Reflecting on James Franklin’s most famous press conference

James Franklin isn’t going anywhere, ok?

Though I am sure a portion of Happy Valley wants Franklin and everybody else fired— maybe tarred and feathered— after Saturday’s abomination against Maryland. In a normal year, his seat might be getting toasty at best.

But the chances of Penn State paying Franklin’s $38.4 million buyout are about as good as me sleeping with a supermodel within the week. It’s not going to happen, nor should it.

Penn State stinks right now, but it doesn’t change the fact that few coaches have won more in the past five years than Franklin. Even including this season, which appears to be going to hell, Franklin’s teams are 42-13, with a Big 10 championship, Rose Bowl appearance, three 11-win seasons and wins in the Fiesta and Cotton Bowl. The guy can coach and as of this moment, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. For now, write this year off as a fluke. Although nobody can defend Penn State’s 0-3 start, seemingly everything that could go wrong has thus far, from COVID-19, to running backs Journey Brown and Noah Cain getting hurt (the former will never play again), to Sean Clifford forgetting how to play football.

In that five-year window that has been so successful, there is one moment— 2020 not withstanding— that, right now, doesn’t make Franklin look very smart.

It wasn’t a loss, or a boneheaded coaching decision, but rather, a press conference that followed both of those.

The 2018 matchup with Ohio State at Beaver Stadium should have been a signature win for Franklin, but it went awry. First, the Lions coughed up a two touchdown lead in the 4th quarter. Then, when Penn State was driving in the last minute, Franklin called a run to Miles Sanders on 4th and 5, which amazingly didn’t work.

The ending to that game wasn’t normal, and neither was the postgame press conference.

And it was a great press conference. To his credit, Franklin didn’t make excuses. He took responsibility for the play call. He didn’t gloss over the obvious to gush over how hard his kids played.

He was pissed.

“I give you my word,” he said, among other things. “We are going to find a way to take the next step. We’re done being great.”

It showed Franklin doing what he does best; motivating. It’s why he’s a millionaire. It was supposed to be the start of a wonderful final two months to the 2018 season. Penn State should have beat Michigan State by 40 at Beaver Stadium two weeks later, and run the table the rest of the way, maybe even sneaking into the college football playoff.

Well, that simply didn’t happen. Penn State lost to Michigan State at home and later got dogwalked by Michigan at the Big House. The season ended with future Steeler Benny Snell running the ball down their throats in the Citrus Bowl.
Last year, Penn State went 11-2. Very good, indeed, but not at the “elite” status that Franklin wanted.

This year, Penn State will be lucky if it ends up being average, let alone great or even good. It’s a far cry from what Franklin was tired of being. He shouldn’t lose his job, but he needs to figure out how to get to that next level.

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