Ugly Win, Tough Questions Prompt An Emotional Postgame Outburst From James Franklin
James Franklin was grilled following Saturday’s ugly victory over Army, forced to answer for his team’s slow offense, John Donovan’s criticized play calling, and an overall lackluster performance against the 1-4 Black Knights. The heated 12-minute affair, which saw Franklin’s inflection ranging from a dramatic whisper to a passionate near-scream, ended in a strange round of applause from non-media members in attendance.
In between, Franklin was pressed by the media like he has never been before (especially after a victory) to answer a series of pointed, blunt, and critical questions, which seemed to push him to the edge. On the final question, the normally uptight and PR-focused Franklin let loose with a previously unseen flurry of emotion and a lengthy pushback to criticism of his unrelenting optimism.
Franklin, in the first question of the presser, was asked to respond to the team’s meager 264 yards of total offense against Army, one of the nation’s bottom-feeding teams.
“Not where we need to be, no doubt about it,” he said. “We’re inconsistent, what’s killing us is penalties… I do think the weather has been part of that, one of many factors… We have a lot of work to do in that area, which is not new to anyone.”
Immediately, a reporter then asked Franklin to grade Donovan’s performance, a request that he’ll never honor. Again, Franklin repeated the well-worn answer: “We got a long way to go. I’m not happy with where we’re at.”
In successive questions, Franklin was then asked to answer for his questionable decision to kick an extra point (instead of a two-point conversion attempt) when a third quarter touchdown put Penn State up 13, his wideouts not getting enough separation downfield (against, as PennLive’s Dave Jones posed it “Army, this is not a speed outfit”), and whether he had been more involved in play calling this week compared to earlier in the season (he had).
Further inquiries asking him to speak about the newly proposed plans to possibly either renovate or rebuild Beaver Stadium, his play calling, and injuries prompted a mixed bag of pent-up frustration and the “We’ve got to do better” shtick.
But it was the presser’s final question that sent Franklin into an emotional rant that had him recounting his gambling history, praising his love for the media (!), and assuming a dramatic delivery.
Here’s the question:
“After the Temple loss, you seemed to have to have a pretty good idea of how disappointing that might be for the fan base. This was a four touchdown point spread. Expectations from your fanbase are not 20-14 wins over Army…What would you tell your fanbase after this?”
And Franklin’s response:
“I have no concerns over point spreads, I don’t know a coach in the country that does. So I’m going to come in here every single week and be positive even if it kills you guys and you want me to be negative. I love our players, I love our school, I love our colors, love Penn State, love Happy Valley, love the community.”
“Do we need to get better? YES. But you guys can ask me every question in the book and try to get me to be negative, I’m not gonna do it…Gotta get better! I know it you know it, the fans know it.”
“Point spreads and all those things, I don’t even understand them. I lost 20 dollars in Atlantic city when I was 24 years old after college and I almost threw up. That was the last time I gambled, I couldn’t tell you anything about it. I’m worried about making sure our guys go to school, get an education, make great choices in the community, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to come in here and I’m going to be positive. I’m not going to go down that road with anybody.”
Just as quickly as it started, it was over. Franklin walked off the dais, leaving a slightly stunned media behind. And then, in an even stranger turn of events, those observing the presser from above the media room (usually a combination of recruits and special guests) broke out into applause.
The rant, or whatever you want to call it, made Franklin seem like the bullied kindergartener on the playground, trying to stand up for himself against his unrelenting peers, as one media member described it. It marked the most emotion he’s shown following a game — win or lose — since an equally dramatic press conference last year against Ohio State. Then, after the Lions fell to the Buckeyes in large part as a result of missed calls, Franklin paused, nearly at tears seemingly not over the outcome, but over the care he expressed towards his players, and the disappointment he felt for them.
One more note: Franklin admitted to not knowing a coach in the country that concerns himself over points spreads. Well, here’s one: Bill O’Brien. When the 2013 Nittany Lions defeated No. 15 Wisconsin in Madison, O’Brien suggested he used the fact that they were a 24-point underdog as motivation.
The road does not get easier for James Franklin, and the tough questions will continue to mount. His 2015 Nittany Lions host a hot Indiana team next weekend, then face four ranked teams in a six-week stretch.