Yes, some of us needed to critique earlier and louder than others. Even I, who championed patiently withholding judgement, have also been quietly battling my own anxious questions. We all want James Franklin to be THE ONE even as we all worry he’s not. Having a coach for less than fifty years is still a new experience for us.
I know full well that we are on a hot streak. We are winning. We are watching our rankings rise. It’s all very, very exciting and something we haven’t experienced for years. It’s easier at this moment to declare confidence in our coach than it was just a few weeks ago, yet I believe I’ve finally arrived at a place of peace that I could sustain even in a loss. And so, I’m going to say confidently that James Franklin has proven himself. Here are my top five reasons he’s A-OK with me.
Number 5: James Franklin is not threatened by our past. He doesn’t shy away from recognizing Joe Paterno as a legend. He has said he’s honored to be joining a long line of excellent coaches including “the great Joe Paterno.” He’s said he has “tremendous respect for Joe Paterno and what he did here and how he built this program."
He’s told stories of his own excitement in meeting Joe. Franklin’s got his own shoes and he’s not worried about filling anybody else’s.
Number 4: James Franklin knows how to rally the troops. And the alumni. And nearly anyone whose path he crosses. Has his over-the-top enthusiasm ever made me feel wary enough to regard him as a bit of a used car salesman on occasion? Yes. Does all of his rah-rah silliness boost team morale? Somehow yes, otherwise our season would have tanked after the loss to Michigan, or in the previous two 7-6 seasons, or at any moment in the last three years. Do I believe he’s genuinely that naturally exuberant and excited about our team? Also, yes.
Number 3: James Franklin coached our players to a win over number two ranked Ohio State. I don’t believe a “signature win” is a necessary requirement. I do think it checks the box for some people, so I’m including it for that reason. I’m also including it because it shows how he can bring us all together for one night as one team. It shows he coaches his heart out. It shows that he’s here to win, not just here to not-lose. We do need somebody who can get the big wins, and who can facilitate the glorious upsets, but more than that we need someone to believe with us when we’ve got less than a 1% chance of winning.
Number 2: James Franklin makes the tough decisions. When the offense wasn’t looking the way any of us liked, he let go of his offensive coordinator and friend to try a different direction. How hard must that have been? And, when one of our players missed a class, Franklin sat him out for the first half of the Ohio State game. He sat out a starter for the entire first half of the biggest game of the season. That’s huge. That’s defining the term student athlete. That’s Success with Honor.
And finally, the number 1 reason James Franklin has proven himself to be the right coach for us: He is still here. Beyond the typical stresses of a head coaching job at any university, the extenuating circumstances he works with are unparalleled. Franklin has somehow managed to balance honoring our traditions, recruiting top players, continuing Success with Honor, appeasing the media, and satisfying our massively incompetent Board of Trustees that hired him with one hand, while trying to run the football program with the other. You have to have a certain kind of tenacity to balance this situation, let alone thrive in it.
And that’s just what Coach Franklin has done, thrived. He said Penn State is his dream job and I sincerely hope he sticks with us for the long term, because I know I’m sticking with him.