Penn State Football: The 'Chip' Is Present As Franklin And Company Move Forward Into Year One
Some questions are difficult to frame.
For example: Asking a head football coach about people who say he really isn't an Xs and Os guru.
The implication is in many ways a ludicrous one. A head coach doesn't become one by chance. A head coach doesn't fall into that position by mistake only to realize he knows nothing about the game. Simply put, you don't end up a head football coach without knowing the game better than almost everyone watching it.
But even so, it's something that has followed James Franklin around on message boards and during the occasional dinner table conversation. He can recruit as good as anyone in the nation, but can he make all that recruiting come together and win on the field?
To a certain extent it's a fair question. The challenges of recruiting are very different than those of a prime time meeting against Ohio State. At the same time though it unfairly suggests that because James Franklin is an elite recruiter he is, for whatever reason, an average coach in all other areas of the game. There's a rather large amount of data to the contrary.
It may seem surprising that this narrative exists at all, even if only on opposing team message boards and the occasional Penn State doubter. But during his first media availability, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop made sure to mention that Franklin's understanding of the game is far greater than he often gets credit for. It's a nod to the fact that even prior to his time at Penn State that Franklin had received his fair share of "He can recruit, but can he coach?" story lines.
But does Franklin himself see a need to prove on a certain level he is capable of excelling on both sides of the coin?
"I think so." Franklin said in Pittsburgh on the latest stop on the coaches caravan.
"Everybody likes to put people in boxes and categories. I think that's natural. The guy who is a great offensive or defensive coordinator, they get put into that box and there's concerns about whether they recruit well or not. The recruiter is always looked at as 'is he going to be a good enough Xs and Os guy?' You know, when you're considered a young coach people like to put you into that recruiting category."
"All I know is that coming up in this profession people gave me responsibilities and when I got responsibilities I did the best job that I could possibly do with it. And it went from there."
It's hard to argue with the results Franklin has produced either; turning a Vanderbilt program around in the SEC while pulling together talent-filled recruiting classes. Even in a situation that was far more dire than Penn State's, Franklin was able to succeed. That's something that comes on the field as much as success on the recruiting trail.
Franklin isn't too concerned about the boxes he's placed in though. While he puts high value on the power of controlling the perception of the program and himself, the critics and the doubters are beyond his control and far from the forefront of his mind. That doesn't mean though that Franklin doesn't have even the smallest of chips on his shoulder.
"I'm more concerned about being a great head coach for Penn State and doing a great job in this role and whatever box people want to put me in that makes them feels comfortable, they can put me in that box. Those things don't concern me, I know you've heard me say before that I want people to leave with a real positive interaction with Penn State and a real positive interaction with me, but how they view me -- Trust me -- My whole life, people have been putting me in a whole lot of different boxes you know I just want to wake up every single morning and be the best I possibly can be for Penn State and leave good impressions on people and go from there."
That goal, and that feeling is one shared across Penn State's coaching staff. Those assistant coaches have worked their way up the coaching ladder and through Division I and Division I AA programs to get where they are today. Penn State hasn't filled it's coaching vacancies with men making lateral movements, it's now filed with men who have literally -- as the song goes -- started from the bottom.
And now they're here.
The result is an appreciation for where they are. You get the feeling that through the sometimes over-excited statements made by Franklin that the excitement is sincere. The enthusiasm is simply a way of displaying a message that is seemingly genuine.
And with their coaching roots in mind, at least for Franklin, it makes a lot of things easier to appreciate.
"I think you just appreciate things a whole lot more," Franklin said of Penn State after years of coaching. "You come up the way that our staff came up, the things that you get at a place like Penn State, you appreciate a whole lot more. If you always played and coached at these types of schools it becomes an expectation. For us, we wake up every single day being unbelievably grateful and blessed and appreciative and motivated to do a great job because we don't take it for granted. I do think in a lot of way that makes us unique."
But because critics who doubt Franklin's Xs and Os are still out there, Franklin and his staff haven't forgotten their roots. They're still representing the climb up the ladder, and that will always come with a chip. A simple shirt with the word "chip" on the shoulder a much more blunt and always visible reminder, the word literally written on the shoulder of shirts that the staff and players wear.
"We talked about the Chip shirts we have with the "Chip" on the shoulder and I think it's a little bit of that," Franklin said. "Trying to prove to everybody that the guys from Division II and the Division I AA (can do it)"
"I'll never forget Bob Shoop kept the articles and articles when we first went to Vanderbilt that said "If you weren't impressed with the head coaching hire, wait until you see the defensive staff he put together" and I know our defensive staff kept that in their room for a long time."
You'd be hard pressed to find a beat writer who thinks Franklin and his staff will fail at Penn State, but it's safe to say Franklin will hang up the first article that does.
And why not? So far Franklin is undefeated against those who have doubted him.