A “Pennsylvania boy.”
That’s what James Franklin called himself at Saturday’s press conference, the one that introduced him as Penn State’s newest head coach, the 16th in program history.
"Excited to come home,” Franklin said. “That's probably the thing that I take the most pride in is coming home. I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart."
Franklin hails from Langhorne, Pa., and he said he grew up watching Penn State play. But that was during the Joe Paterno days, and as most college football fans know, things are very different at Penn State in 2014. Though Franklin, for one, wants to make sure that one positive aspect of the legendary coach’s nearly half-a-century tenure is restored: the winning.
"We're coming here with the mindset that we're going to build this program the right way, and we're going to build it for the long haul,” he said. “And we plan on being here for a very, very long time. This is my dream job. This is where I want to be."
That last bit was necessary following the departure of previous head coach Bill O’Brien, who resigned to take over as the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans. His stay in Happy Valley lasted just two seasons, though they were two successful ones. One of the biggest challenges facing Franklin will be to match and surpass the success O’Brien had in the midst of severe NCAA punishments.
Whether he can do that or not remains to be seen, but there’s one thing the Pennsylvania boy might be able to do to help his chances. Since Paterno’s firing after the 2010 season and the Jerry Sandusky scandal that necessitated it, recruiting the top talent from the Lions’ home state has been an issue. The past four recruiting classes — including this year's class of incoming freshmen — have seen Penn State bring in just four of the 25 total Pennsylvania players ranked in the Rivals 250. That’s compared to the Lions getting five of eight in the final recruiting class brought in by Paterno.
The Lions’ most common recruiting foe when it comes to the state’s top players in in-state rival Pittsburgh, but conference foes such as Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State have poached that top-ranked talent away from the Keystone State’s biggest program.
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Perhaps Franklin, the Philadelphia-area native can help with that. He brought in three Rivals 250 recruits from the state of Tennessee during his tenure at Vanderbilt. But that was at a private school without the resources of Penn State's major athletics program. As one Franklin back-and-forth with a reporter reminded Saturday afternoon, Beaver Stadium holds nearly 107,000 people. Vanderbilt Stadium held just more than 40,000.
"We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state,” Franklin said. “And when I say recruit, I don't just mean the student-athletes. I mean the people of the great state of Pennsylvania. We will recruit everybody. And that's with tremendous respect for the University of Pittsburgh, but we are Penn State."