Franklin: PSU making progress
As the snow piled higher and higher in State College on Saturday morning, Penn State football head coach James Franklin took to the phone lines for a slightly recalibrated (related to weather conditions) version of his planned “end-of-year” presser.
His overarching message was clear.
“We’re getting there.”
It’s already been a bit of a tumultuous offseason, with the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop (a slight surprise to Franklin, he revealed) and offensive line coach Herb Hand and a new offensive coordinator in Joe Moorhead, freshly complemented by Matt Limegrover to replace Hand and Tim Banks’ hiring as a defensive assistant with the shift of Breny Pry to defensive coordinator.
And, a handful of players transferred as well, and all could be easily explained by depth chart position and age, etc., except for the choice of promising young linebacker Troy Reeder to go to the University of Delaware (citing wanting to play at his father’s alma mater, where his brother will also play).
One surprising loss: Franklin said none of the transfers were a surprise — except that one.
“Kind of had a long conversation with him,” said Franklin. “But yeah, that’s a position where we’re a little bit thin, because that one was unexpected.”
But all told, the personnel shifting has been enough to cause a bit of a stir from a vocal portion of Penn State’s fan base, and Franklin came right out of the gate addressing that in his opening statements.
“You look around the country and the game has changed dramatically in the last 10-20 years,” he said. “Coaches are difficult to keep. There have been 14 changes among Big Ten coordinators, 13 changes in the SEC since the end of this regular season.
“Then, if you look around the Power 5 conferences, there have been 175 coaching changes, so there’s been a lot of change and that’s what you see in college football right now. Do I like it? No. But that’s the reality of college football right now.”
Delicate balance: Franklin said, as he has often this season, that the most challenging part of his job is getting people excited about the program while still tempering expectations.
“I think it depends on what people are listening to,” he said. “I think that’s one of the toughest things about being a football coach, is trying to explain to people where we truly are but get people excited about the program as well. That’s a delicate balance.
“But I think that anybody that logically sits down and takes the emotion out of it, and lists out all the challenges and situations that we’ve been through the last four or five years, (where we are at) makes sense.”
Franklin said (and he’s not wrong) that Penn State is just one of eight teams that have not had a losing season in the last 11.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with the administration (about where we are and where we want to be)...and I was told from the previous staff that everybody recognized that year three, year four after the sanctions were going to be the most difficult,” he said. “Everybody realized that, that was said to me during my interview process as well.”
Ahead of schedule: Franklin said looking at it logically, he feels the program is actually ahead of where internal expectations thought it would be to this point.
“As coaches, as fans, you always want more. And we will strive for more,” he said. “But in terms of the facts, and putting those things out on paper, it probably makes a whole lot of sense where we’re at right now and where we’re going.”
Banks' past: Penn State’s new safeties coach and defensive assistant, Tim Banks, is a good guy by Franklin’s account, but his arrival to the program isn’t without a bit of shadow from days past.
Banks used to be under Tim Beckman’s employ, and was one of the assistants the former Illinois head coach sent to State College to try to recruit Penn State players immediately after the sanctions hit.
“I’ve known Tim for a very, very long time,” said Franklin. “I know the type of man Tim is...Tim was put in a very difficult situation, and we discussed that.
“I think once you guys get to know Tim and our community gets to know him, they’ll have no issues or concerns about that. Tim was put in a difficult situation as an employee, and I know the type of man he is.”
Hackenberg, Franklin have ‘good conversation’: Former Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg caused a bit of a stir around the country, first when he declared for the NFL Draft immediately after the team’s TaxSlayer Bowl loss to Georgia in early January, and then when he released a statement thanking many people, but excluding Franklin.
The head coach addressed that matter on Saturday.
“First of all, I’m really happy for Christian and his family and wish him nothing but success as he prepares for his future in the NFL,” he said.
“Christian called me the day after announcing and we had a great conversation, it was very appreciative. He thanked me and the staff for everything we’ve done...I think he’s going to go on and do great things, but I was very, very glad he picked up the phone and called me the next day.”
The quarterback is currently in California training with Jordan Palmer, brother of Arizona Cardinals signal-caller Carson Palmer.
Quarterback competition: Hackenberg went down with a slight shoulder injury during the TaxSlayer Bowl, and in came backup Trace McSorley.
The redshirt freshman played well considering the circumstances, and has been widely regarded as the guy to replace Hackenberg next season.
Yet that position, among many others, will remain open throughout spring and fall ball, said Franklin.
“I think at every position you have guys who have experience, and those guys have a bit of a head start,” said Franklin. “But we’re going to go into the spring and fall with an open competition, obviously with quarterback being a part of that as well.”
Alongside McSorley, in battle for the spot will be Tommy Stevens and early enrollee and last season’s top player in the state of New York, Jake Zembiec.