 2 years old. 

JUST THE BEGINNING

“To be honest with you, I think it really takes three years to figure out how to get things done,” Franklin told Clay Travis in early March. “All these places are complicated and sophisticated … It takes time. It will take two-three years here to work things through it … It has been a sprint since the day we arrived and it will be that for two-three years.”

It’ll be another 19 weeks until his team actually plays its first game. And, overall, Franklin has the benefits of having to play just a dozen games in his first 136 weeks in office – his Lasch Building office. That eases the pressure.

Franklin’s no fool, though. He knew what he was walking into. He touched upon it after the Blue-White Game.

“The playbook’s limited just because of where we’re at in some of our situations, dividing the team up, being thin-personnel wise,” Franklin said in his post-game presser. “But it is what it is. You guys don’t want to hear about it. Nobody else does. We just have to find a way to overcome it and embrace the challenge that we have.”

That bald-headed realism rarely bubbles up in public. That’s due to Franklin’s positive nature, the negative impact such talk would have on marketing and recruiting, and the likely advice he got from O’Brien, whose infrequent -- yet honest -- comments about playing short-handed were unfairly judged.

Glossing over what may come this fall is a sticky-wicket (an especially apt metaphor, given that James Franklin is also the name of a New Zealand cricketer of some renown). Only time will tell how everyone – players, coaches, media, fans, recruits, even Franklin – will react if things do not go well.

HONOR ROLL

For now, they have gone better than well. Franklin is about to finish his first spring semester at Penn State with a perfect 4.0 GPA. That includes his final project, the Blue-White Game crowd of 72,000 – second in the country to Alabama, with 73K and change. That’s the thinnest of margins over Beaver Stadium's spring crowd and quite possibly suspect, given that Nick Saban and Franklin were old SEC enemies. Franklin wanted 80,000, so he came in at 90% -- an A, even without the sanction curve.

Now, he’s been working that #107thing, too, priming the pump for a full house in Beaver Stadium every week in the fall.

We already know Franklin’s a gambler. Witness his investment in Vanderbilt and then Penn State – admittedly stocks that were undervalued. (Two years before Franklin’s arrival, Vandy was 7-6, with wins over ranked foes Auburn, South Carolina and Boston College.)

Right now, though, it would be difficult to bet even a Franklin against him.

For his first hundred at Penn State, Franklin has been money.

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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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