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Penn State Football: James Franklin, Joe Paterno and Christian Hackenberg

by on October 01, 2015 11:40 PM

The radio show broadcast every Thursday night from Lettermans in State College during football season is called the “Penn State Coaches Show, Featuring James Franklin.”

Salima Rockwell, the associate head coach of the Penn State women’s volleyball team, last night occupied the guest spot next to host Steve Jones from the opener until 6:21 p.m.

Then, after a commercial break, Franklin himself came on for about a half-hour, including commercials.

It was the most illuminating 30 minutes of the 2015 season.

Franklin had already met with the media twice this week, for 36 minutes and 44 seconds on Tuesday, filibustering his way through 15 questions. Then on Wednesday night after practice, he got another 14 or so questions from two-dozen media types in 10 minutes and 48 seconds.

In those two sessions, Franklin talked about Army and an appreciation for the military and (more on) Carl Nassib and injuries and redshirts and freshmen and the running game. The usual stuff.

And Trent Dilfer. Not the usual stuff.

But Thursday night, if you were paying attention – as I was, first while listening in my car in the driveway and then inside my house via the Internet feed on -- Franklin gave a hint of his POV about the future of two PSU VIP's, present and past: Christian Hackenberg and the late Joe Paterno.


I am almost certain Christian and Joe never met. When Joe was in charge and Christian was a phenom in high school, Penn State never gave the Boy Wonder from Virginia with incredibly deep PA football roots much of a look. A shame.

It took Bill O’Brien only a day or two after getting a recruiting tape from Hackenberg to offer the high school QB a full ride. Then he started recruiting – heavily – Hackenberg, one of the nation’s top high school quarterbacks, to Penn State. Even though, as OB shared later in quieter moments, the teen-ager kept on calling him “dude” when they talked on the phone.

“That’ll stop the day after national signing date,” O’Brien promised. I bet it did.

When the story of the second decade of the 21st century of Nittany Lion football is finally written, Hack and JoePa will be the primary characters. For plenty of reasons.

Hackenberg, Penn State’s junior quarterback, has started all 29 of his college football games. He is the only Penn State player ever named co-captain as a sophomore and junior, and has been the mostly singular common (but, really, very uncommon) thread of Nittany Lion football over the past 29 months of Penn State. (He arrived on campus in June 2013). For perspective, the scandal hit 36 months ago.

AD’s and head football coaches and school presidents have come and multitudes of coaches, staffers and a dozen or two athletic department executives have gone. But Hack has stayed.

Joe stayed even longer. You know the story.



Entering Saturday’s game, Hackenberg is 17-12 as a starter. That’s a winning mark of 58.6%. Which is kinda crazy, but kinda expected. Status quo, Status Joe. Through Joe, the Dark Years, L.J., MRob, two season-killing losses to Iowa, McGloin obliterating Bolden, the scandal, Scrap as head coach, O’Brien and now Franklin, it’s been the same. Since 2000, Penn State is 111-66. That’s 62.7%. Paterno was 125-75 his final 200 games – 62.5%. O’Brien was 15-9 – 62.5%. Franklin is 10-7 – 58.8%; 61.1% if he beats Army.

James Franklin is moving on from that. Or trying to, God love him.

Thursday night, he took a pair of questions from the Lettermans crowd, one in relation to headlines about the future of Beaver Stadium. And the other in relation to the Penn State offense. The latter is a short-term question, actually. The current PSU QB has 29 games as a Nittany Lion signal-caller down, seven or eight to go.

Let’s assume that Hackenberg goes pro after the 2015 season, which is a logical assumption. That means after the Army game on Saturday, he has three games at home inside Beaver Stadium. That’s 18 of 21 down, three to go. Think about Fusina, Blackledge, Collins with three to go. (Kerry Collin’s third-last game in Beaver Stadium? That 63-14 punishment of Ohio State on Oct. 29, 1994. Whoa.)

Potentially, Hacklenberg’s three games are against Indiana (Oct. 10), then 21 days later against Illinois (Oct. 31), then 21 days later against Michigan (Nov. 21). Then…that’s it. Three games in 43 days. Hardly memorable or Murderers’ Row, although the three schools are a combined 10-2 in 2015. From 2012-14, the triumvirate of Indiana, Illinois and Michigan was an aggregate 45-60.

This latest home run of five home games in Beaver Stadium in five weeks covers a paltry 29 days. Too much, too fast, too much rain, too many zany Barkley runs to absorb that we are rapidly approaching the end of the Hackenberg Era. I’m admittedly biased. Appreciate him now -- actually tomorrow. The stats and the wins don’t always say it, but he’s one of the three best Penn State quarterbacks I’ve ever seen, dating back to 1979.


1979 was the year I started covering football for The Daily Collegian, a stretch on the college paper that lasted three-and-a-half seasons. My first game? Penn State vs. Army, a 24-3 victory by the Nittany Lions as Matt Suhey ran for over 100 yards. It was Oct. 13 and Homecoming Day.

After the game that day, as I entered the tiny media room under Beaver Stadium, I almost ran into an angry middle-aged man in glasses. Joe Paterno.

“I told you,” screamed a very irate Paterno, as he grabbed a syndicated writer by the name of Gordon Blain by the arm and shoulder, “you’re not allowed in here.”

Then Joe shoved Blain through the small door leading out of the media room and nearly into yours truly. My first game as a beat reporter, 37 years ago. (Oh, for the want of an iPhone.)

“So,” I wondered, “is this what Joe Paterno is really like?”

Uh, yeah.

Back to Thursday night: Franklin was asked about the Penn State offense coming out of halftime (but still in a slumber) and then a few minutes later about the future of Beaver Stadium. His answers told you where Hackenberg and Paterno stand, at least right now. They’re not in the long-term plans.

Hackenberg is a short-timer and Trent Dilfer’s comments only reinforced that. Joe is Paterno Non Grata.


In the official 2015 Penn State Football Yearbook, published by the university, Paterno is listed among the 224 pages where he has to be: year-by-year records, annual results, a list of Penn State’s College Football Hall of Fame members. But other than that, I counted four pages where Paterno’s name and/or image were also in the yearbook (pages 2, 3, 26 and 55) – as verified by my pal John Hook. We may have missed one or three, but you get the idea.

Back to Thursday’s show: There was a question put to Franklin from Corey, a student camper at Nittanyville, about Franklin’s thoughts concerning the future Beaver Stadium. At the tail end of his reply, the Penn State coach turned the tables.

Franklin: “Is there anything you want?”

Corey: “I just want to maybe throw out (the idea of) Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium.”

Audience claps for three seconds.

Franklin: “I think everything is up for discussion.”

Not a ringing endorsement. The very next question was about Penn State’s offense in the third quarter, a cumulative 60 minutes through the first four games of 2015 during which time the Nittany Lions have been able to score all of three points.

“The big thing is consistency,” Franklin replied. “Right now, we’re starting to get an identity, the running the ball, making the commitment. One of the things I think we made a mistake with early on is you’re with Christian Hackenberg and our wide receivers and you’re out there at practice and you’re doing 7-on-7 and you’re chucking the ball all over and doing these really exciting things. And that’s great. But that’s not football – football is 11 guys working together, protecting the quarterback, protecting the ball, throwing the ball, all of those things.

“In this part of the country, with the weather that we have, and our blue-collar mentality and our history and our traditions, we want to be able to do that. And also to be balanced and be able to throw the ball. But the first thing we have to do is to get an identity and that identity is going to be running the ball and managing the game.”


Not lost in the translation:

Mentions of Joe are few and far afield.

And while Penn State definitely needs to run to win in the Big Ten, the guy handing the ball off for the Lions in 2016 won’t likely be a Christian.

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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Penn State Football: James Franklin Radio Show Recap
October 01, 2015 10:15 PM
by Ben Jones
Penn State Football: James Franklin Radio Show Recap
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