PECKVILLE, Pa. — James Franklin has displayed many interesting attributes since taking over as head coach of the Penn State football program in January, but subtlety has not been among them.
Case in point: On the university's Coaches Caravan PR tour through Pennsylvania and surrounding states, Franklin has been clobbering the faithful over the head with the idea that the Nittany Lions' facilities are subpar and that he'd like to be part of the so-called “arms' war” taking place in college football.
“To put it in a little bit of perspective for you, when I was at Vanderbilt (from 2011-13), we had the last-place facilities in the SEC,” Franklin told boosters in King of Prussia Tuesday night. “It wasn't even close. And our facilities at Vanderbilt (were) better than what they are at Penn State right now, which is probably a little shocking to people.”
"Our facilities at Vanderbilt (were) better than what they are at Penn State right now, which is probably a little shocking to people."
He went on to explain the size of Penn State's Lasch Football Building and indoor practice facility (Holuba Hall) are fine, adding that “the bones are unreal.” But then he was a bit vague on where upgrades are needed.
“The issue is we've fallen behind in branding and graphics and technology,” he said. “And carpet.”
“I was amazed,” Franklin said. “Showing up (in January), I went into the locker room. And the couches in the locker room, the stuffing is hanging out of them. The carpet is peeling up.”
He later recounted a story of taking a recruit through the Lasch Building academic center, and the recruit spotted a photo of former PSU coach Bill O'Brien on the wall. The recruit said, “Who's that guy?”
“Yeah, that's the last guy,” Franklin told him, and the packed room of fans hearing the story laughed. However, he said the photo of O'Brien has since been removed.
Prior to a stop near Scranton Wednesday evening, Franklin was asked for specific examples of how Penn State's facilities can be better when it comes to branding and technology.
“To be honest with you, I think it's everything,” he said. “It's nothing really structurally. But the [practice] facility, the turf needs to be replaced outside and inside. The carpet, the paint, the branding, furniture and technology.”
Franklin urged anyone who would listen to take to YouTube to check out the facilities at Oregon, USC, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
“It's become a little bit of an arms' race in college football, if you go around the country and look at what's going on,” he said. “And we want to not only be a part of that, but a leader as well.”
Of course, the Penn State athletic department is still paying off a $60 million fine that was handed down by the NCAA as part of sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. And that cash is not allowed to come from sports other than football, which is the primary bread-winner for the athletic department.
If there is any subtlety in Franklin's message on facilities, it stems from that situation.
“We have some financial challenges right now and issues that everyone is aware of,” he said. “It's going to be getting people to support that vision (of better facilities) and jump on board with us through fundraising, and those types of things.
“Penn State has (in the past) and wants to again provide a first-class experience for its student/athletes. We've done that for a long time. There are some things we need to tweak to get back.”
Having coached in five major conferences and the NFL, Franklin believes he is qualified to judge first-rate facilities from those that need work. And he said boasts of PSU having the best facilities in the country simply are not true.
“For a long time, it was (true),” he said. “(But) we've kind of fallen behind in that area. I think we were falling behind even before the sanctions hit (in 2012).”
But when talking to fans, he does not end the conversation on such a somber note. Instead, he spins the negative into some sort of positive.
And shows no subtlety while doing so.
“Just think about this,” he told the boosters in King of Prussia, “we've got the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Where are we going to be able to go once we get some of these things updated?”