Penn State Football: James Franklin’s Friends & Framily Plan
Editor’s Note: This is the 18th in a series previewing Penn State football, part of the countdown to the Blue-White Game on April 12 by StateCollege.com and Onward State. Read the previous stories here.
Holuba Hall was frilled on Saturday with James Franklin’s friends, framily and other members of the Penn State frootball fraternity.
To heck with Sprint’s 10-member cell plan.
Franklin’s sales plan, evidenced by the crowd inside Penn State’s indoor football facility, was bigger by almost hundredfold.
How big? On football Saturdays in the fall (should we now call it frall?), Beaver Stadium has been called the third-biggest city in the Commonwealth. On this past football practice Saturday, Holuba was nearly the third-largest city in Centre County.
Penn State’s practice fields on Saturday were ringed by scores of people with two — but Franklin hopes will soon be one – degrees of separation from the coach. There had to be at least 700 frolks or so there. When Gerry DiNardo of the Big Ten Network visited last Saturday, he thought there were about 1,000.
A HOLUBA HALL OF A TIME
Here’s a sampling of Franklin’s framily on Saturday: Practically the entire coaching staff from Pittsburgh’s fabled North Allegheny High School (52-6, two state titles the past four years). A half-dozen student leaders from Nittanyville (sans tents). A State College father (Mark Galimberti) of a suddenly essential State College run-on guard (Evan Galimberti). And nearly 50 media members (from the Lehigh Valley to Lancaster to Lions247).
All by invitation. The check-in table giving away big, glossy ID badges on lanyards was part-Centre Soccer registration day, part-giveaway tables at noon in the HUB.
There are 118,000 square feet inside Holuba Hall. James Franklin was using every single of them. Not only to coach his players, but to showcase his program, introduce his staff, court the media, entice recruits, build bridges. It was a veritable three-ring circus. Trinidad James (no relation to Franklin, James) blared over speakers, linemen caught punts and Franklin finished the day with a pep talk to over a hundred recruits and their parents, sitting in bleachers along the sidelines. “This is big-time college football,” he shouted above the din, pointing in the general direction of Beaver Stadium.
Under Franklin, it’s been come one, come all to Penn State. Part of his success is that he doesn’t stop at practice. Franklin shows his recruits it all, too – the stadium, the locker room, the campus, the classrooms, the labs, the town, the people. Especially the people.
“It’s all about relationships with everything we do, having a great relationship with (the media), the high school coaches, the recruits, everybody on this campus and in this community,” Franklin told a couple dozen media types huddled around him on Saturday.
There’s a method to the March madness of the man who says, “I’m a football psycho.” Penn State’s ranks are still very much thinned by those Rank Sanctions issued by the NCAA. He needs reinforcements. Fast. He needs to build goodwill. Fast. He runs an up-tempo practice. Fast. It may not be desperation, but it sure is heavy perspiration. Franklin needs to hold the waters at bay for the next season or two, before he begins playing with a full complement of players. Bill O’Brien built the dam. Now Franklin has to make it permanent.
All that and more was driven home in a very personal way over the weekend. Lions247 and Blue White Illustrated broke the news that senior offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach, the lynchpin of the Nittany Lions’ offensive line and a cornerstone of the Lasch locker room, was out for the year with a torn ACL.
Now, a guy like the 6-foot-4, 268-pound Galimberti – finally fully healthy after getting injured at the Big 33 game last July – is more valuable than O’Brien could have ever imagined when he first drove down Westerly Parkway to visit the big hometown kid. I’m not saying Penn State is thin at O-line, but I swear when Evan's dad walked into Holuba that Franklin was eyeing up the elder Galimberti – a former Penn State football manager in the 1980s who has some size – as a possible scout team tackle.
Without Dieffenbach, Franklin is looking down the barrel of a 2014 season that could finish with almost any number of wins between five and nine. But it’s hardly a 9 to 5 job, no matter who you are on Franklin’s squad. Even if you aren’t even on campus yet.
“I think another thing is that we’re going to have to play a lot of freshmen,” Franklin said. “I typically would prefer not to do that, but I’ve already been direct messaging these guys and telling them they need to come in with the mentality they’re going to play.
“Typically, there are some positions like offensive line that you would like to redshirt and you’re where really good offensive and defensive linemen are playing by their sophomore year. We’re going to have to play all of these guys as true freshmen and just grow with them.”
78 DAYS, 11 VERBALS
Franklin is already looking to harvest another bumper crop. Penn State’s new head coach is only 78 days into the job, yet he and his staff already have 11 verbal commitments for the Class of 2015. And that’s without a solitary home visit.
Compare that to Joe Paterno’s last full season of recruiting, in 2010. It was almost Thanksgiving before the Nittany Lions had more than a half-dozen verbals that year. The difference between now and then? Back then, the head coach visited recruits via the Internet as Penn State relied mostly on its big three of recruiting assistant coaches -- and that trio is long gone to OSU, WVU and the AFA.
Now, the sky – and not Skype -- is the limit. It’s all hands on deck with a coaching and admin staff that cut its teeth fighting the Tide and Tigers while at Vandy. Franklin is spreading the gospel. In the Bible, both Matthew and Luke cautioned about hiding your light under a bushel. The King James Franklin version believes in that as well, both chapter and verse.
When it comes to friends and framily and the future of Franklin frootball, for Penn State’s new head coach the solution is simple.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Franklin on Saturday, beginning a 118-word soliloquy that ended simply yet clearly. “We’re going to work very hard at it.”