I can't say I remember the last time a Penn State football coach talked about doing a handspring when jumping out of bed in the morning. Or offering to "blow up balloons" at kids' birthday parties, if requested.
"People ask us to come speak at schools, we're going to be there. People ask us to come speak at social events, we're going to be there. People ask us to blow up balloons at their kid's birthday party in the backyard, we'll do that as well," James Franklin said Saturday at his introductory news conference as Penn State's 16th football coach.
Franklin apparently won over the packed media room at Beaver Stadium with his energetic approach to, well, just about everything.
"We're going to wake up every single morning, do a back handspring out of bed, excited about the opportunity to represent this great institution," Franklin said.
His passion to win and exuberant personality certainly has to have ignited a Penn State fan base with levels of excitement that haven't been felt in years. I don't think I ever came away feeling as optimistic about Penn State's future following a Joe Paterno news conference as much as I did Saturday. Then again, I admittedly only got to watch and, at times, cover those in Paterno's last decade as head coach. One of my final memories of Paterno is the then 84-year-old sitting in a golf cart addressing the media inside the Lasch practice facility during media day in August 2011. I get that Paterno motivated people in other ways, but there certainly wasn't much energy from the legendary coach that day.
And as passionate as Bill O'Brien is, it was hard to be excited about Penn State's future a couple years ago when he was first introduced as the new coach. The Sandusky scandal was fresh back then. And the Nittany Lions' future was murky, given the looming sanctions hadn't yet been handed down.
Those issues seem like a distant memory now, especially since the NCAA reduced the scholarship penalties on the program last fall. And because O'Brien kept the program from falling apart. And because Franklin seems like a good fit to lead the program back to the promised land.
Franklin also understands he has to wear multiple hats in his new role. It's something O'Brien didn't much enjoy. O'Brien just wanted to be a football coach. That would be fine at most other institutions. But not at Penn State, where the football program is still banned from postseason competition for another two seasons, although reports in recent months expect the ban to end sooner.
"The healing process is why I'm here. It's why we're all here, to bring this great university back together and try to unite the former players, the current players, the alumni, all the people," Franklin said.
Of course, winning games will play a large role in uniting those groups. But Franklin said all the right things Saturday to elicit feelings of optimism that may not have been felt by a Penn State fan base in a while.
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.