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Midweek Musings - One Loss Does Not Define a Program

James Franklin has earned the benefit of the doubt

Penn State press conference Abby Drey/The Centre Daily Times/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

I am prepared to move past the loss to Minnesota this past weekend, but before I do, I want to take a moment to talk about something that has bothered me for awhile now:

James Franklin is an excellent coach, and has gotten Penn State to the point that anything less than a New Year’s Six bowl game is considered a disappointment.

And people talk incessantly about how he’s not good enough and is holding Penn State back.

I’m going to try to be concise here, because my thoughts on the subject are admittedly a bit scattered. Here goes.

By way of the sanctions, Penn State should not be as good at football as it is in 2019. Or was in 2017 and 2016. The Lions should have suffered more at the hands of the sanctions than they did. Credit for that success goes first to Bill O’Brien for keeping the ship afloat for 2 years, and secondly to James Franklin for turning the program into a legitimate playoff team in just a few years.

Franklin is an ace recruiter, pulling in more blue chip recruits (and a ton of undervalued non-blue chip recruits as well) than Penn State has had since the dawn of recruit-ranking services. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and James has done better than he should have, by all rights.

Franklin is an exceptional CEO, having put on his staff such coaching home runs as defensive coordinator Brent Pry, defensive line coach Sean Spencer, defensive backs coach Tim Banks, tight ends coach Tyler Bowen, running backs coach Ja’Juan Seider, and special teams coordinator Joe Lorig. That’s not even including Ricky Rahne, who in year two as the offensive coordinator has improved leaps and bounds from his first season.

Franklin is also improving in his game day acumen. He may not get every timeout right, or know when to go for two vs. kicking an extra point and chasing the points later, but he’s much better at it now than he was in 2014. James is 47. He’s been a head coach for a total of 8 years. He’s still learning, and will continue to improve on the few deficiencies he has.

Yet, despite the fact that since 2016, Penn State is 39-10, with a Big Ten Championship and two New Year’s Six Bowl appearances, a single loss has people questioning whether Franklin “has it.” Whether Franklin can get Penn State “to the next level.” Whether he’s “good enough” to be the Lions’ coach.

Excuse me, but what the hell?

What else could he be doing to earn fans’ trust? We’d all like some of the games back over the last few years - the Rose Bowl vs USC, the 2017 and 2018 games against OSU and MSU, last week against Minnesota.

What do those games have in common? Close-fought, single-possession losses to ranked opponents, or letdown games after a season’s hopes had been dashed. In those six losses - which, again, comprise more than half of the losses PSU has had since 2016 - the Lions have been outscored by a combined 17 points. That’s an average margin of loss of less than three points.

If you’re going to complain about losing highly competitive games against ranked teams by less than a field goal, you’re just going to complain.

And I think that’s where I’ve finally settled on the matter. Some people just want to complain. Franklin can do no right, regardless of what happens. His good will never be good enough for these people.

That they can pull the rest of us into the muck and bring up existential crises as fans and as a football program after every. single. close. loss. just grinds my gears.

Be thankful that we have a coach who has gotten Penn State where it is, especially since the first few years he had at least one hand tied behind his back. Be thankful that Penn State will likely finish the season with double digit wins for the third time in four years, and may make a New Years Six bowl for the third time in four years.

Oh and while we’re at it, be thankful that the team is graduating players at a similar - if not better - clip than under the exalted Joe Paterno. Franklin treats the team and the players as a family, ensuring academic and athletic success. So be thankful, Penn State fans.

Or don’t, if you’re one of the people who just like to be unhappy, then go for it.

But can we stop with the “is James Franklin good enough” discussion? He very clearly is. Having to shout down the Chicken Littles in the fan base - and there are more than a couple of them - is becoming exceedingly tiresome.

Remember the O’Brien quote about punching windshields because of the JoeBots? Yeah, keep on complaining, and you’ll get your wish - Franklin will head to USC or FSU or some other place, and we’ll be left HOPING that the next coach can dream of filling Franklin’s shoes.

Here’s HOPING people recognize how good we have it, and learn to cut the coach just a little slack.

He’s more than earned it.