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Penn State Football: Franklin Getting A Feel For His New Car Thanks To Caravan

by on May 27, 2014 1:55 PM

Imagine you have driven a minivan all your life.

They get the job done, they have plenty of redeeming qualities, and if you crash and burn it's not like it was a massive investment. Safe, reliable, and easy to operate.

But you've always wanted to drive a Ferarri.

You've read about the history of the car, the engine, the people who drove them before you and what it means to own a Ferarri. You save up your money and finally the day comes.

You get behind the wheel and it's like nothing you've ever experienced. The low rumble of the engine as it waits to be unleashed on the road is something you dreamed about for years.

You can read all day about a Ferarri but nothing compares to actually driving one.

In many ways, James Franklin is that minivan driver. He has done well for himself navigating along the road of college football at programs that are respected, valued, and have plenty of redeeming qualities. He has even managed to make a few minivans look sleeker than the rest of the cars on the lot. If he had failed, it would have been a footnote of a footnote in the ever growing history of college football.

But James Franklin doesn't want to drive minivans for the rest of his life because you can only make one look so nice. It'll never beat a Ferarri in a race and James Franklin isn't coaching to get "Good job, good effort" medals.

And that's why he's at Penn State.

Franklin, who is all to aware of what it means to coach at Penn State, has only just started to rev up the engine and get a feel for what it can do. He did his research, he has read about the past and what makes Penn State the program it is, but that can only prepare you for so much.

With the 17-stop coaches caravan now behind him, Franklin has finally gotten a real look at his new owners' manual. A glimpse at what his new car can do and what parts make up its heart and soul.

But like all things, learning takes time.

Franklin's first step on the learning curve came at the conclusion of the opening event's press conference as he casually told the local media that he would see them all later on in the summer. Little did he know that most of those same local media members followed him well outside their coverage areas.

When James Franklin is talking, somebody will be there to tell people what he said, a stark contrast for the small media pool covering Vanderbilt football only a year earlier. The devotion of the respective beat writers is the same, but the demand for information is just that much larger.

Lesson one completed.

Grasping the scope of what Penn State "is" only continued as the caravan moved along. There were sold out events in three states and the nation's capital. Franklin was introduced to people from all walks of life who are invested in the future of Penn State and Penn State football. 

Franklin is mobbed at Wegman's and fans ask him for an autograph in the bathroom. People buy what he is selling before he even gives the pitch simply because he is selling it. Even as the program limps through NCAA sanctions, the foundation -- or rather the chassis -- is so much stronger than anything he has worked with before.

For a man who has fought his entire career to win over the hearts and minds of fans, he has to do little convincing in Happy Valley. Penn State's spring game easily became the biggest home crowd he has coached in front of. His first ever Signing Day event hosted thousands while his former program held a similar event for a few hundred fans. Nothing is easy about being head coach. It's safe to say though that Penn State fans make plenty of things easier for Franklin and his staff.

Certainly, the Penn State Ferarri hasn't left the garage just yet, but Franklin finally "gets" what he is a part of.

"It's like," Franklin said pausing to think, "you do all the research, you look up data, you look up recruiting classes, you watch stuff, you talk to former coaches, you grow up in the state, all these different things. But it's no different than anything else, nothing is going to completely prepare you for the job, except for the job itself. So I think I had a pretty good understanding but until you're actually doing it, it's different. It's different."

While the experience has been new for Franklin, that doesn't mean it was a bad one. He has wanted to drive his college football Ferarri and is finally getting the keys to do just that. The caravan is a chance to collect information as much as it is a chance to get his message out to the people who can help him upgrade the engine.

"The caravan has probably given me time to look at it and put it in to perspective," Franklin said near the end of tour. "Like I've said, getting up in front of fans and talking and seeing their faces and seeing how important it is to them. It probably has given me a little bit more clarity on that, a better feel for it. My normal day is in the office just go, go, go, go, go. So with things like this you get to interact with people."

"People give me gifts. You know, my first two weeks on the job I had a closet full of things people had made or given to us, which is great. Things for my kids, for my wife, welcoming us to the community. No different than like when you move into a new neighborhood and a neighbor brings over an apple pie. You know, that's almost the feeling a little bit coming to Penn State, we literally had two apple pies brought to us that Herb Hand crushed one day."

"Even all of the caravan events. At one stop they painted this one sign "Dominate The State" and other things for us. So it's different, it's really a sense of community, it's really a sense of family. It's amazing how many people come up and say "welcome" and "welcome to the family coach, we're so glad you're family"

"A lot of people and a lot places say that, but you really feel that here."

Franklin will continue to learn, by his count for three years before he feels totally settled in, but it's safe to say he's gearing up to see how fast he can go from 0 to 60 and there is little doubt he's gaining speed.

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Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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