Penn State's Franklin has earned reputation as master recruiter
With his persistence, persuasive powers and gift of gab, Penn State coach James Franklin might be able to talk the paint off walls or sell LeBron James a pair of sneakers.
What we know for sure is he can recruit.
Such has been Franklin's reputation since the turn of the millennium, going back to his days as a Maryland assistant and later at Vanderbilt, where he was head coach. Now in his second season in Happy Valley, Franklin's 2016 recruiting class is drawing rave reviews.
Karamo Dioubate, a four-star defensive tackle from Philadelphia, last week provided Penn State's 19th verbal commitment in the class. Like with a hot stock, the news prompted a spike in the national recruiting rankings. Two prominent sites, 247Sports and ESPN.com, have the Nittany Lions situated at No. 4, uncharted territory during the past several years. In February, Penn State pulled in a top-15 class for 2015, restored to its full scholarship limit after the lifting of NCAA sanctions.
"It's not surprising," said Mike Farrell, national recruiting director for Rivals.com, which ranks Penn State seventh. "(Franklin) always gets an early start in building relationships. He's kind of a chameleon. He can blend in any way. Whatever style of recruiting needs to be done, James can do it."
Meaning, Farrell said, "If he's (recruiting) a two-parent kid with great grades or a kid living with his uncle in the city, he can adjust to any circumstance."
Relentless worker: Recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network and the Lemming Report said Franklin first caught his eye after joining the Maryland staff in 2000.
"He was the guy who related to the players better than anybody else, and he was a relentless worker," Lemming said.
He still is, apparently delivering on the promise he made in January 2014 on the day of his introduction that Penn State would "dominate" the state and region in recruiting. Franklin "has never lost a kid due to being unprepared," Farrell said.
In addition to his work ethic, the 43-year-old Franklin is known to use every available tool. He is a familiar, see-and-be-seen presence at satellite camps, and a serial tweeter.
"He has embraced the social media side of the landscape," ESPN recruiting director Tom Luginbill said. "He's embraced where our culture is right now, what resonates with kids, how they respond. All the things the older generation might fight a little bit, he's attacked it."
Luginbill called Franklin perhaps the best in the business in how he has "marketed himself and marketed the institution." He cited as an example Franklin's infusing signing day with NFL Draft-like hoopla.
"He knows how to sell a brand, how to be unique with a brand and how to get it in front of people," Luginbill said.
Franklin's best-selling brand probably is James Franklin.
"First, it's his personality," Lemming said. "I've seen a lot of guys who faked it. You can't fake it."
Central Catholic coach Terry Totten described Franklin as "very gregarious at school" during his wooing of safety John Petrishen, making a point of introducing himself to anyone in the vicinity: students, teachers, administrators, janitors.
"They all wanted to get a picture with him," Totten said. "He made an impression, let's put it that way."
Lot of help: Like all coaches, he doesn't do it alone. Farrell said Franklin "definitely hires the right people." One new hire when he came to Penn State was defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, a former Penn State receiver and Gateway coach who several times dealt with Franklin, the Maryland assistant.
"He was a dynamic person," Smith recalled. "You knew he was very smart, very energetic. He had a great way of communicating and relaying messages to the players. You just kind of knew it was a matter of time before he had his own opportunity to be a head coach."
"He blows you away with his motivation, his enthusiasm and his passion," said Clark Brown, whose son, C.J., was recruited by Franklin for Maryland out of Seneca Valley. "But if you listen to what he has to say, what comes through is the true professionalism of what he does, the love of his job. And he's very, very confident. In his mind, he's the best at what he does."
C.J. Brown was a three-year starter at quarterback for Maryland, although not consecutively. He came back from two season-ending injuries. Clark Brown played quarterback, too, at Michigan State in the early 1980s. Back then, there was no Internet, rife with information and chatter, and hardly any venues other than high school games for players to showcase their talents.
Much has changed. But smooth talk, unrealistic promises and outright lies are nothing new in a recruiting business Clark Brown said has become much more competitive. As a former college athlete who went through the process, his detector for nonsense is finely tuned. Franklin, he said, never tripped an alarm.
"He makes it a family affair, and he involves everyone," the elder Brown said. "It was a comfort to know you've got that kind of individual recruiting you and talking to you and letting you know letting you know how he feels about your potential."
Investing in the family: After six years at Maryland, C.J. Brown works for Amazon in Boston. Last season at Beaver Stadium, he engineered a 20-19 victory, the first by the Terps over Penn State since 1961 and the second overall since 1917. After the game, he and Franklin embraced.
"He doesn't just invest in you, he invests in the family," C.J. Brown said, echoing his dad. "He tries to get to know the family well, tries to get on a personal level. I saw him last year at the Big Ten Media Day. First thing he said after two years of not seeing me was, 'How's the family? How are things going?' It's just the kind of guy he is. He's very real, very up front.
"When you hear him talk, you get fired up," C.J. Brown said. "That's something you gravitate towards. He's passionate about the game. He's so believable. ... But he's not gonna sugarcoat anything. He's gonna tell you how it is. Some kids like it, some kids don't."
C.J. Brown said he was floored by how much Franklin knew about him.
"The first time he meets you isn't the first time he's meeting you," he said. "He knows so much about you by the time he picks up the telephone, shakes your hand. His memory, the collection of information he can hold within his brain and know about you is tough to compare to anyone I've ever met."
Ron Butschle, Brown's coach at Seneca Valley, said he told Clark Brown, "This is a guy who I would want my son to play for."
Sincere and genuine: A head coach for 11 seasons at Seneca Valley and Sto-Rox, Butschle added, "You can tell if somebody's sincere within two minutes. Listening to (Franklin) speak, you could tell what kind of guy he was. It was all genuine."
Franklin also recruited Brown's teammate, defensive tackle Andre Monroe. At 5-foot-10, Monroe was not heavily recruited. But he left as Maryland's all-time sacks leader.
"(Franklin) said, 'I put myself on the table for you even when a lot of people wouldn't want to do such a thing,' " Monroe said. "That's what sold me."
While attending summer football camps, Monroe sometimes brought along his brother, who is five years younger. Franklin "would just be around, and he would say, 'I'm coming to get your brother next,' " Monroe said. "Next thing you know, my brother's at Penn State."
Ayron Monroe is a freshman cornerback for the Nittany Lions. He was a top prospect out of Washington, D.C., sought by several schools. Recruiting him was not a favor to the Monroe family. Still, Andre Monroe said, "(Franklin) kept his word."