News & Notes From James Franklin’s Bowl Selection Media Availability
Penn State head coach James Franklin met with the media Sunday night for his bowl selection availability to discuss various topics relating to his football team.
Following the news Sunday afternoon that Penn State will play Arkansas in the 2021 Outback Bowl, Franklin had plenty to say about the Nittany Lions’ next game and opponent. However, there was plenty else to talk about, including losing Brent Pry to Virginia Tech, hiring a new defensive coordinator, and players potentially opting out of the Outback Bowl.
On Losing Brent Pry To Virginia Tech
Last week, Virginia Tech hired Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry as its next head coach. Pry has been with the Nittany Lions since 2014 and served as their defensive coordinator beginning in 2016.
Franklin shared the excitement he has for Pry and expressed how proud he is of his longtime assistant coach.
“I’m super excited, and happy, and proud for Brent and his family,” Franklin said. “I think he’s a great fit at Virginia Tech, and this is the type of opportunity that we talked about for 12 years. He turned down a bunch of opportunities waiting for the right one, and this was the right one. So, I couldn’t be happier for him, and I think it’s a great fit — a tremendous opportunity.”
While Franklin is of course happy for Pry, he also expressed how tough of a departure it is, both on and off the field. Pry has been on Franklin’s staff dating back 12 years to their Vanderbilt days, so the next step will be a big change for both the coaches.
“On the other hand of it, you know, you talk about a significant loss — personally and professionally,” Franklin said. “Brent’s one of my closest friends. We’ve been together for 12 years, been through a lot together, and obviously, that’s going to be difficult to replace.”
On Finding A New Defensive Coordinator
With Pry now out of the picture, it’s time to get moving for Franklin and Co.
Despite the head coach currently being on the recruiting trail, Franklin has been making and taking calls relating to the open defensive coordinator spot, as he expressed the importance of filling the role rather quickly.
“I’d like to try to get it done as soon as possible, but I want to make sure that we also get the right person,” Franklin said. “That takes time. And then the other challenge is with as many jobs that are open right now, you know, a lot of people are fighting for the same guys. So, there’s a lot of competition out there from that perspective as well.”
As far as who’ll take over in the meantime, no clear answer was given. Franklin did mention that safeties coach Anthony Poindexter is the squad’s co-defensive coordinator, but he wouldn’t go as far as to label him the interim solution for the position.
Franklin is keeping an open mind during the search, considering coaches both within the program and outside across college football. However, while outside options are certainly being considered, Franklin wants to make sure that potential hires share a similar philosophy that the Nittany Lions have had.
“Every situation is being considered,” Franklin said. “Guys that are on our staff, guys that are outside of our staff. Guys that are part of the tree, guys that are outside of our tree. You know, one of the things that I want to do is make sure that we stay with a similar scheme because I think that’s important to our current players and our current roster — to make sure that they feel like they’re a fit.
“We recruited for this fit with our current roster and then also the guys coming in,” he continued. “So, that was something that was important for everybody and something that just makes sense for Penn State long term. Obviously, the person is going to come and be able to put their stamp on it, but from a structure standpoint, we’ll be similar.”
Franklin said he’s looking for someone who’ll “be the head coach of the defense and be able to handle that side of the ball.” Furthermore, he wants a potential defensive coordinator he’ll be able to collaborate with that’ll help Penn State get in a position to “win at the highest level.”
A candidate with previous play-calling experience may be preferred for Franklin, but it’s not the end-all-be-all.
“Obviously, previous play-calling experience is obviously helpful,” Franklin said. “You really want to be able to kind of study a track record of success. Obviously, guys that have done it before, it makes it easy to go back and study all the metrics and see where guys are, see where guys are at, and then how you want to rank them and those types of things. So, that helps. It’s not the final deciding point, but obviously, it helps.”
On The Outback Bowl
Penn State found out its bowl fate Sunday afternoon, and a trip to Tampa, Florida is in the cards. It’ll be the Nittany Lions’ first Outback Bowl appearance since the 2010 season when it lost to Florida 37-24.
Surprisingly, January 1, 2022, will be the first time Penn State and Arkansas face off against each other.
“I think it’s really cool because obviously, for as long as Penn State and Arkansas have been playing football, there’s not too many things that you can say that’s never happened before,” Franklin said.
Penn State’s trip to the Outback Bowl is exciting for the team for multiple reasons. Having players from Florida is part of it, but also playing in a game of its prestige raises the anticipation. Additionally, it’s warm down there in Florida, which doesn’t hurt.
“We got players from the state of Florida and specifically from Tampa,” Franklin said. “I think obviously when a lot of people think of bowl games they think of warm settings. It doesn’t always play out that way, but you think about being able to go play in warm settings and be able to have that experience and be able to enjoy that. Being able to play a great game in a great venue that has tremendous history.
“So, I know our players are really excited about it,” he continued. “I know our coaches and staff are really excited. I know my daughters were really excited about it when they found out this afternoon.”
Arkansas will be the second SEC opponent Penn State plays this season. Nowadays, playing against SEC opponents is unfamiliar territory for Franklin and Co., as it rarely happens.
Franklin has known Razorbacks head coach Sam Pittman for a while, and he complimented the way Pittman has embraced Arkansas, as well as the “hard-nosed, tough, positive energy” he’s brought to the team.
“I got a ton of respect for Sam [Pittman],” Franklin said. “I’ve known him for a long time. You know, and obviously guys on the staff and the university as well. I’ve been able to catch a few games or scores on TV and things like that, but I haven’t really been able to dive into them. Got a ton of respect for that conference. Obviously, I know it well. And got a ton of respect for what Sam has been able to do in a short period of time.”
On Players Potentially Opting Out Of The Bowl
If any Penn State players plan on opting out of the team’s bowl, it looks like we won’t know for a little bit. Franklin repeated what he’s said in the past, saying he never wants to speak for players about what their plans are.
“We’ll handle that like we always have,” Franklin said. “I don’t make announcements for players and their situations. We’ve typically done that at the bowl site or we work with players that are going to put something out through social media. We try to make sure that all those things are coordinated. But, I don’t make announcements like that for players.
“I don’t think that’s my place,” he continued. “But, there is obviously ongoing conversations with all the guys about their futures, and what it looks like, and where we’re going, and how we’re doing it, and who will be involved in that process.”
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This marks the first time the Nittany Lions are left out of the preseason poll since 2016.