This week, Penn State Head Bald Coach James Franklin appeared as “Tommy Boy” Callahan, in a tiny sailboat on Lake Erie, without any wind. Mouth agape, yet mute, screaming silently, confused, bewildered, and disconsolate - it fit our Nittany Lions’ 0-3 start.
And Then The Press Conference Started
Opening Statement: Like always, I want to thank everybody for coming on and covering Penn State football. A quick summary of the [Maryland] game. I know there’s gonna be a bunch of questions, but a quick summary of the game. You know, we did not win the turnover battle, which continues to be an issue for us, and we did not win the explosive play battle, the two most important stats in any football game, and we weren’t able to win those categories. To me, that was the difference in the game. You talk about areas that we need to improve, and we’ve got to make more plays, we’ve got to break more tackles on offense, you know, whether that’s in the run game, specifically, or even more in the passing game. To create more explosive plays, we’ve got to create more turnovers on defense, that’s something that is critical. We’ve got to protect the football on offense. The ball’s the program. Fundamentals of tackling: pad under pad, make sure we’re wrapping and not just throwing shoulders. We’ve got to start faster in games. I thought in the second half, those were a lot better things to watch on tape and to evaluate. But we’ve got to start faster and then we got to be more physical on both fronts, protecting our quarterback and being able to pressure their quarterbacks. We had opportunities on special teams. If you go back and watch the tape, we had two kickoff returns that we had opportunities for touchdowns on. But we’ve got to get, again, in all three phases, we’ve got to make sure that all 11 guys are consistently doing their job. The last thing is we’ve just got to be more consistent with our punt and kick locations. So those are the areas, obviously, we need to get better. Talking about Nebraska, you know, just like last time we played Nebraska, when you look at our history with Nebraska all-time, you look at our recent history with Nebraska. Just like last time, I was kind of surprised looking at it again. We won in 2017, but before that hadn’t had a whole lot of success against the University of Nebraska. Scott Frost, I’ve known for a long time. We were on staff together at Kansas State. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. This is a team that had 14 starters returning before the season started. Offensively, Matt Lubick and Scott Frost are involved in their offense. You know, there’s a lot of discussions right now about who’s their quarterback going to be? For our game, we expect to at least see them both. They’re trying to create some explosive plays, you know, with getting the ball into their playmakers’ hands, which I think has been an emphasis for them from everything I have read and seen. Their defense coordinator, Coach [Erik] Chinander, has done a great job. He has been with [Scott], you know, since Central Florida. It’s interesting to scheme. They play very similar to the Seattle Seahawks’ scheme. There’s some opportunities there, but I think they do a good job of limiting explosive plays and I think they do a good job of complementing their offense, what they’re trying to do. So, you know, there’s gonna be some opportunities that we have to be able to take advantage of. We’ve got to have a great week of preparation starting with today. Q: After the game, and even today, your players have talked a lot about things like accountability and focus and attention to detail. What do you think when you hear them talking about that? How much of your issues are maybe things that they were touching on?A: First of all, let me say this, I understand that there’s going to be tough questions throughout this entire press conference and they’re fair, you know, they’re all fair questions. One of the things that I think is really important, is how I answer these questions. I’m a lead with love guy. I always have been. And obviously, when you’re having success, like we’ve been able to have, that’s easy to do, but right now, we’re being tested. I think to your point, it’s all of it. You know, a lot of the things that I just talked about, those things show up after wins and they need to get corrected. A lot of the things that the players are talking about, they show up during the week, before wins. But there’s still issues that need to get corrected. Obviously, the losses magnify those things, especially when the margin of error is really small and you’ve lost some games that you should have won, you know, quite frankly. I think it’s all of it. It’s not one thing. You know, it’s all of it. I think that’s the fine line for me as the head coach, is, I never want to be a guy that comes up here and feels like, you know, I’m making excuses. I never want to do that with the media. I never want to do that with the fans. I never want to do that with the administration, the boosters, the Letterman, anybody. Ultimately. we’re responsible for what we put out there on the field and everything that comes with that, and I’m responsible. But I think your point is a good one. It’s not one thing. It’s all of those things. If it was one thing, and I could put my finger on it, then it would be an easy solution. You wouldn’t see this pop up in college football across the country, you wouldn’t see this pop up in the NFL with very easy solutions. You know, it’s complicated and it’s layered. So we’re just going to, again, I’m going to lead with love. I think you have to be very careful in times like this, because you guys ask fair, tough questions. But how I respond to those questions, I want to make sure they aren’t divisive, you know, for our team and for our coaching staff. I’m just going to continue to lead how I’ve always lead and that’s with love. Q: Through three games this year, Sean Clifford has a team-high 52 carries. Last year, he was a little banged up in the later part of the season. How important is it to develop the running game outside of him to preserve his body from taking those hits?A: Yeah, all fair. The first thing I’d say is, I think the numbers are a little bit skewed, because a lot of those runs are scrambles or pressures or things like that. So, it’s worked out that way. But you’re right. At the end of the day, the numbers are the numbers. I think with Kirk [Ciarrocca] and what I know he wants to do, and what I’ve seen him do, is it starts with the run game. Once you get the run game going, then the RPO and the play-action pass, you know, all come off of that and that’s where you create the explosive plays. That’s where you get into manageable third down situations. I think that’s also where you can wear people down, with your running game, so that when you do have to drop back and pass, you know you’ve been able to wear people down from the physicality of your running game. So you know, that’s critical. We’ve got to be more consistent in the run game and we need to bemore explosive in the run game. That’s going to be an emphasis this week in practice. Q: You’ve been around a lot of teams, over a lot of years. Teams that had high expectations. Is what’s happened a surprise to you? Could you have envisioned the sequence of events that would lead us to these questions?A: Obviously, the direct answer is no. But again, there’s always this fine line when I’m responding to you guys. Again, from what I said earlier, I don’t want it to be misinterpreted what I’m saying, but there’s been a lot of factors in 2020. If you’re not careful, then a lot of those factors can become distractions. I think we have done a really good job of handling a lot of the things away from football, but there was a lot of time and energy spent on those things. I’ll be honest with you. One of the things that I have not done a great job of handling, personally, that I have to be honest with myself and honest with the team and honest with you guys, I have not done a great job of managing my family being gone. They’re my fuel. I go home, you know, they’re able to pour into me. And I have not done a great job of that, but at the end of the day, I have to. I have to manage those things. I’ve got to come to work. I’ve got to do a great job. But I guess to your point, it’s all of it. You know, the initial answer is no. I think there’s some things that we’ve done a really good job of, but at the end of the day, this press conference and these questions are about football. Right now, we have not played winning football. Q: In the quarterback room, what is your confidence level in Will Levis and Ta’Quan Roberson to win Big Ten football games for you if they need to? What have you seen from them?A: You know, we need to get Will involved in a lot of different ways. I think to the points that were brought up earlier, the hits that Sean has taken, to help Seann out and also to continue investing in Will. Will’s earned that. Will’s earned that over his time here and, obviously, we’ve used him in the past. So, we need to do that. And I think you’ll see that. I think you’ll see that, for not just this week, but for the rest of the season. I will say this. Ta’quan, I think in the last month, has really made some progress. We scrimmage on Sundays. I forget, it seems like an eternity ago when you guys would come to practice, but we scrimmage on Sundays with all those guys and that’s been really good work and Ta’quan’s done some things to get to get people excited. He’s gotten almost all of those reps each Sunday. So there’s excitement about him as well. But I think your point is a good one. I think it’s a fair one. With Will Levis, you know, we need him to be more involved. You know, we need him to be productive. I think we’ve all seen flashes of some of the good things that he’s done in the past and what he was able to do against Ohio State last year in a limited role. I think your question is a fair one and that we need to get them involved. Q: Is your family still in Florida, away from you?A: Yeah, they’re down South and probably will be there until we come up with some type of vaccine or until I’m working in a way where I’m not interacting with so many people every day. But I don’t know when that would change. You know, I think it’s really the vaccine for us. I saw something this morning. I talked to Andy Mutnan about a possible vaccine put out. Sometimes, you know, I worry about some of the stuff you see online. I hate to say it, but you don’t necessarily know what you can believe and what you can’t online sometimes, but it was nice this morning to see something about a vaccine. So I sent that to Andy Mutnan and he said, ‘You know, there has been some progress there’. So, you know, this is going to be for the foreseeable future for me and my family. Q: For the last several years, you have credited the culture of your locker room as a big part of your success. Is that different now or a concern at this moment?A: I think it’s a fair question. You know, I can’t come in and pat the program on the back when we’re successful and use culture as a part of it, and not, you know, at least look at it and discuss it when times are challenging. I know our approach hasn’t changed. That goes back to my point that I said early on, about how I lead and I’m going to lead with love through the good times and the bad times. I think, you know, I’m being tested right now. And we’re being tested. I think leadership 101 is the consistency. So for me, you know, my approach when I became a head coach, and my approach over the last 10 years, has been consistent. I think sometimes right now, again, back to COVID. I think it’s hard for people to see, because you’re not at practice, you’re not around us as much. Even on the sideline, all you can see is my fogged-up glasses. You don’t see facial expressions. So, it magnifies everything. But I guess my point is, I can’t come in and talk about the culture has led to all of our success over the last six years and over the last four years, the most success in the Big Ten era in Penn State football, and then when we have challenge, not say that, that’s part of it. It is and we’ve got to take a hard look at all of it. But our approach and my approach has not changed. The one thing that I admitted publicly to you guys is the one thing that I know struggled with and haven’t done a good enough job managing. Q: Before you jumped on the call, we saw a clip featuring Adam Taliaferro that’s going to air tonight about his story. What does Adam mean to the program? How much have you gotten to know Adam over the years?A: As you guys know, I’m an emotional guy. Michael Hazel and [Jim Nachtman] sent that to me last week, before it was public. I guess got kind of the hot peek at it and got emotional watching it and called Adam and Adam hadn’t seen it yet. I just told him, ‘you’re gonna love this thing. It is powerful’. So you know, I would recommend all the Penn State fans that are angry and frustrated right now, watch that, because it’ll be a good distraction for an hour. I’m a huge Adam fan. I think Adam represents everything that Penn State is all about. You know, it is interesting, the other thing that hit home with me watching that, you know, is the challenges that that team had and that season was and the timing of it all. I had a really good conversation with Adam. You know, he’s been phenomenal, not only his time as an undergraduate student here and how the Penn State community rallied around him and behind him is special. I know that at a point, Adam was on the board here, the Board of Trustees. You know, he’s very successful back in New Jersey. I’ve gotten to know Adam very well. He has spoken to our team on multiple occasions. I’m a big Adam fan and we couldn’t be more proud of him. I think everybody’s going to love the show and I strongly recommend everybody take an hour and watch that and get away from your frustrations with other things right now.
Q. With regards to the running game, why does it continue to struggle? Do you see any new starters coming in on the offensive line this week? And how big will the competition be at that position?A. I don’t want to be repetitive, but the fine line that I always struggle with you guys is, ‘how do I answer the questions and never come off, like, I’m making excuses?’ I never want to do that. I want to take ownership. But stating some facts, when you lose Journey Brown before the season starts. And obviously, that hasn’t been decided yet how that’s all going to play out. But losing him, and then the first drive of the opening game, we lose Noah Cain. So for me to say that, ‘that doesn’t have a factor in this’ - it does. And then I think we got to be more physical at the point of attack. And then I think we have to break more tackles. The funny thing is, those two things are complimentary. If you get more push, you’re going to create more big runs, and if you create more space in the running game, you’re going to create more big runs. But the other thing is a running back, that breaks three or four tackles and creates an explosive play or a touchdown, that also motivates the offensive line. It’s a complimentary deal there. I think that will factor and I think you guys saw last week, we had some more moving parts on the offensive line. I think for us, back to the some of the questions that I got earlier, we’re looking at everything. And if we can make a couple subtle changes, or subtle tweaks, that can get us better, we’re gonna make them. That’s going to be some tough conversations. When you’re going through times like this, that’s going to create some tough conversations and tough decisions, and some people aren’t going to like some of those decisions. Again, over seven years here and over 10 years [as a head coach], I think people have seen we’re gonna try to do things the right way. We’re gonna have direct, honest conversations with people. We’re always trying to put Penn State first. We’re always trying to put the players first or trying to put the program first. But that doesn’t mean, that I don’t have tough conversation with the coaches. That doesn’t mean I don’t have tough conversations with the players. At the end of the day, we got to get it done. It’s our job to make sure that we get back on that plane on Saturday, for a long flight, and that our players are excited about getting on that plane and flying back to Happy Valley. And it’s my responsibility to try to make all the people that are watching the game excited about it as well, which again, we’ve done a pretty good job of for the most part over the last seven years. Q: Another piece on Saturday that that may have been a little surprising to some people was the secondary, how efficiently and how for explosive plays, Maryland was able to throw the ball. Was there anything in particular that you that you saw there?A: They got a couple man beaters against us that got us out of leverage. We didn’t play a few things the right way, and those things that we need to get fixed and those things that we need to get corrected. But I think at the end of the day, if you make the tackle and get them down. Those things happen against everybody, you know, guys are gonna make the right call and the right situation and the guy is gonna make a play. But what you got to do is you got to get people on the ground, and we’ve done a pretty good job of limiting explosive plays. But we weren’t able to do that on Saturday, especially early in the game. And now the game changes because you’re down. I think it’s a fair question, But I think at the end of the day people are going to people are going to create separation from picks and rubs and things like that versus man coverage. It’s going to happen from time to time. And when it does, you got to get them on the ground and and live to play another down. Q: I’m curious if you have made the trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, in any of your other coaching stops. How significant is the longer travel for this week? And when you go to places that normally draw big crowds, is it a plus that you won’t have the fans in a hostile environment a situation like this?A: I have been to Nebraska before. A crowd size obviously is an issue, whether you have huge crowds at home, and that can be an advantage for you. Or you go on the road and you embrace the fact that you’re going into somebody else’s stadium. There’s going to be a huge crowd and you got a chance to kind of spoil it and make this stadium quiet. Or you have the situation of teams that don’t play in front of big crowds. And they’re used to this, it’s all of that all those things kind of kind of factor in, but I have been to Nebraska before. I have coached in that stadium before. And again, this is 2020 and you got to embrace it. And your energy needs to come from your team and from your staff and from your sideline. Q: Saturday night, I asked you about (quarterback) Sean Clifford. You said that keeping him in the game for its entirety, you thought was the right decision at the time. Do you still feel that way? And after mentioning that you want to get Will Levis involved. I guess why then did that not happen Saturday?A: I think if I remember the question correctly, is I feel like Sean has earned that, you know. He’s our starter. I’m not a guy that yanks guys and has quarterbacks looking over their shoulder. I think that’s something that has served us well and served me well over over my 10 years, me playing the position. I don’t think that breeds confidence. When Will is the guy, he’s going to want the same. He’s going to want the same treatment that Sean has earned. I do think to your point, mixing Will in, we’ve done that, earlier in the season. We’ve done that in the last season, and have used them in some packages, and maybe taken some hits off of Sean. And I think, to be honest with you, there’s an aspect where you put him in a game and they’re not expecting it, but we’ll chuck it, because I think a lot of times when you put that other quarterback in the game, everybody just assumes it’s going to be a quarterback run, but put that guy in the game, and then be willing to take a shot down the field, Will has the ability to do that. So you know, mixing him in to protect Sean, to keep Sean healthy and also to get Will some reps and some experience, I think it’s the right thing to do. And to your point, yeah, we could have mixed that in last week as well. We probably need to be doing that every game and moving forward. Q: Knowing that the vaccine is probably not going to be here for a while, at least in mass, how do you plan on navigating through the family stuff? Frankly, there have been coaches in this conference that have left coaching because they haven’t been able to spend time with their family. How do you kind of get through maybe another year of doing this and not losing yourself one way?A: Yeah, to be honest with you, Ben, I wish I had the answer for you. You know, I don’t know. Me and my wife had a really good talk the other night, which was great for me, because I’ve been trying to kind of insulate her from it and feeling like if I kind of went to her with with it, that I would be putting that on her plate and my family’s plate. But I’m not the best actor, you know, so it really wasn’t working anyway. We had a really good conversation that helped me. Came in and addressed it with the staff and I’ve addressed it with the team. But if I felt like I had that answer, I would tell you, but we’re still working through it every day. And I think the hard part, no different than before when COVID had shut football down, and we didn’t really know what the future held, that’s, that’s a tough spot to be in. At least if you say, okay, on this date, you know, this is going to happen, and you just kind of plan and you come up with a plan to work towards that date, that’s helpful. With not knowing that, it’s hard to say. Fortunately for us, we got some great people that my wife can rely on, medically, you know, specifically the sickle cell. The good thing is these are the things that they recommended. And again, we’re fortunate enough to be able to do it. I also understand there’s tremendous blessings, and I have so much to be thankful for. Q: Sometimes defensive line play can be skewed how people see it based on the stats, and not really what’s happening that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. So with that in mind, how do you evaluate your defensive line through three games?A: It’s interesting that you asked that question because I think Jayson Oweh is a really good example. You know, this past week he graded out really well for us, and was very productive when it comes to tackles and things like that in the running game and is playing very physical. Obviously, I think a lot of people’s focus is on the sacks and don’t get me wrong, we want more sacks and he wants more sacks. But I also think it’s important that we show the guys that, as well. Jayson’s doing some really good things. We need to be more disruptive. I think led with that in the beginning. We need to be more disruptive on the defensive line, we need to be more physical on the offensive line, the fronts are really important. Let me make sure I’m perfectly clear on this, we got to play better and coach better at linebacker. We got to play better and coach better in the secondary and at quarterback and at running back an tight end and receiver and all of it. The faster we get open the shorter amount of time (quarterback) Sean (Clifford) has to hold on to the ball. It’s all of it. The better we cover, the longer their quarterback has to hold the ball and we get more sacks. Football is the greatest team game because they’re all complimentary pieces. And they all have to be working well together. And that’s where we have to be. There’s a unit that’s playing well, at a certain time or a position that’s playing well at a certain time, but we got to get all 11 and all units playing together, more consistently. Q: How do you guys diagnose turnovers? What’s the process of deep diving it beyond just the specific player that it gets tagged to?A: When you talk about the quarterback position, there’s turnovers that, you would say were a poor throw. There’s turnovers that you would say are poor decisions. There’s turnovers that the ball goes off the receivers hand and it gets picked, or a batted down ball at the line of scrimmage. So what happens is when you take those interceptions, you’re also kind of dividing it up. Was this purely on the quarterback or did the pressure cause the interception? Was this purely on the quarterback or did a hit cause that, or a lack of detail in the route or whatever it may be? That’s part of it. It could be the quarterback being protected, he gets a strip sack or whatever it may be. A fumble because of a lack of ball security, to me, is different than a defender that puts his whole hand or head directly on the ball, whatever it may be. I think it’s not strictly just the turnover and who gets that turnover in the stat sheet. It’s, ‘okay, let’s make sure that we truly understand the scheme, let’s make sure we truly understand what’s being asked, and where does the fault lie?’ In the coaches in the call? In the detail of the route? In the protection and the decision, whatever it may be? And we do that with all of the, because, again, for you to correct a problem, the first thing you have to do is identify what the issue was. So we do that with every turnover. Q: This morning, Pat Freiermuth said that he has no intention of opting out of the season and that it hasn’t even crossed his mind. At a time in college football, where opt outs are so common when things start going rough for teams, what does that mean for you to have a guy like Pat, a guy as talented as Pat, kind of redeclare his commitment to your program?A: Well, I guess two things. Number one, I’m not surprised at all because Pat has been phenomenal since the day he has stepped on our campus, and so has his family. His parents are the presidents of the parents association. You know, and don’t get me wrong, me and Pat have had a lot of really good conversations and hard conversations. But when Pat decided to come back, Pat was in. And this is how he’s wired. And this is kind of how he was raised, you know, you start something if you finish it. But I’d also say the opposite. I think it’s sad for college football, that people are even asking that question. And I get it, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s not a fair question. And don’t get me wrong, I also understand that it’s reality of 2020, but I also think it’s sad. I think it’s sad, that as a country and as a program and with college athletics, you start something, you finish it. I know there’s circumstances and situations for everybody that’s different. But there’s also tremendous lessons that are being taught in the game of college football and in college athletics that go much further than just the results. And to me, that’s the thing that I always try to keep in perspective, is that I coach college football, and I coach college athletics. And trust me. Trust me. I clearly understand the wins and losses, but I also understand that we’re using the game of football, to teach life lessons. And that’s why I do it. The winning is a byproduct of all those other things. And to be honest with you, you learn a lot more - I hate to say this - but you learn a lot more about yourself during adversity. You learn a lot more about your team, during adversity. You learn a lot more about individuals, and fans and family and friends and all of it. To me, we’re gonna go out and have a great practice today and I’m going to lead with love. I’m going to answer your questions as directly and as truthful as I possibly can, but I’m not going to point blame. Not going to be divisive. And I’ll continue to love this staff and love Penn State and love these players. And that’s how we’re going to get it fixed. Because that’s how we built it in the first place. Q: But how do you feel when you talked to your daughters, about Kamala Harris being the first African American woman Vice President and what that means to them growing up?A: I obviously have very strong opinions and thoughts, but I try to stay out of politics publicly as much as I can. This year I think you guys saw specifically we were very active in getting people to be involved in the process. I think that’s part of our responsibility as educators to do that. I will tell you this, whenever we did that, there was tremendous backlash from people. I’m not necessarily sure why. I think everybody should vote in our country. I think everybody has responsibility to do that. Again, never telling anybody who to vote for or what they should vote or what they should believe, but they should be active in the process. But I know for my family specifically, and for my daughters. Obviously my wife is Nigerian, you know, having biracial children, and people that identify with being black and black females, and to see that my daughters now have an example that they can look to the White House, and to see someone that looks like them, in one of the most prestigious powerful jobs in the world, is pretty cool. And someone deserving of the opportunity and deserving of a job. Hopefully, in their lifetime, there’s somebody that’s qualified to sit in that other seat, you know, that looks like them as well. You know, but at the end of the day, as a father, as a college football coach, I’m super proud of my family, and I’m super proud of my job, and how our program handled a lot of these other aspects. We got to get football right. Don’t get me wrong, I get that. But I think we’ve done a lot of other really good things this year, handling COVID, knock on wood, I hate to say that. But up to this point, handling COVID pretty well, having tremendous discussions and dialogue with our staff and our program and our players. And for me, you know, I’m fortunate my daughters have 120 unbelievable role models. From that standpoint, I think it was a tremendous moment for our country.