See Franklin's comments on chemistry above.
Penn State football coach James Franklin holds a psychology degree from East Stroudsburg University. But since taking over the helm of the Nittany Lion program in January, Franklin has been more focused on another subject - chemistry.
In a press conference before appearing at the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Football Foundation banquet in State College Sunday, Franklin spoke candidly about leading a program that has been through two high-profile coaching changes in the last three years.
Hall of Famer Joe Paterno was fired shortly after the Sandusky scandal broke in November of 2011, and died two months later. He was replaced by Bill O'Brien, who bolted for the NFL's Houston Texans after only two seasons in Happy Valley.
Franklin understands the sort of impact such changes have had on his players.
“A lot of 'em, especially the seniors, they came here to play for Joe,” Franklin said. “And then Joe leaves and there's hurt feelings associated with that. Then Billy comes in. Then Billy leaves and there's hurt feelings.
“The players had a little bit of a wall up when we first got here, which is natural,” he added. “But for us to get where we want to go, they have to let us in. They can't do it by themselves and we (as coaches) can't do it by ourselves. We've got to do it together.”
From Franklin's perspective, the chemistry among the players has been great all along. He attributes that at least in part to everything they've endured. Besides the scandal and coaching changes, PSU was also hit with harsh NCAA sanctions in the summer of 2012.
“I explain it a lot like a family,” Franklin said. “The reason your family is so tight is because you've been through adversity after adversity after adversity. Every time you go through one of those things and make it out, you become stronger. That's what we're trying to do.”
Penn State began spring practice March 17 and has held four sessions to date. Because the NCAA limits the amount of time coaches can spend with players in the off-season, the ability of the new staff to work hands on with the athletes has been vital to the chemistry-building process.
“You need as much time with them as possible,” Franklin said. “Now that we're out on the field and being able to spend a lot of time with them in meetings and those type of things, it's been great.”
The coaches have also spent as much time as possible with the players away from the field. But there have been challenges there. Franklin, for example, is living at a local hotel until he can find a house for himself and his family. So his proclivity for inviting players over for dinner won't work just yet.
“It doesn't make a whole lot of sense for me to bring 35 guys over to the Residence Inn,” he said with a smile. “It doesn't have the same type of feel.”
Instead, there have been team gatherings at local restaurants.
Franklin was quick to note, however, that none of the chemistry building involves the kid-glove treatment for players. This is especially true on the field, where the coach insists he and his assistants must be true to themselves because the players would see through it if they were not.
“I'm a psycho,” Franklin said. “I coach hard, our entire coaching staff coaches hard. But there's a way to do that. We can coach people hard and push people hard and be really demanding if you love them hard, as well. If they do something good, I'm screaming and going crazy. If they do something bad, I'm screaming and going crazy. That's just kind of who I am and my personality.”