STATE COLLEGE — James Franklin may not have met all 6,800 undergrads at Vanderbilt in a given year. It wasn't from a lack of effort, though.
At his last job, the new Penn State coach would make a stop at every fraternity and sorority on campus to recruit fans. He would hit cafeterias and restaurants, looking to convince students to stay in Nashville for the weekend to attend the game, sometimes even asking to borrow their phone to call their parents for permission to stay.
Surely he wouldn't have to work that hard at Penn State, with a student body some six times larger than Vanderbilt's and a tradition as a football school.
Well, now that you mention it.
When it was mentioned to him that the games at Beaver Stadium these days draw at least 90,000 fans, Franklin quickly interrupted.
“What's that stadium hold?”
“Is there a reason you said 90,000?”
“It's 107,000 from here on out. That stadium will be sold out. Every. Single. Game. From here on out.”
It was only Franklin's first day on the job, as he was formally introduced as the new boss at the same stadium he promised to fill in September. It was just the first of a few bold claims.
“We're going to dominate the state,” Franklin said. “We're going to dominate the region.”
That word — dominate — came up six times in his initial hour-long press conference.
He didn't stop there. He even took aim at possibly the toughest job of all these days at Penn State — mending a fractured community, one still torn between honoring Joe Paterno and the past and moving past the horrors of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
“I think with everybody pulling the rope in the same direction there's no reason why we can't take this program where everybody wants it to be,” Franklin said.
A pretty lofty checklist.
“Luckily,” Franklin said, “I'm fortunate I'm not a guy that needs a whole lot of sleep. (My wife) is amazed that I can get by on five hours of sleep.”
For the next few days, at least, he'll be lucky to get that much. Franklin must piece together a coaching staff, solidify the returning roster as the players return from semester break and finish off the 2014 recruiting class.
Franklin said he would not formally announce each hire for his coaching staff, choosing to wait until all nine assistants are hired.
From the sounds of it, he plans to bring a significant number of coaches with him from Vanderbilt.
“I'm going to be fiercely loyal to the guys that I've worked with in the past,” Franklin said on two occasions Saturday.
But he did acknowledge he would sit down with current Penn State staffers — most notably defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who served as interim head coach when Bill O'Brien left.
Only Johnson, offensive line coach Mac McWhorter and tight ends coach John Strollo were left as school employees after much of the staff followed O'Brien to the Houston Texans.
Also of note, however, is former Lions linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. As it happens, Vanderlinden gave Franklin his first major college coaching job in 2000 when the former was head coach at Maryland.
“They're both guys we'll have discussions with,” Franklin said. “Ron gave me my first big opportunity at the University of Maryland. I was there with him for one year.
“Larry, I knew Larry very well because he recruited in the Maryland and D.C. area and had a lot of success. We've known each other through that. … We're going to talk to coaches that have Penn State ties.”
Some of the top candidates to come along from the Vanderbilt staff are offensive coordinator John Donovan, defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, receivers coach Josh Gattis and linebackers coach Brent Pry, an Altoona native who turned down a head coaching job at Georgia Southern to stick with Franklin.
Another coincidence and another name to watch — Vanderbilt strength coach Dwight Galt was a mentor to former Penn State coach Craig Fitzgerald when both were at Maryland. Galt's son worked as an assistant under Fitzgerald at Penn State.
The current roster
Players are just now filing back onto campus and will meet with Franklin personally for the first time either tonight or Monday afternoon.
Some players, like, say, quarterback Christian Hackenberg, may be getting a call before then.
Hackenberg could be the single biggest factor for success in 2014 for the Lions. Fortunately for Penn State, Franklin recruited him to Vanderbilt.
“I've got a very, very good relationship with him. I'm going to meet with probably him and his family in the next 24 hours.
“If you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance. I don't care if it's Pop Warner, if it's Little League, if it's high school, college or NFL — if you've got a quarterback, you've got a chance. And from what I've seen, he's got a chance to be pretty good.”
Johnson helped hold things together for the signing class, but it will be up to Franklin to close the deal on many of them.
He looks to have already won at least one significant battle. Quarterback Michael O'Connor, who was considering other schools when O'Brien left, made the trip to State College from his home in Canada Saturday and was set to talk to Franklin about enrolling in classes for Monday, according to multiple recruiting services.
As it stands now, Penn State has not had any of its recruits decommit because of O'Brien's departure.
“I'm going to get them on the phone and I'm going to answer their questions and talk about how excited we are about them joining the program,” Franklin said. “That's what we've got to do in a very short period of time. We gotta build a relationship with them. We gotta get in their homes. We gotta get in their high schools. And that's the work.”