LANCASTER — Penn State coach James Franklin offered two points of advice Tuesday regarding the NFL draft: Stay in school unless you're a first-rounder, and don't underestimate Mike Hull.
The Big Ten linebacker of the year went unpicked at last weekend's NFL draft, which Franklin called surprising and a "travesty." Offseason injuries, plus perpetual questions about his size, led the conference's leading tackler to a free-agent deal with the Miami Dolphins.
But, as he kicked off this month's Penn State Coaches Caravan bus tour, Franklin said Hull would make the most of his circumstances.
"I was really surprised that Mike Hull didn't get drafted," Franklin said. "I honestly think, if Mike can get in the right system and stay healthy, he'll play eight to 10 years in the NFL."
Franklin and his traveling party of fellow coaches and athletic director Sandy Barbour made caravan stops in Harrisburg and Lancaster, the first of 12 over the next three weeks. The tour will visit the Holiday Inn Fogelsville on May 21.
On Tuesday, Franklin entertained several questions about the recently completed draft, in which three Penn State players were selected. Franklin said his program employs a firm to advise players and their families about the NFL draft.
Ultimately, the head coach said, the decision rests with them. However, Franklin holds a firm philosophy regarding the draft.
"For you to come out early, you need to be a first-round draft choice," Franklin said. "If not, you need to go back to school, especially if you haven't gotten your degree."
Of the three Penn State players who gave up their final seasons of eligibility, two were drafted: Donovan Smith in the second round by Tampa Bay, and Jesse James in the fifth round by Pittsburgh. Defensive end Deion Barnes went undrafted and received a free-agent offer from the New York Jets.
His baseline advice aside, Franklin called every situation unique. Regarding Barnes, Franklin said his staff advised and mentored him through the process. But so did others.
"One of the real challenges is, a lot of people are giving them advice," Franklin said. "A lot of those guys giving them advice are going to make 3 percent off them. That's why we hired an outside company that's going to give them advice that's not biased, that's in their best interest long-term. I think Deion, even today, is confident he made the right choice."
Hull's case was different. He led the Big Ten in tackles (134) and was consensus first-team all-conference. But Hull's size — he measured at 5-11 at Penn State's pro day in March — and several postseason injuries slowed his pre-draft progress.
"Mike's offseason was not what he wanted it to be," linebackers coach Brent Pry said before the caravan stop in Lancaster. "He was hampered by an injury at the Senior Bowl, the [NFL] combine and our pro day, and nobody got a true sense of his abilities, his skill set, which to me is what's going to make him special."
Franklin saw the same. He told a crowd of about 250 fans in Harrisburg that Hull going undrafted was a "travesty" and predicted the linebacker would be among the team's most difficult players to replace.
"He's way too productive," Franklin said of Hull's NFL potential. "I think college coaches and NFL coaches get way too caught up in measurables like height, weight and size. Mike's a guy who, when you see him, he's not going to jump out at you.
"But if you turn on the tape and watch how productive he is and see what kind of leader he is, he's invaluable. Mike's going to find a way to play and to be successful."
PSU 'proactive' in retaining Shoop: LSU courted Bob Shoop this past offseason, but the defensive coordinator chose to stay at Penn State with a reportedly sizable raise. Barbour said she was "proactive" during the process.
Barbour said she and Franklin talked "relatively early" last season about contingencies regarding possible coaching departures. Both she and Penn State President Eric Barron were "very supportive" about retaining Shoop and devised a "conscious strategy" to do so.
"We were proactive from the standpoint of anticipating what might happen and how might we respond, how should we respond, to have a successful outcome," Barbour said.