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Penn State Football: Franklin's Real Job Begins With A Simple Practice Monday

by on March 16, 2014 9:00 AM

Editor's Note: This is the third in a series previewing Penn State football, part of's countdown of insight and analysis about head coach James Franklin and his team heading into the Blue-White Game on April 12.

James Franklin is "The Man."

He's the coach fans wanted and critics told them they would never get.

He's the coach who would have been (and likely was) at the top of many wish-lists of schools searching for new coaches.

He and his staff turned around the Vanderbilt program and made themselves collectively some of the hottest names in college football.

And so, James Franklin became "The Man," the big name on a roster of rising coaching talent.

But at Penn State the challenges are going to be a lot different than those at Vanderbilt, and being "The Man" comes with a lot of different expectations.

At Vanderbilt, the problem in its most basic form was to turn a basement dwelling SEC program into something that it had never been: competitive. Franklin had to develop a program that could consistently go toe-to-toe with teams in the best conference in America, something it had never done before. The goal was to create a product that would fill the stands and the airwaves with talk of a Vanderbilt program on the rise and one that would be fighting for SEC titles -- not just a place at the SEC table.

While Franklin's true long term success at Vanderbilt may still be a question mark, there is little doubt that he was able to accomplish things unlike anything the program had seen in its history. Franklin may not have turned Vanderbilt into an SEC title contender, but the program was left in far better shape than it was when he got there.

And that's what made James Franklin "The Man." Much like Bill O'Brien, Franklin's stock was the hottest for fixing something rather than succeeding with something that was already in place.

But at Penn State fans aren't going to be happy with simply feeling good about progress, at least not as a long term goal. The program has effectively been established as national power for the entire modern college football era. All programs have good and bad years, but Penn State is a place where people dream of national titles, not the hope that a few good seasons might make the Nittany Lions relevant again.

So as Franklin takes the field on Monday for the first of 15 spring practice sessions, he is truly starting his new job. His public appearances, recruiting trips and relationship building are a crucial part of his profession, but at the end of the day the success Franklin has at Penn State will be determined by 60 minutes of football over the span over a few weeks. And the sprint to the first of these games starts Monday with the start of spring practice.

Ironically, for as important as the actual games are to the success of a football program, Franklin will coach in only 12 of them over the span early 2014 until the fall of 2015. That's almost two years of very little football and a very large amount of waiting. In those 12 games Franklin has roughly 720 minutes to define the tone of his program. Franklin's start to the 2015 recruiting class has been a surprising success, but things are always easier in the honeymoon period. Everything eventually comes back to performance on the field, because at the end of the day that's what the program was built for.

Ultimately there is no reason to think Franklin will fail while at Penn State even though it's far too early to know what exactly to expect from his version of Penn State football. His personality and surrounding cast of characters seem to set Penn State up well for success in the coming years.

Even if his success seems likely James Franklin is "The Man" and Step 1 of truly delivering on that title starts at practice tomorrow.

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