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Penn State Football: The Connection That Defines Chris Petersen and James Franklin

by on December 03, 2017 9:15 PM

Bush Hamdan is the Kevin Bacon that connects Fiesta Bowl head coaches Chris Petersen and James Franklin.

Hamdan is the one degree of separation that unites two of America's top coaches, who head two of the hottest programs in college football.

He has worked for both Petersen (at Washington in the past — and will again, soon) and Franklin (at Maryland).

As such, Bush is a key part of the coaching trees that will meet when Penn State faces Washington in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 30 in Glendale, Ariz.

Hamdan also underscores the key traits that define both Petersen and Franklin as head coaches and CEOs of Top 10 programs:

They both value continuity, loyalty and relationships. It is a formula that works, too:

Over the past two seasons, Petersen and Franklin are a combined 43-9 — 22-4 for Petersen, 21-5 for Franklin.

Petersen's upward trend of winning seasons eerily matches Franklin's as well: He's been 8-6, 7-7, 12-2 and 10-2 at Washington. Meanwhile, at Penn State Franklin has been 7-6, 7-6, 11-3 and 10-2.

Penn State enters the 2017 postseason at No. 9 in the CFP rankings, while Washington is No. 12. Neither is far from being in the final four.

Both teams enter the Fiesta Bowl with 10-2 records in 2017, with their four losses all coming on the road by a combined 18 points. A TD here for Washington and a field goal there by a Penn State and the two could have been squaring off in the CFP semifinals in the Rose Bowl. (Washington lost 30-22 at Stanford and 13-7 at Arizona State; Penn State lost 39-38 at Ohio State and 27-24 at Michigan State.)

It could have been a good old-new fashioned showdown in the Granddady of Them All between the Big Ten (now 14) and the Pac-8 (now 12). It's still kinda of the same thing for the Fiesta Bowl, just 371 miles to the east of Pasadena. But only kinda.


Back to Bush, and his Franklin and Petersen connections:

Hamdan was an offensive quality control assistant at Maryland in 2010, when Franklin was the Terps' assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Franklin was Hamdan's boss. At Maryland, they both worked with QB Danny O'Brien, who broke nearly every freshman passing record and was named ACC Rookie of the Year.

After Franklin left Maryland on Dec 17, 2010, to become head coach at Vanderbilt, Hamdan stayed and was promoted to QB coach for the Terps' forthcoming Military Bowl game. He then went on his merry way, and five stops later he landed in Washington, where he spent the 2015-16 seasons. In 2017 he's been the quarterbacks coach for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL.

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When Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith departed earlier this week to become head coach at Oregon State, Hamdan was named his successor. (Hamdan won't coach in the Fiesta Bowl, and on Sunday Petersen said he didn't know he would be calling the plays.)

No one could happier for Hamdan than Franklin, unless it's his wife, Fumi.

"Bush and I have become very, very close," Franklin said on Sunday night. "And Bush just speaks the world of Coach Petersen. And that's helpful. You see good people in this profession and you watch them be successful.

"...we've stayed very close and very tight ever since. My wife was talking to (Bush) the other day. I had a conversation while I was on the road recruiting with him as well. Got a very close relationship with his family, mom and dad."

Hamdan's return to Seattle is so Chris Petersen.

Before Petersen went to Washington in 2014, he was head coach at Boise State for eight years, going 92-12 — with an apex of 14-0 in 2009, when the Broncos were ranked No. 4 in the nation — and offensive coordinator for five seasons before that. Counting Smith, in 2017 Petersen's Washington staff featured six full-time assistant coaches and the strength coach who were with him at Boise State.


All this sounds like Franklin and his coaching and administrative staffs, which are chock full of folks from his previous institutions Kansas State, Maryland and Vanderbilt, right?

That point was driven home again in Happy Valley this past week.

After Joe Moorhead left Penn State to become head coach at Mississippi State — and took running backs coach/special teams coordinator Charles Huff with him — Franklin put Sandy's money where his mouth is in three-step fashion:

1.) Franklin promoted longtime assistant and protege Ricky Rahne — who first coached with his mentor as an offensive GA at Kansas State in 2006 — to offensive coordinator. (Josh Freeman was the K-State QB and Franklin was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.)

2.) He hired back Tyler Bowen to take Rahne's spot as tight ends coach. Bowen was a grad assistant at Penn State in 2014, then went to Fordham — in 2015, where he coached with Moorhead, and in 2016 as the offensive coordinator — before coaching the offensive line at Maryland in 2017. Here's the kicker: Bowen was a player and then a student assistant at Maryland under Franklin, and in 2010 worked alongside guess who? Yep, Bush Hamdan.

3.) Franklin looked inside his second-floor Lasch Building coaches' meeting room to promote Phil Galiano from defense/special teams consultant to special teams coordinator and assistant defensive line coach. Galiano has coached at Rutgers and in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (both stops under Greg Schiano), and is a native of Norristown, Pa. Those PA roots matter to CJF.

There's also a No. 4.

Right now, with the departure of Huff, the running backs coaching spot is open. (Grad assistant Mark Dupuis, who spent five years at Fordham as a wide receivers coach, will handle the duties through the bowl game.)

It can't be officially filled until Jan. 9, 2018. But don't be surprised if Franklin follows form, and stays within Lasch, with Larry Lewis, who spent the 2017 season as a consultant for Penn State football. He's known Franklin for longer than anyone on his staff, save for defensive coordinator Brent Pry.

When Franklin was a GA at Washington State in 1998, he worked with Lewis, who was assistant head coach and special teams coordinator. Franklin also got his master's degree in educational leadership from Washington State, so he knows whereof he speaks when talks about University of Washington football. In 1998, when Franklin was a grad assistant coaching tight ends, Washington State lost 16-9 to Washington in the Apple Cup game.

The next season, Lewis went to Idaho State as head coach, and Franklin followed as the wide receivers coach. The next year, Franklin headed east to Maryland, but the two stayed in touch. Lewis went on to coach special teams and running backs at Colorado State, Nevada and Virginia.


Hiring Lewis — just as it was promoting Rahne, and adding Bowen and Galiano — would be so Chris Petersen of Franklin.

And so Joe Paterno as well. (No surprise, then, that Petersen was very high on the inside list of legit candidates to succeed Paterno in late 2011.)

"Relationships are critical. I have a core group of guys who I have been with for a long time," Franklin said on Sunday night. "When I look at guys like Coach Petersen, and the way we are trying to build it as well, it's always interesting.

"There's an aspect, where you go out and make the sexy hire that everyone is excited about, from School X or School Z or the NFL. But at the end of the day, you have to make the right decision for Penn State that is going to keep the program moving forward. You can have two different models," he added, noting one was promoting within. Or, "you can go outside and hire a new guy and bring him in."

Which can be a problem, Franklin acknowledges. While Moorhead was anything but a problem — he literally doubled Penn State's offensive point total — success like Moorhead's often means that the change artist does not stick around. He's too in demand.

The question is, does the offense stay, as well as its nomenclature? For Penn State, a new offensive coordinator with a new offensive scheme in 2018 would have meant that 60 players — all of the players on offense — as well its quarterback would have to learn not only new plays, but new terminology. As it is the Nittany Lions' offense has had two different languages over the past three seasons.

"When you do that," Franklin said, meaning bringing in someone new, "they're going to want to run their offense or defense. In a perfect world for me, I'd like to promote from within. I'd like to keep the same schemes, so it's less change for the players. It's a challenge. I'd love to keep this staff together for forever, but there's going to be change. And the players have to handle that and the coaches have to handle, and we have to keep moving forward.

"If I can hire a really good coach that I know a lot about, and has been a part of our organization, and I have been able to work with him and see how he is — in times when things get tough and see how they are when things are going well — and how they interact with the players and how they interact with the coaches, then I'm going to do that.

"...Those relationships and those experiences are really, really important," Franklin concluded. "We want to continue building what we're doing here."

Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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