James Franklin didn’t try to make excuses. He tried to be honest and do so in a way that would not make a bad situation even worse.
I encourage every diehard Penn State fan to go listen to Franklin’s press conference Tuesday. Here it is, in its entirety:
Listen to it from your perspective as a fan.
Listen to it from Franklin’s perspective as a coach.
Listen to it from the perspective of the players and how they would perceive what’s being said.
Franklin repeatedly said he was going to “lead with love” rather than trashing his players, like some coaches around the country might do when things go bad.
When you do that — trying to answer tough questions without giving angry answers — it sometimes can sound like a coach is making excuses.
“I think the fine line for me as the head coach is, I never want to be a guy that comes up here and feels like I’m making excuses,” Franklin said. “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 lettermen, anybody.
“Ultimately, we’re responsible for what we put out there on the field and everything that comes with that. And I’m responsible.”
As a fan, you want your pound of flesh. You want Franklin to admit to making terrible mistakes and point them out. You want him to light into the players for their terrible effort in Saturday’s 35-19 loss to Maryland.
You’re not going to get those things listening to Franklin talk for 40 minutes Tuesday.
Let’s say he rips some guys a new one, saying they’re being lazy or selfish or what have you. Does anyone really think that would do any good?
Yeah, you may want to hear that as a fan. You may want him to blame this guy or that guy or another guy for going rogue and doing his own thing, as was mentioned by Jahan Dotson and confirmed by Pat Freiermuth.
Surely, Franklin and the assistant coaches have seen examples of it. And they’ve seen them before, too, including …
“A lot of the things that the players are talking about, they show up during the week before wins,” Franklin said.
They just don’t get noticed or talked about at those times.
Everything in sports gets magnified when you lose. And when you get embarrassed as a four-touchdown favorite at home by a team you’ve destroyed in recent years, every little thing should and will be magnified even more.
Which is what’s happening right now.
Franklin was asked the very pertinent question of if there’s a culture problem within the program. The very essence behind that question is trying to get to the bottom of whether these problems are isolated to this crazy year and an 0-3 start, or if there are bigger concerns that are systemic and could lead to big issues in the future, as well.
Franklin, in one of several candid comments, answered the culture question in an interesting way.
“You can’t come in and pat the program on the back when you’re successful and use culture as a part of it, and not at least look at it and discuss it when times are challenging,” the coach said.
He later added, “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.”
Rest assured, that’s what this week and the coming weeks will focus on. Heavily.
Taking a hard look at the actions and words of every single person in the program — players and coaches.
But Franklin has to do all of that in a way that will not disrupt all of the good things the program is doing, because overreacting to one or two problems sometimes can actually make other problems arise that weren’t there before.
“I’m being tested right now, and we’re being tested,” Franklin said. “And I think leadership 101 is the consistency. So for me, my approach when I became a head coach and my approach over the last 10 yers has been consistent.”
For whatever problems Franklin either has or is perceived to have by fans, consistency is not one of them. He is extremely consistent in how he approaches his job, his schedule, his life, everything.
When I asked him if any of these big problems this season could have been foreseen, Franklin’s direct answer was simple:
“No,” he said.
But then he went into a longer answer trying to explain — again, not an excuse, but an explanation — about how this ridiculous year has gone.
“There’s been a lot of factors in 2020, a lot of factors,” he said. “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.”
There’s a whole lot to read between the lines in those words. We all can say, hey, all teams across the country are dealing with this stuff, so you’re not going to give Franklin and Penn State a pass.
That’s just the way things work in big-time sports.
Still, we have to be human about this stuff, too, and try to understand that these players and coaches are going through a bunch of tough things in their own lives.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Franklin said. “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. I have not. They are my fuel. I go home, they’re able to pour into me. And I have not done a great job of that.
“Again, at the end of the day, I have to. I have to manage those things. I have to do a great job.”
Franklin’s daughter, Addison, has sickle cell disease, an underlying condition that puts her at much greater risk for health problems if she contracts the coronavirus.
So, Franklin’s wife and two daughters have been living in Florida for months.
“They’re down South and probably will be there until we come up with some type of vaccine or I am working in a way where I’m not interacting with so many people every day,” Franklin said. “I don’t know when that would change. I think it’s really (having a) vaccine for us.”
Not having his family around is not an excuse for what’s happening with the Penn State team.
But it is an example of how screwed up this year is for a lot of people. And make no mistake, many other members of the football team are going through their own personal issues with all this mess that have nothing to do with football.
Then you add in the real football stuff of losing Micah Parsons, Journey Brown and Noah Cain, and you’re talking about a situation where the Lions have just been caught up in a perfect storm of trouble.
None of that is meant to be an excuse.
It’s just the reality this Penn State team finds itself in, for better or worse.
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