James Franklin opened his Friday afternoon press conference gushing about the staff that he had put together, largely made up of Vanderbilt coaches that stayed loyal to their charismatic leader.
“I’m really, really excited about the staff that we’ve put together,” he said. “What I was really looking for was familiarity, guys that I’ve worked with before, guys that I trust and know how they’re going to be interacting with the players and the community. The thing that I’m always looking for is that I want to surround myself with as many smart and talented guys as I can. These men and their families that came with me and decided to come to Penn State mean the world to me.”
That just scratched the surface of how close this staff truly is, though. While it may have been evident through their words and the absolute elation that the staff expressed at being able to coach with each other at Penn State, it was also evident through their actions that these guys are best friends, not just a bunch of colleagues who get along.
“We have great chemistry,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “The thing that [James] has done a great job of is assembling a staff that really complements him. We’re grinders, we’re blue-collar guys, we’re hard workers.”
But like I said, they’re more than that. It was obvious that offensive coordinator John Donovan and Shoop were close when Donovan stepped up to the dais and unprompted, before any questions were asked, said: “Bob did a great job there. He crushed it.”
Donovan seemed to be half serious and half joking with the comment, but it was that kind of light-hearted banter that stuck out throughout the afternoon as Franklin’s staff spent nearly two hours with the media. When Donovan was done giving his opening statement and the room was asked for questions, Franklin beat the media to it, shouting from the recruiting lounge balcony, “How many points are we going to score this year?”
“As many as it takes to win,” Donovan answered with a smile on his face to the sound of laughter from the room.
That banter was non-existent in O’Brien’s staff, or at the very least it was hidden away from the media as O’Brien rarely let his assistant coaches speak publicly. Franklin has already made it clear that won’t be the case with his staff. He might be the face of the group, but he wants the media and the fans to get to know his coaches and his best friends.
Franklin told the media that they would come to realize that his coaching staff is a group of genuine, down-to-earth guys, no different than the reporters and cameramen that he was addressing. The staff has only been together for a few years, but that hasn’t stopped them from forming a tight-knit relationship that’s immediately evident by watching them interact with each other.
“When we formed this staff at Vanderbilt three years ago, we hadn’t worked together before,” Donovan said. “We got together and found out real quick that we liked each other and it was a lot of great ideas from a lot of guys from different stops. We can rile each other up and get underneath each other’s skin, but off the field we all get along great.”
The coach that embodies that closeness the most of all is Brent Pry, Penn State’s new assistant head coach and Franklin’s right-hand man. Pry started his coaching career 21 years ago at East Stroudsburg University, where he coached All-PSAC quarterback James Franklin for two seasons. Pry’s father, Jim, was the offensive coordinator at ESU during that time. The two were reunited in Vanderbilt three years ago, although the Pry family had stayed in close contact with Franklin through the years.
“Coach Franklin has been a family friend for 20 years, you know, with my father and my mother,” Pry said. “There’s a real commitment to one another and there’s always been a fondness for him. [My family has] always pulled for him, whether it was a job opportunity at Kutztown or Penn State, and it just worked out when he went to Vanderbilt, there was an opportunity for me to come with him. I think the players will recognize that we are a very close staff. We have a trust and a loyalty and we work our butts off but we have fun too.”
All in all, this is a group of coaches that may not have the most collective experience of any staff in the nation, but almost certainly have the drive, the heart, and the loyalty to each other that leads me to believe them when they talk about staying in State College for a long, long time.
“It’s awesome,” quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne said when asked about the staff sticking together. “These are my best friends in the world and I get to coach football with them again, hopefully for a good long time. I told somebody the other day that both my sons who are two and four, that I hope they’ll graduate from State College High School.”
We hope so too, Ricky. And we hope that James Franklin and his coaching staff, a group that shares just about every great quality that he has, can bring a national championship to State College before Ricky’s kids graduate from State High.