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May 28, 2014

Column: Recruiting expertise versatile for Franklin

James Franklin spent just one year as an assistant coach at Washington State, handling the tight ends for former Cougars' head man Mike Price.

Like any of his 11 other coaching stops before landing at Penn State as the Nittany Lions' new head coach in January, Franklin has shared nuggets of the experiences and lessons learned through the years that have accumulated to create the all-encompassing resume he currently boasts.

Of Franklin's tenure in Pullman, Wash., one specific experience relates directly to a recently completed venture added to his budding Nittany Lion scrapbook.

Currently at his vacation home in Destin, Fla., Franklin - likely pacing up and down the beach, cellphone in hand, unable to sit still - is coming off the third-annual, 17-event Penn State Coaches Caravan. Making stops throughout Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic, the three-week journey is a rarity on the college football landscape, but not necessarily to Franklin.

As he tells the story, just months after his arrival to the Washington State coaching staff, Franklin joined the other Cougar assistant coaches on an 18-stop golfing tour across the Evergreen State.

"I've golfed maybe 25 times in my life and 18 of them I think took place in the summer at Washington State," Franklin explained. "They had a tour across the state where you did golfing with fans and boosters and alumni."

(To very little surprise, Franklin acknowledged the very limited appeal of an activity that takes more than four hours to his Red Bull-fueled, relentless pursuit of productivity. Added Franklin, "I want to slam the clubs and break them in half and throw them in the lake, so it's not really my personality yet." In other words, his charity event participation is unlikely to include scrambles at the Blue Course anytime soon.)

Nonetheless, Franklin is far from unfamiliar with the concept of generating and cultivating fan support.

In fact, the 42-year old grew intimately familiar with the hands-on approach necessary for the head coaching position much more recently. Taking over a Vanderbilt program that had virtually no tradition or buzz upon his arrival, Franklin built support like a salesman in a very literal sense:

Door to door.

Said Franklin, "I went to every fraternity and sorority three times. Every one."

Beyond his time frequenting Greek living quarters surrounding Vanderbilt's campus just west of Nashville, Franklin also had the occasion to spend a considerable amount of time in the student union building to drum up support for a Thanksgiving-break battle against Tennessee in Nashville.

"Everybody was going home," he said. "So I called parents to try to get the parents to reschedule their flights to allow their kids to stay. I probably called 50, probably convinced 35 to stay."

Though comparisons of fan support between Vanderbilt and Penn State end abruptly from there - consider the Commodores' 35,675 home game attendance average to Beaver Stadium's 96,587 last season - Franklin said he still sees parallels. Actually, in the context of percentages, the Commodores and Nittany Lions weren't so different, Franklin said.

Averaging nearly 88 percent filled seats to Vanderbilt Stadium's capacity of 40,550, home games in Happy Valley averaged roughly 90 percent, leaving more than enough room to fulfill Franklin's campaign for growth during his first five months on the job.

"It's different, but it's the same. We've got 95,000 that are coming. We need to have 107," he said. "So, I'm still recruiting.

"Bring someone who has never been to a Penn State game to a game and let them get caught up in the emotion and the enthusiasm and the excitement. The entire institution is going to a Penn State football game and just seeing the excitement and the community and the campus come together like that. It's special. It's fun."





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