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Blue-White Game Countdown / 27 Days: Franklin Prepares For Second Year, This Time Without Balloons Or Cake

James Franklin doesn’t like to say no. That’s why he said that his biggest regret from his first year on the job is promising to never turn down a speaking engagement, birthday party appearance, or a request to blow up balloons.

“It was an onslaught once I opened my mouth,” he said Tuesday during his first press conference since National Signing Day. “That was a big mistake, which I’ve learned from.”

So as the 43-year-old begins his second year as the head coach of the Penn State football team, Franklin is, before anything else, making sure he better organizes his time and commitments. And now, as spring ball kicked off Friday afternoon despite winter-like conditions, Franklin is devoting 100 percent of his capabilities to football, leaving administrative ventures to his staff.

He’s assumed a strict schedule to make it possible: staff meetings in the early morning then “football only” until 1 p.m. After that, it’s recruiting business until 4 p.m. Media engagements will be squeezed in early in the morning or after 7 in the evening. For all of those blocks, Franklin said, “nothing else can be scheduled during that time.”

It’s all in an effort to fully “install” Franklin’s program, a system he suggested takes two or three years. Throughout last season, amidst a 4-0 start followed by a four-game losing streak, Franklin continuously said his team was “close” to turning a corner, but never fully reached that point. To start this year, Franklin again used the vague indicator.

“I think we’re closer to that than we’ve been in a long time,” he said.

Still, everything takes time. Franklin listed off a range of factors – institutional knowledge, recruiting locations, the Big Ten play style, away venues, and establishing depth – that served as learning curves during his first year on the job. That’s why Franklin said his second year in the system should be the biggest improvement in his transformation of Penn State football. Of now, all signs are pointing in the right direction.

“Second year in the system, we’re confident in schemes,” he said. “I think from year one to year two is probably where you see the biggest strides. You probably won’t see the same type of strides moving forward as you will from year one to year two.”

On Monday, Franklin was speaking to Angelo Mangiro, the offensive lineman that entered the 2014 with little experience, forced into the starting lineup and spotlight due to injuries and lack of returning players up front. At this time last year, Franklin said, the center didn’t know of “the way we do the huddle,” and had never snapped a ball in Franklin’s desired cadence. To start spring practice this year, he was under center helping a seasoned Christian Hackenberg direct the offense.

“We got the majority of our team now that have been through these things,” Franklin said. “That experience counts and is important.”

But Franklin was also quick to put his position in perspective, especially compared to major college football’s all-time winningest coach.

“Somebody tweeted out the other day that Joe [Paterno] was here 62 years and I was here 62 weeks,” he said. “I got a long way to go. You want to be improving for 62 years in every aspect.”

In media appearances, Franklin has demonstrated due respect for Paterno, but has also made an effort to emphasize that the past has passed, and, as he said prior to the Pinstripe Bowl, “I can’t be anybody but James Franklin.”

“I think I’m probably very different in a lot of ways than the last two coaches that sat in this role,” he said then.

That shouldn’t matter now, as Franklin, back to full recruiting numbers and no longer the coach of the nation’s second-youngest team as he was last year, has his system almost entirely in place. But to make that transition complete, he said it will take a community effort.

“Having an unbelievably supportive fan base, having the administration being unbelievably supportive like they have been, having the high school coaches in the region support us and be excited about what’s going on at Penn State, it’s every aspect,” he said. “There’s not one aspect that’s more important than the other.”

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Ben Berkman

State College, PA

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