PSU NOTEBOOK: James Franklin touches on coaches, Tommy Stevens, recruiting, Lamont Wade

Centre Daily Times (TNS)
Tommy Stevens, with ball, will enter the 2019 preseason as Penn State's starting quarterback, according to head coach James Franklin.
  • PSU head coach James Franklin talked about his team's poor special teams.
  • Franklin also said Tommy Stevens will enter the preseason as PSU's starting QB.
  • Franklin said that the Lions' 2019 recruiting class could still add a player.

Special-teams coordinator Phil Galiano appeared to be on the hot seat this offseason after Penn State slid backward in just about every relevant stat category — but head coach James Franklin decided to keep him around.

On Wednesday, Franklin was asked a simple question about the choice to retain him: Why?

It wasn’t a simple response.

“I don’t make decisions just based on one area,” Franklin said. “It’s a body of work. It’s how are they with the players? It’s how are they in terms of the staff? It’s in terms of development of the individual players. It’s in development of the scheme. It’s in production on game day. It’s in organization and practice. It’s the type of role model they are for our players. It’s all of it.”

He continued: “And for me it always comes down to, is this the right thing to do for our program long term? And is the investment that we’re making, are we going to get a return on that investment, and how long are we going to have to wait for that return on that investment?”

The Nittany Lions may be banking on improvement in the 2019 season. But there really isn’t anywhere to go but up.

Galiano, who was a consultant prior to the 2018 season, became the Nittany Lions’ 10th assistant coach after the NCAA allowed teams to carry one more. Because Penn State had a coach solely dedicated to special teams, for the first time in Franklin’s tenure, an improvement in special teams was considered an easy task.

It wasn’t.

In 2017, Penn State was ranked No. 25 nationally in net punting. With Galiano, that ranking dipped to No. 68. Punt return average ranked No. 16 nationally the year before Galiano took over, then it fell to No. 72. Punt defense? No different, falling from No. 29 to No. 69. Kick-return defense? From No. 39 to No. 84.

The only place Penn State improved, statistically, was in kick returns. It averaged 21.65 yards per return in 2017 and 24.73 last season. It also “improved” its field goal rate from 52.9 percent in 2017 to, with a scholarship kicker, 66.7 percent in 2018.

Mistakes defined Galiano’s unit last season, especially in the Citrus Bowl — with a failed fake punt attempt, allowing a punt-return TD, an out-of-bounds kickoff and two missed field goals. Franklin went so far as to say afterward, “It wasn’t up to our standards today. Wasn’t up to our standards all year long.”

Still, the head coach intimated Wednesday that retaining Galiano would be a positive in the long run.

“Some guys are going to walk in and there’s going to be an immediate impact,” Franklin said. “And some guys it’s going to take a little bit more time. And I get that. And I understand that. But I’m a big believer that the men that we come to work with every single day, and that’s our players and that’s the coaches and that’s all of us. And so that’s where we’re at at this point with our staff and with our players.”

Stevens entering camp as QB starter: Franklin declined to discuss Stevens’ health after undergoing offseason surgery. But, when asked if would be the No. 1 QB this spring, the head coach answered in the affirmative — with a caveat of sorts.

“So obviously we’re not in a situation to name a starter really at any position,” he said. “But, yeah, when we start out, you know, you’ve got to put them in order. So Tommy will be No. 1 and Sean (Clifford) will be No. 2 and (Will) Levis will be No. 3 and so forth down the line.”

2019 class may not be finished: National Signing Day came and went Wednesday, but it still might not be the end of the Nittany Lions’ 2019 recruiting class.

Although plenty of prospects fax in their National Letters of Intent, Wednesday is technically only the first day players can sign after the early signing period. It’s not the last day.

“It’s hard to say the 2019 class is finished,” Franklin added. “There’s some guys that obviously are still deciding and then there’s — there’s some guys that may show up later in the process. You never know.”

One of the players Franklin is referring to is four-star safety target Nick Cross. Cross is a soft verbal commit to Florida State but is reportedly considering both Maryland and Penn State. He didn’t sign anywhere Wednesday and could choose his college destination in the near future.

Checking in on Lamont Wade: Safety Lamont Wade had one of the more interesting experiences with the transfer portal this offseason.

The rising junior initially put himself in the portal and appeared poised for a transfer, then had to clean out his locker (“This wasn’t my decision, but hey,” he posted on Instagram) but then announced he was coming back to Happy Valley.

Franklin didn’t do much to fill in the holes between Wade’s initial decision and his return. But he did address Wade in part. Here’s what he said:

“Lamont came and talked, but now the challenge is you go in the transfer portal, it becomes public,” Franklin said. “Tommy’s situation never really became public. Lamont’s situation becomes public. There’s a lot of voices. There’s a lot of noise.

“The good thing is back to the recruiting process, had a really strong relationship with mom and dad. Lamont’s a year away from graduating; this doesn’t make sense. This doesn’t make sense. To be able to talk it through; he’s able to look around.

“And to Lamont’s credit, you know, he’s frustrated. He wants to play more. He wants to have a big impact. And we want that for him, too. So it’s talking through all these things. And to me that’s what it really should be about. It shouldn’t be about the NCAA coming in and telling you how to do things and overcorrect; it should be the head football coach, the AD, the parents, the kid all sitting down and saying, look, let’s do what’s right; let’s do what’s right for Lamont. Let’s do what’s right for Penn State. Let’s do what’s right for college football and come up with some solutions.”