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James Franklin Press Conference: Illinois December 2020

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Michigan State v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Four score and three days ago, James Franklin conducted a press conference in advance of his squad’s contest against a coach-less Illinois squad. Because this is a blog, the fact that James from State College’s press conference is old news is totally immaterial. Blogging is mere opinion. Sometimes it’s opinion dressed up as “analysis” - maybe with some charts, graphs, or animated gifs. Be not distracted or fooled - it’s still just another stupid opinion, the purpose of which isn’t even the opinion itself, but as an avenue for social interaction, i.e., commenting, i.e., positing other opinions. Opinions on opinions. Moreover, it’s almost certain that you’re not still reading this. Because why would anyone read the “article”? So, without further ado, allow us to copy/paste the transcript.

And Then The Presser Started

Opening Statement: Like always, I want to thank you guys for covering Penn State football. I hope everybody’s families are safe and healthy. Reviewing the previous game against Michigan State. From a turnover perspective, that was a push. We basically got a turnover and gave away a turnover on the same play on an interception. Penalties, we continue to win that with the outlier being game one, which is very inconsistent. We’ve gotten back to being one of the more disciplined teams in college football again. From a drive start perspective, we won that. Sack battle, we won that. We still need to be more explosive on offense and stop explosive plays on defense. We did not win that battle, although in the second half, we were much more explosive. Players of the game. On offense, we went with Jahan Dotson, but really could have made the argument for Parker [Washington] as well. Parker did some great things in that game too, but we ended up going with Jahan Dotson. Both played extremely well. On defense, Shane Simmons, which is awesome. What a great example he is for our program and I’m very, very, very proud of Shane. I’m a huge fan of Shane and his family. It was great to see him go out and play at such a high level and make some plays and do his job and be consistent. On special teams, Jahan Dotson as well. Some positives from the game. I thought we were really resilient. We were physically and mentally tough. We overcame adversity and we took it one play at a time. There was no panic, no flinching, any of that when we got down by a few points there in the second quarter. To me, we’ve gotten back to our identity of the last couple weeks, which is we find ways to win, which is really who we’ve been over the last seven years. I thought we played complimentary football, offense, defense and special teams. The cornerbacks, what they’ve been able to do is, I think really impressive, with the lack of depth we’ve had at that position. The sideline energy has been much better the last three weeks, you know, understanding that we’ve got to create that on our own. Obviously, I thought the punt return was a huge play in the game. Areas for growth. Ball security in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams are going to continue to emphasize that. We’ve got to eliminate the pre-snap and post-snap penalties. You’re going to get some penalties during a play that are going to happen as aggressive penalties, but we’ve got to get rid of the pre-snap and post-snap penalties. Then, we’ve got to take advantage of opportunities when they are there, whether that is a sack, a tackle for loss, an interception, whatever it may be, we’ve got to take advantage of those when they come. From an Illinois perspective, you know I’ve been a big fan of Lovie Smith for his entire career and what he’s been able to do. You look at his resume. His resume is impressive for what he’s done throughout his entire career. It’s also a little troubling that out of 130 Division I programs, I think there’s only 14 African American head coaches and three of them have been let go this year. I hate to see that for Lovie. I think he’s a good man and a very, very good football coach. Rod Smith is going to be the interim coach. He’s also the offensive coordinator and I think does a really good job on that side of the ball, especially when it comes to running the ball. You know we talk about guys that were impressive to us. Their quarterback was a highly-recruited kid, Isaiah Williams. Running back Chase Brown is really having a nice year and wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe. On the offensive line, Kendrick Green, No. 53, and No. 65 Doug Kramer and tight end No. 87 [Daniel Barker]. On the defensive side of the ball, Jimmy Lindsey, defensive coordinator. Been impressed with D-Lineman No. 99 Owen Carney and linebacker Jake Hansen. I’m a big fan of his. Very productive player. I think his dad was an All-American at BYU. He’s been playing well for a number of years there. On special teams, their punter does a tremendous job, Blake Hayes. Bob Ligashesky is a guy I’ve known for a long time. He’s a PA guy, I track all the PA guys. He has tremendous NFL and college experience. Q: It won’t be the first time you’ve coached against a team that just lost it’s head coach. What’s your experience in terms of how this team is likely to rally? What kind of emotion will they bring?A: I think it has an impact. I think there’s sometimes where a different voice sometimes can spur some energy. For us, we have to be ready for everything. We have to be ready for more going for it on fourth down. We have to be ready for them to maybe pressure ore than they’ve pressured on the defensive side of the ball. Maybe more cover-0. Then on special teams, take punts, onside kicks to open the game, things like that we have to be ready for in this type of game. Again, you don’t want to be in this situation. It’s obviously challenging on the young men in the program. It’s challenging on the university as well. And obviously, the head coach. I hate to see anyone in this situation and obviously Illinois and Lovie Smith. Q: Your sacks allowed numbers are way down the last two games. Could you tell us why you think that is? Can you give us an update on CJ Thorpe’s status?A: CJ has been a medical decision. We hope to have him back, but we’ll see. Those are medical decisions that we’re not involved in but obviously are aware of . In terms of protecting the quarterback in sacks, I think it’s a combination of things. I think it’s our ability to run the ball better. I think it’s our play-action pass. I think it’s us using the RPO. I think it’s us staying on schedule a little bit better in terms of being productive on first and second down, creating more manageable third down situations. I think it’s a combination of all those things. Coach [Phil] Trautwein has done a great job as well. I know he’s got a very close relationship and has really earned the respect of that group. He’s got a similar story to a lot of those guys or he’s got a story a lot of those guys would like to have in terms of a blue-collar, hard-working guy that had a really good college career and then had an opportunity to play in the NFL for a number of years. Kind of a self-made man type of guy. I think his story and his experience and, in some ways, his age, he relates really well with his guys and they identify with him. I think it’s a combination of all those things, how we’re calling the game, the style we’re playing with the last couple weeks and then also their technique and fundamentals are getting more comfortable. Q: Considering how long you and your players have been away from family, how do you balance those emotions with preparing for this game and maybe another one?A: It’s been a challenge. There’s no doubt about it. I think last week, it was a challenge because, you know, the way we ended up doing it in the conference, last week was essentially our last game and we were waiting to find out what the next game was. I just think that created some challenges here in the locker room and there’s not another game technically on the schedule. I think all the Big Ten games were done by like 8 p.m., you know, so I think it would have been helpful if they had that meeting and made those decisions on Saturday night or Saturday evening. I think that would have been helpful to help the coaches get the game plans and the breakdowns going in to help the players kind of manage and understand and their parents making plans. That’s been challenging. I addressed it Saturday night in the locker room and then as soon as we find of had a feeling on Sunday morning, I know the conference and the Ads were all together working on that. AS soon as we knew and found out, we were rolling full steam ahead. We kind of knew a little bit before it was announced publicly. We were able to start to break down and get the film downloaded for the players to watch. I didn’t tell them until it was announced, because I didn’t want anybody to put anything on social media. But I think they all saw the only game that was downloaded in the system was Illinois. But the other thing we didn’t know, was it going to be home or away. So, we’re trying to kind of figure out all those things in the planning that needed to take place for both sides. It was difficult and challenging. Then, what we’re going to do is Saturday night after the game, because as you know we take a 1-0 mentality, Saturday night after the game we’ll have another discussion. Q: With Signing Day tomorrow, are there any examples that come to mind of what your recruiting department has done, maybe behind the scenes, that is different than other years?A: Good question. It’s just so different. I think you guys have heard me say this before. You look at the number of Division 1 players in the state of Pennsylvania over the last 30 years, it’s changed. You look at the population in the state of Pennsylvania, it’s gone down. You look at the number of high school graduates in Pennsylvania, it’s gone down. Still, really good football is played here. Still really good players are made here. But this is also a place where you’ve got to come and see it. You’ve got to have a plan to come and see it, whether it’s a game or whether it’s a spring game or whether it’s a junior day during spring practice. It’s a special place, but you’ve got to come see it. Well, not being able do all those things, not having Spring ball, not having summer, we’ve just had to be really creative in terms of how do we show the campus? How do we give them a campus tour? How do give them a facilities tour? How do we build connections and bonds with people? Half of the class probably has been here, but half of the class hasn’t. It makes me think all the way back to Torrence Brown and Christian Campbell, that committed to Penn State on the night before Signing Day without ever seeing the place. They didn’t come on their official visit until the spring game after they signed. It’s been very unusual. So the recruiting staff has had to be very creative and finding different ways to connect and attract the best student-athletes that we possibly could. A lot of it was Zoom, a lot of it was FaceTime. A lot of it was videos that we tried to do to be creative and be different. Mail that we’re sending, individual Zoom calls, group Zoom calls, individual FaceTime calls. Just as many different things that we could find, you know, showing them the campus tour, showing them the facilities, setting up a meeting with the strength coaches, typically they would be able to meet with our strength staff, or setting up a meeting with our academic staff. Usually they would sit down with our academics staff. Now, having to do all those through Zoom. We tried to recreate everything that we normally would do, but you’re doing it virtually and that’s not easy to do. Q: A massive amount of time and manpower is spent on recruiting high school kids, but with the one-time transfer rule expected to pass next month, how much do you think logistically things are going to change in college football with the amount of time you’re recruiting transfers?A: It will change dramatically and a lot of programs, very similar to the NFL, you know, just like they have their evaluation departments that evaluate college prospects for the draft, they also have pro player personnel departments where they’re evaluating the rosters of other teams. A lot of programs across the country have done that, you know, very similar to an NFL model where you have a completely separate recruiting department studying other teams’ rosters and being ready to take transfers. I think you’re going to see that. You’re going to see that on a significant level. This year across college football, I think about how much college football has changed over the last five, maybe 10 years, with all the rules and all the things being discussed, it’s very different. You have to be willing to change with the times. I know sometimes people get frustrated with it or don’t understand it or want things to go back to the way they were. That’s not happening. You’ve got to embrace it and move forward. I think your point is a good one. I think over the last number of years, a lot of programs have saved scholarships for transfers, even before the new rule. Now, you’re gonna see that even more and then the hard part is, sometimes you don’t know, trying to project your numbers. It’s hard to do that unless people are being transparent and upfront and honest. Q: It’s supposed to snow a lot tomorrow night and evening around here. How are you going to navigate the transportation aspect of your Thursday morning?A: My wife’s got a great story as she always tells it. When we were at the University of Maryland, I think I was the offensive coordinator, and it snowed, if you remember that year, like 30 inches, something crazy. I woke up and was like “I’ll see you later”. She asked “where are you going?”. I said “to work”. I had some type of SUV, so I was like I’m going. I couldn’t get out of the driveway and then spent the next like six hours shoveling the driveway and my wife was just laughing at me the whole time. Fortunately here, we all live fairly close. Most of our guys live on campus. So we’ll do like we do with everything else. We’ll figure it out. We’ll adjust and be ready to get the work done that needs to be done. But it’ll be interesting. It’s just another thing in 2020 that we’re going to have to handle that we’re going to have to have a plan for and we’ve already started talking about it, not only as a staff, but also with administration. It should be interesting that it might start out as football practice and might end in a snowball fight. As long as I don’t get hit in the face, I’m good. Q: You talked last week about balancing the Signing Day celebration tomorrow and your game planning. How’s that going to look?A: I think the way we have it planned out is, for about a three-hour block of time, I’m going to shift my time from typically a Wednesday offense, defense and special teams, and I’m going to be handling the recruits with the recruiting staff. The coaches will be handling their normal game planning. We have the calls scheduled at a certain time. So recruit x, which I can’t say the guy’s name, is going to call in at 7 a.m. and at 7 a.m. that position coach and that area coach will step out of their meetings and be with me to greet them with the recruiting staff on Zoom. Then they’ll go back to work and then at 7:15, the next guy’s calling in and that coach will step out of the meeting end be there to celebrate that young man and their family and trying to make it as special as we possibly can. To your point, we’ve got meetings that day. We’ve got practice that day and we’ve got a game on Saturday. So, we’ve got to find a way to balance. For the most part, the recruiting staff will handle that and then the position coaches and the area coaches will pop in and out throughout the day. But it helps that it’s scheduled ahead of time. There’s also a bunch of stuff that we have pre-recorded ahead of time which that will help to make these young men and their families feel special. This is a day to celebrate their futures and the decisions that they have made. We want to make sure we do everything we can, especially when they’ve lost out on so much already, like official visits and things like that. Q: What is your relationship like in-game with Kirk Ciarrocca and Sean Clifford? You want to be aggressive and create explosive plays. Are thre times when you find yourself pushing the offense? Are there times you feel like you need to encourage them to be more aggressive?A: Yeah and really I’ve kind of always done that. That may be on defense on a third-and-long where we’re having a discussion on the headset whether we should blitz or play coverage and make them earn it. That’s where I’ll interject and make a pint, especially as I look at it through a different lens as a guy with an offensive background. Hey, they’re in plus territory and this is third-and-short. Remember, this is probably four-down territory for them. It could be a shot situation because they’re going to go for it on fourth down. It’s the same way on offense and I’ve done that with every coordinator we’ve had. Hey, you know, we need to push the ball down the field a little bit more, you know, we’ve got conservative or, you know, you’re up in the booth and can’t tell, we’re at Rutgers and right now the weather is significant and we need to go into a four-minute offense mode to try to run the clock out to get the wind back in the next quarter. You know, things like that. I actually had Sean and Will [Levis] in my office, not sure if it was yesterday or today, they all seem to run together. But we’re watching the Northwestern-Indiana game and they had weather as well. It was a third down situation in plus-territory and I was watching the TV copy with them and I brought it up to show. The announcers are talking about it was a third-and-five and how they called a pass. I think they called a mesh concept and they were talking about they didn’t agree with the call, they should have run the ball right there. I’m watching with Sean and Will and ask them what their thoughts are. You know, the mesh concept was a fine call. If it’s open, you hit it, you keep the sticks moving and everything’s great. But you know what, what also could have happened right there is there was an opportunity for the quarterback, once he went through his first two progressions, to hitch up on his third progression when it’s not there. If you can go run for the first down, obviously do that. If you can’t run for the first now, but you can still get two or three yards, now you’ve just put me in a situation and present a situation where we’re more comfortable going for it on fourth down or you’ve added to the field goal. I kind of wanted to show them that whole scenario. They ended up taking a 52-yard field goal and I think it came up short. That’s kind of what we’re talking about. What I’ll usually do with Sean, over the last couple years, and now, Will, is I’ll try to give Sean a signal that you’ve got two downs right here. I’m usually telling Kirk on the headset, you’ve got two downs here to get the first. Because if he knows that before his down call, that allows him to call it a little differently. But it’s a fine line because you also don’t want to be running it on every third-and-five or third-and-six, so it’s a fine line. You don’t want to become too conservative knowing you have fourth down, you know, but I also think it’s powerful if the quarterback knows if the throw’s there take it, but if it’s not, any yards you can get puts us in a more manageable fourth down situation to go for. As soon as you cross midfield, you should be thinking that way. Q: As good as Jahan Dotson’s been on the field, everyone has said he’s so quiet off of it. As the season winds down, have you seen him break out of that shell, having to be the leader for that room?A: Yeah, he’s just been more vocal this year in general. I just see his confidence growing. It was really cool to see how the sidelines reacted to him on the punt return. They were throwing him around and carrying him around on their shoulders. He’s just one of those guys that I think everybody really likes and respects. It was also really cool being an in-state kid and staying at home. You know, getting a text from his high school coach. Getting a text from his high school athletic director. Getting a text from his former trainer. You know about how well Jahan’s doing and how happy they are for him. He’s kind of from the same are that Saquon’s [Barkley] from, very similar and not far from each other. I think that’s special when you’ve got people in his community that are not only watching him on Saturday’s and supporting him but know him. He was a high-level high school basketball player when he recruited him, as well. He’s just one of those guys that it always just came so natural to him. And as he’s gotten bigger and stronger, he’s got more explosive. The good thing is, I think there’s still a lot left in the tank for him. I think there’s a lot more development. He’s a guy that typically struggles to keep weight on during the season. You’ve got to figure out a better way of doing that. Because this summer, like the first time I went up to him in the weight room, I was like “wow”, he had bumps on his arms and his shoulders had muscles. He looked really good. That hasn’t always come easy to him because he was a fairly slight guy coming in. I just think he continues to get more confident, stronger, more explosive. He’s got a really bright future. He’s kind of put himself on the map now. Q: Seeing Parker Washington develop, what have you seen from him since he got here?A: First of all, he was raised really well. He’s got a really strong mom and dad and sister that were all very involved in the process. He played really good high school football and then when he got here, he didn’t really look like a wideout. He looked liked a running back in his lower half. I know you guys haven’t had a chance to see these guys the same way you normally would but he looks like a running back. His lower half is really built that way. You know, then he’s got what I would characterize as not good ball skills, I think he has elite ball skills and he’s a smart guy. He’s taking a very mature approach to it and we’re rexcited about his future. We’re excited about KeAndre [Lambert-Smith]. A bunch of those guys, we’re excited about. But to see those two freshmen come in and play. They’re very close, which I think helps. Those guys are always out there early on the jugs machine and staying late. They pick things up. I think he’s had a great freshman year and it’s something he can really build on. But I think it’s his ball skills, it’s his intelligence, maturity and his approach. When given opportunities, he’s taken advantage of it. Q: As you’ve gone through this season, what have you learned about yourself as a head coach that might help you going forward?A: I have probably learned more about myself this year, personally and professionally, than at any point in my 48 years on this planet. You know, I’ve had professional challenges before in my career. I’ve had personal challenges before in my life. Never really both at the same time. I really believe in the core values that you guys know we talk about all the time: positive attitude, work ethic, compete in everything you do and must be wiling to sacrifice. But those things were kind of, in a positive way, were an anchor for me this year. I could lean on those things when I needed to. The sacrifices everybody was making, the work ethic to drive through and push through the situation. We’re always having fun competing and whatever. Then the positive attitude to work during times that was hard to do. As the head coach, giving the team the face they need to see, it’s been a lot. It’s being strong for my wife and daughters. It’s being strong for the team, the staff and the players. It’s knowing who I can talk to and have the conversations when I need to have hard conversations. And I’ve learned a lot. I do know this. For me this week, and rest of the season, my goal is to continue to keep everybody healthy, which is what I’m very proud of. We’ve done a great job of that. Again, knock on wood, it’s not over. As soon as you drop your guard, you get in trouble. But we’ve done a really good job of that. Again, I know that, for the most part, all that anybody is focused on is the wins, outside of our circle. But I’m really proud of that and we have to continue to finish this thing the right way. My conversations with parents before the season, that was something that I told them we were going to do. So, very proud of that. Number two, we’ve got to find a way to get a win this week. We’ve got to continue to keep this momentum that we’ve got going. The third one for me is, I gotta find a way to get my family back. I always knew I was a family guy. I’ve always known that and I’ve never taken that for granted. But I would challenge everybody on this call, the media members and anybody that may be listening, don’t ever take that for granted. I didn’t, but this has been enlightening. So, if you get an opportunity to hug your wife, your kids, brother, sister, family member, whatever it may be, do not take that for granted. That’s something I’ve always know, but this is magnified for me. I’ve learned so much. At the end of the day, I gotta find a way to get my family back together as soon as possible. Q: James, you’ve alluded to your communication with the Big Ten. Are you satisfied or frustrated or somewhere in between with the communication between the coaches and the conference?A: This isn’t the answer that you want, but I’m gonna keep my focus on Penn State and the things that I can impact. Things that I can control. Which is our game this week against Illinois and keeping everybody safe and healthy. I do think you can look at it, you can really look at across college football and I think you can also include the NFL and look at the models and study the models. Not necessarily to be critical, but to learn from and study all the different models and say, okay, what models worked the best? I’m not talking about for individual schools. I’m talking about for entire conferences. What was the model that kept everybody as healthy as possible? What was the model that allowed as many games to be played as possible? What model allowed there to be as much competitive, good football being played. I don’t think you can look at it through one lens. You’ve got to look at the flexibility, you know, that I think a lot of people talked about being important. I think you’ve got to look at it all. I think that’s all of us. We’re gonna do the same thing here. You know, what are the things that we did really well? What are the things we can learn from? What are the things that we can grow from? I think you always need to do that, need to have an after-action plan. Where after a training camp, after a game, after a pandemic, or whatever, you better take a moment to sit down and say, okay, what did we do good? What can we improve on? What can we learn? Again, that’s not being critical. That’s growing and learning as individuals and as organizations. Q: Since you might have recruits that haven’t got on the field for a long time, how are you going to account for that? Have you had discussions about that?A: Yeah, they’re all the things we’re working on right now. Actually, I just got off a phone call about an hour ago where we talking about that. Okay, you know, what is the plan moving forward with not only our current team, but also the incoming players? What’s going to be a factor for a lot of places, is our school back in session? Are you in class or on campus? Are you going to have spring ball? Are you going to have spring recruiting? How are we going to schedule the one indoor facility we have on campus with 31 sports all playing pretty much at the same time. You know, there’s a lot of things that have to be organized, that have a schedule, that have to be communicated. It’s not taking what we did in 2019 or 2018 or 2017 or 2016. It’s literally, kind of what we just talked about, learning from how we handled this past year and because we all know it’s not like we’re going to snap our fingers and this is going to change overnight. It’s not going to be that type of miracle. So, we have to plan for it. But the challenge of planning is when you don’t really know what the semester is actually going to look like on all these campuses and how the NCAA is going to handle it, how the Big Ten is going to handle it. So, you’re going to have to have multiple models, build multiple models. So that’s literally what we’re working on now.