Coaches Balance Responsibilities, Family Life in Transition
Since the moment James Franklin arrived in State College as Penn State’s new football coach, he’s preached the importance of family.
Within this context, the first question he was asked at the team’s media day earlier this month centered on his wife and two daughters finally joining him in State College.
How important was this for Franklin? Quite a bit. He immediately said “awesome” in describing what it was like to finally be reunited with his family; he added it’s been strange that the team doesn’t know his family very well yet, considering his wife and two daughters have been such a big part of his daily routine at previous coaching stops.
“That none of these kids really know my daughters and none of these kids really know my wife is weird,” Franklin said of his wife, Fumi, and daughters, Shola and Addison.
That changed recently.
His wife and daughters joined the team for a couple meals shortly after moving to State College, and Shola and Addison didn’t sit with their dad. Instead, each opted to sit with the players.
“I love that, my wife loves it,” Franklin said. “It's awesome for our family and it's good for our football team, as well. They get to see me in a different light, and I think that's important.”
For the Penn State coaches, trying to decide when their families will join them isn’t always as simple as selling a house and boarding a plane. Some coaches, such as offensive line coach Herb Hand and defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, have children in high school. They have their own social circle, friends and other responsibilities. Picking up and moving in the middle of the school year can have drawbacks. Leaving friends behind is difficult, even if the children are used to it.
Shoop, for example, has coached at 12 schools since 1989; the number is 13 if you count two stops at Yale, his alma mater. Like many of his colleagues on the Penn State staff, he’s earned promotions quickly. What this also means is he’s usually only been at a school for a few years, and when he said that his oldest son has been at his current high school for three years, his tone of voice indicated that represented quite a long time. That’s why Shoop’s wife and two sons decided to stay in Nashville for a while longer.
"It was important to us to keep him stable, he had been at the same high school for three years and we wanted to do that,” Shoop said. “Right now, the plan is for him to finish his senior year at high school and for my younger son and my wife to be up here at the mid-semester, after the season in December, they're gonna move up here."
The same situation happened with Hand’s family; in a funny and quirky result, Hand and Shoop are roommates, living with a third coach. When earlier this year it was suggested the scene was reminiscent of “Animal House,” Hand responded on Twitter, saying jokingly it’s more like “Grumpy Old Men.”
Hand and Shoop understand their situations better than anyone else, and they realize there’s a reason why they’re doing what they’re doing. This arrangement isn’t long-term, and their families get what’s going on.
"It's tough, but it's one of those deals where you kind of make the best out of a tough situation,” Hand said. “My wife is Wonder Woman, she's doing a great job of managing all of that for us."
On the other end of the spectrum is offensive coordinator John Donovan, who is married with three kids. His family moved to State College early on, back in March, about two months after Franklin was introduced as head coach. Donovan said he wants to spend as much time as possible with his family, and there’s comfort in knowing his family is finished with this transition.
"It's huge,” Donovan said of having his family with him. “I got a wife and three kids and I want to see them as much as I possibly can. … It was good to get them up fast and we've settled in together at the same time. I think it's been good for us and I know it's been tough on some of the other guys.
“It's not easy for them and I feel for them, I really do. I'm appreciative for my family being here, and I do for the feel for the guys who haven't been able to get their families up here for one reason or another."
In some ways, none of this is ideal — constantly moving and becoming immersed in a new community every few years — but it’s not completely new territory for the coaches, including Hand. He regularly talks with his family, who temporarily stayed in Nashville, and the constant communication definitely helps. And Hand talks like someone who’s been through this balancing act before, because he has.
His family understands, and if this is what’s necessary as Hand and his colleagues continue to climb the coaching ranks, they’re willing to do it. It’s what they signed up for, Hand said, and if nothing else, he and his family are still going through it together, even if they’re separated by hundreds of miles.
"It's not the first time we've had to do this, we've gone this route before,” Hand said. “It's not optimal, but it's part of the coaching lifestyle."