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Penn State Football

Penn State HC James Franklin Cultivating a Culture Where Process Matters Most

James Franklin and Penn State take on Ohio State in a top ten matchup.

Penn State football’s drama since the season ended has solely been reserved for coordinator searches.

Even those were mild compared to other coaching searches nationwide. Even opt-outs have been quiet at Penn State.

That’s something that couldn’t be further from what’s going on amongst their college football peers.

For Penn State, newly hired coordinators Tom Allen and Andy Kotelnicki are in Atlanta on the bowl trip. Both are around the team and staff daily. This is nothing new for head coach James Franklin and company. The same could be said been the case for his previous hires such as Manny Diaz and Joe Moorhead.

The process Franklin has been following has worked. That was proven so when Penn State had a tranquil signing day with only one flip of a player to another school.

“Our assistants did a great job because we had change at both coordinator positions right before signing day,” Franklin said at his Peach Bowl availability via Zoom Tuesday afternoon. “Most people, when that happens, you’re going to lose some recruits because of it. We didn’t have any of that so I think there’s value in that, but having both Tom and Andy here, obviously you’d prefer not to have to have changes be made, but if they are made, I think there’s a ton of value in doing what we’re doing.”

That value in what Penn State is doing is a masterclass by Franklin. His process is what’s helped make Penn State perennial powers in the Big Ten, but it’s also why you see players play regularly in bowl games rather than opt-out or even transfer.

The only player who has elected to opt out of the bowl game is defensive end Chop Robinson, who spent the latter part of the season banged up. Players such as Theo Johnson, Curtis Jacobs, Daequan Hardy and Olu Fashanu have all declared for the 2024 NFL Draft, but will be suiting up one final time for the blue and white Saturday in Atlanta.

“These are different times in college football, and we’ve worked really hard to create a relationship with our players that there can be open and honest dialogue and discussions,” Franklin said.

This is not something new for Penn State players entering the draft, but it continues a positive trend going back to Saquon Barkley who elected to play in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl rather than forgo the bowl game knowing his draft stock was incredibly high.

“We’ve tried to create an environment where really there’s no reason for any player to opt-out,” Franklin said. “What I mean by that is all the way back to Saquon Barkley, who was being projected as a top 15 pick, there’s a way to do this where the player, the family, the agents, whoever, everybody’s comfortable with the plan.”

Whatever that plan seems to be has been working in a big way and has lead to the aforementioned guys playing in the Peach Bowl. It’s also a big part of what led cornerback Kalen King to hit the field with his teammates for practice this week in Atlanta.

“To be able to finish the season with your teammates, I think is important, but I also understand the challenge of it,” Franklin said. “Just try to have great conversations and discussions. Kalen was great. Kalen’s parents were great. I had really good discussions and came up with a plan that everybody was comfortable with. So great to have him here and be part of the program for one more game.”

Players opting out is one thing, but having them return to school is another monster, but one that Penn State handles as well as anyone. It’s why Fashanu returned for the 2023 season and it’s a big reason why Tyler Warren elected to come back for a final season in Happy Valley in 2024.

It’s about developing a plan and process for those players that works for them and helps strengthen their weaknesses along with a multitude of other things.

“If a guy decides to come back, how do we attack those weaknesses over the next seven months so that they’re in a much better position next year and so are we as an organization,” Franklin said. “We’ve done a really good job of recruiting and developing the tight end room. I think Tyler really helps us because there are some guys behind him we think are really talented, but it sure is nice to have a veteran back while those guys are gaining some experience.”

The devil is in the details for Franklin and company and it should come as no shock that Penn State is not being hurt by players opting out, but rather being strengthened by opting into the bowl game. The process works and is a big reason why the Nittany Lions now get to play in the Peach Bowl for the first time with a chance to become the first program to win all six New Year’s Six Bowl games.



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