Penn State's James Franklin not distracted by reports of his interest in other jobs

JOE JULIANO
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Penn State head coach James Franklin stands at midfield following a 21-17 loss to Michigan during an NCAA college football game in State College, Pa.on Saturday, Nov. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Barry Reeger)

The downward spiral that Penn State's football team has experienced over the last several weeks has led to some interesting theories from the outside, one of the most popular being that coach James Franklin has been distracted by job openings at Southern California and Louisiana State.

Certainly something is not right with the Nittany Lions (6-4, 3-4 Big Ten), whose loss to Michigan last weekend was their fourth in their last five games. So Franklin was asked Tuesday at his weekly Zoom news conference if he felt distracted, or why people would have that impression.

"Yeah, I get it," Franklin replied. "We've been in the same situation before and have had really strong seasons. I think we're also in a situation obviously this year where we've lost some games that we had a chance to win and our record looks a little bit different. So I get people are trying to connect the dots there.

"All the things that I'm able to control, I'm controlling. But I get it. I understand the business. I understand people's concerns. Again I would just state, looking at my track record over my time here, eight years, my actions, my behaviors, I think they've been pretty consistent really since I've been here."

Franklin reportedly has been linked to a number of openings over the last four years. At the end of last season, Texas and Tennessee supposedly had him on a list of head coaching candidates before going in another direction.

Three weeks ago, after the Lions' dismal nine-overtime loss to Illinois, the coach said he had "discussions in great detail with our families and the players and the staff" about his alleged interest in the USC and LSU jobs.

"There's things that we can control and there are things that we can't from the outside," he said then, "but this has been kind of a story that's happened on numerous occasions, and we just try to keep it as focused as we possibly can."

Penn State has two games left in the regular season starting with Saturday's senior day contest against Rutgers at Beaver Stadium. Three of its four losses since Oct. 9 at Iowa have been by one score, including the four-point defeat against Michigan.

Franklin said he feels his players remain motivated to turn their luck around, but he understands their frustration as well.

"You've got to be aware of it," he said. "I think you've got to be realistic. We're not robots, right? We have emotions and feelings and those things as well. So I'm very aware of that with the staff and with the coaches and everything that comes with it.

"I look at how our guys played last week. Our guys played extremely hard. They competed their tails off. We had a chance to win the game, and that's been the case week in and week out. That's kind of what I'm looking for in practice and that's what I'm looking for on Saturdays — how hard are we competing? How hard are we playing?

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"You look at the scores of our games, you look at the type of opponents we have played, I think our guys are motivated. But obviously there's frustration, there's no doubt about it."

One of the most motivated is quarterback Sean Clifford, who took a pounding last week from the Michigan pass rush. Franklin said in addition to seven sacks, Clifford was hit five times after throwing a pass.

"Sean's a competitor," he said. "He's tough. He's given everything he can to this program and to this university and his teammates, but he was beat up. He was getting hit too many times. I'm proud of him. He is battling his tail off. I love him and I'm super proud of him."

Counting the seniors: Penn State will celebrate the members of its senior class walking out of the tunnel to meet with parents or other family members before Saturday's kickoff, but no one knows exactly how many seniors will be leaving the program after the season.

Because of an extra year awarded by the NCAA due to the 2020 pandemic, many senior players are mulling whether to extend their collegiate careers or take off for an NFL opportunity or something not football-related. Defensive backs Jaquan Brisker and Tariq Castro-Fields walked on senior day last season but returned for an extra year.

"Some guys may not walk with the intention of coming back," Franklin said. "Some guys may walk and still haven't made that decision yet until after the season.

"We're going to make senior day special for these guys, but it's not as clean as I'd like it to be for [media] to be able to know who's coming back and who's not. I don't think senior day represents that, at least until we get through this COVID period."