Penn Staters in National Media, on College Football Beats Weigh in on James Franklin
Editor’s Note: This is the 25th in a series previewing Penn State football, part of the countdown to Saturday's Blue-White Game by StateCollege.com and Onward State. Read the previous stories here.
A lot of Penn State undergrads cut their teeth covering Nittany Lion football.
At one time, they knew PSU football inside and out.
Now, most have gone off to make a name for themselves in press boxes across the country. But some still know their college football. In fact, for the following five Penn State grads, covering college athletics – and especially football – it’s how they make a living.
And each of them, like hundreds of thousands of alumni, have intently watched James Franklin’s first 90 days as Penn State’s 16th head coach from afar. Their POVs are unique, and provide a different lens from which to view the first spring under Franklin and his staff.
So, we polled the five to get their take on Nittany Lion football and its new coach. All covered Penn State sports while at the Collegian, and all are in their 20s or early 30s, but each with a heavy dose of front-line journalism experience. Most work for national platforms or have had national experience with outlets like MLB.com. Likewise, a couple covered the Sandusky scandal while at PSU, for media outlets in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and nationally.
Today, one is a sports editor for USA Today. Another is a high-level executive at national recruiting site 247Sports (which has a top-notch PSU site, Lions247). One covers the Big Ten Conference for the hometown paper of the Indiana Hoosiers. Another covers Notre Dame and the ACC for ESPN.com. And the fifth is on the Syracuse football beat after being a Penn State football beat reporter, covering Bill O’Brien’s first season as head coach.
I think what they think matters. That’s why I asked for their take about James Franklin and the State of Penn State Football:
PATRICK THOLEY is College Network Manager for 247Sports. Prior to that, he was Managing Producer for College at Rivals.com, as well as web editor for Blue White Illustrated.
“James Franklin’s first three months on the job have pretty much been what I had expected. With 247Sports headquarters located in Nashville, Tenn., I’ve had the luxury of following Franklin during his time at Vanderbilt. So I knew there were two things he would be successful at immediately – winning over the Penn State fan base and recruiting.
“The only thing that has surprised me is how fast he’s been able to dominate recruiting. In three short months, Franklin and his staff have secured 11 commitments – eight of them ranked as 247Sports Composite four-stars. Penn State is currently the No. 3 recruiting class in the country.
“In my opinion, there’s no one better in college football than Franklin at promoting and selling a football program and a university. During a 247Sports conference in 2012, Franklin was our keynote speaker. He was genuine, funny and someone you felt like you could walk up to and strike up a conversation with. In 45 minutes, he also had you sold on his vision at Vanderbilt. Following his presentation, it’s easy to see why he’s been so successful on the recruiting trail and in the community during his first few months on the job at Penn State."
MATT FORTUNA covers Notre Dame and ACC football for ESPN.com. He has worked for MLB.com and also covered Penn State sports for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
“Whether James Franklin can help Penn State actually compete annually with Ohio State and Michigan State remains to be seen. In the meantime, though, he has brought something to the program that, frankly, it has rarely ever had: Excitement.
“A coach who makes a spectacle out of signing day? Who vows to dominate the state? Who does everything in his power to live up to those words in his first months on the job? Where are we, the SEC? Actually, with Franklin and Urban Meyer in the same division now, we kind of are. And it’s about time. Throw in Larry Johnson going to the Buckeyes and this subplot could be fascinating ... if Franklin can get his teams to perform on the field the way Bill O’Brien was able to.
“O’Brien was the perfect fit for Penn State when he came aboard. Now it’s up to Franklin to continue that ascent. He’s made it worth watching. So far.”
CHRIS KORMAN is a senior editor for the USA TODAY Sports Media group and an adjunct at Towson University. He has worked at small-town, regional, metro and national newspapers covering a range of sports in the 10 years since he left Penn State.
“James Franklin was the guy I wanted as soon as I heard Bill O’Brien was leaving. I’d heard great things about him from people who covered Maryland football, and what he did in a short time at Vanderbilt was truly astounding. That, and in general I think it’s probably best for Penn State to continue to be run by an ‘outsider’ instead of a Paterno guy.
“Then I looked into how Franklin dealt with the rape allegations at Vanderbilt. I have no opinion on whether he covered up the incident or handled it as responsibly as any coach could. I don’t know those facts. The case hasn’t gone to trial. What did bother me, though, was the way Franklin dealt with questions about the case during a November press conference (10:30 mark of this video). He deflected talk of the incident by bringing up the work done by Vanderbilt athletes in Tanzania. His misdirection reminded me of the way Penn State’s leadership often dealt with things: by changing the topic and continuing to see every situation as they wanted to see it. That’s the insular culture that allowed Jerry Sandusky to continue preying on young boys.
“Penn State needs leaders who will forthrightly answer serious questions to the best of their ability, not people who believe they can control the story just by being charismatic or in charge. My sincere hope is that someone has delivered that message to Mr. Franklin by now. Everything else I’ve seen from him has been promising. He’s passionate and intelligent. He’s also the coach at a university where the most important thing is running a transparent program focused on avoiding impropriety.”
NATE MINK covers Syracuse football for the Post-Standard and Syracuse Media Group and has previously worked in State College, Philadelphia and Allentown.
“One of the big story lines from James Franklin’s early tenure is his recruiting record. Not unlike Bill O’Brien, he understands the path to the playoff will be player performance. What’s that he said? The plays work better with really good players. Both coaches understood the SEC is king, and it would be prudent to structure the program in a similar mold. O'Brien did so from the core on up, implementing 'structural changes.' With those in place, it has enabled Franklin time and resources to ramp up on recruiting.
“Franklin has been as aggressive as anybody in his quest to put the program at the pinnacle of the Northeast, using various multimedia and social media platforms to broaden his reach.
“This plan to dominate the region has implications for many northeast schools, including Syracuse. Scott Shafer wants to reach into Pennsylvania and New Jersey a little more moving forward and hired Bobby Acosta, someone with long ties to Jersey, to coach the tight ends. Making those inroads for elite prospects remains daunting.”
DUSTIN DOPIRAK is a sports writer for the Bloomington Herald Times in Indiana. He covers both Indiana basketball and football.
“From a pure football prospective, everything I’ve seen so far from James Franklin suggests that Penn State made the right hire. What he was able to do at Vanderbilt was pretty much remarkable. The recruiting he’s already been able to do even with sanctions and a bowl ban still hanging over him has been exceptional. He’s obviously got the charisma and the legendary energy level. None of that guarantees anything, of course, because a lot of coaches have all of those things and still don’t catch the breaks, don’t win, and end up getting fired before the end of their first contract. But he seems to have the tools and the capabilities.
“Also, from where I stand, it seems like he’s lifted the curtain a little bit, which is something that has needed to happen with that program to some time. I could be wrong about this as I don’t know the specific policies for media members and I might find out that reporters are kept the same distance from players and coaches that they always were and change my mind there, but even things like the video of the assistant coaching running the 40 on testing day and the skit that surrounded it showed a sense of humor and an openness that simply hasn't been there.
“Still, as an alum, the sexual assault allegations at Vanderbilt give me a little bit of pause. Obviously, no one accused Franklin of any wrongdoing there and I’m not trying to do that here. But the fact is that after what happened with Jerry Sandusky, there would be nothing so devastating to the university as another sex scandal coming from the football program. It doesn’t matter if the perpetrators are players or coaches, whether the victims are children or adults. It simply can’t happen, and if something does happen, it can’t be handled with even the slightest hint of cover-up. I’m certain Franklin has been informed of this and I’m hopeful he’s absorbed it.
“As a beat writer in the conference trying to achieve complete objectivity in regards to the beat and abandon all fanship loyalty, it matters to me less and less what Penn State’s win-loss record is. But as an alum, it matters more that I never see my alma mater in the position it was in in 2011 ever again.”