James Franklin would become one of Terps' top rivals if hired by Penn State

Fiery former Maryland assistant turned around Vanderbilt and has become one of the hottest names in coaching

January 09, 2014|By Jeff Barker | The Baltimore Sun

When he was a Maryland quarterback, Chris Turner told a story of his phone once ringing at 4:34 in the morning.

It was passionate, intense James Franklin — an amped-up electron of a football coach for whom sleep is apparently an overvalued commodity — calling to see if the player was awake and ready for a spring practice.

"I don't think he sleeps, to tell you the truth," former Maryland receivers coach Lee Hull said Thursday of Franklin, the former Terps offensive coordinator who left for Vanderbilt in 2010 and, according to multiple reports, is now close to becoming Penn State's head coach.

"I think he gets like three, maybe four hours a day. I'm not kidding — he's always on his phone," said Hull, who Thursday was announced as Morgan State's new head coach.

Franklin, a two-time Maryland assistant, was once in line to become the Terps' head coach. At Penn State, he would find himself competing with Maryland in the Big Ten's East Division and — perhaps more importantly — in recruiting the Baltimore-Washington region.

"He [Franklin] gets a job like that, it's going to be tough — real tough for us, especially for the recruiting battles, because he's a great recruiter," said former Maryland wide receiver Torrey Smith, now with the Ravens. "I can't imagine what it would be like to put him in an environment like that. It'll be [Maryland offensive coordinator Mike] Locksley versus him in recruiting. It'll be a good one."

In his three years as the head coach at Vanderbilt, long-frustrated Commodores fans loved the intensity Franklin displayed. He operates on a low boil but usually has the restraint and smarts to keep himself in check.

The fans began to know the real Franklin after Vanderbilt lost to Georgia in 2011, the Commodores' 16th loss to the Bulldogs in 17th games. Looking grim — almost defiant — the animated, then-first-year head coach was eager to declare that enough was enough.

"We are not going to sit back and take stuff from anybody. Anybody. No one," Franklin told reporters in a news conference following the 33-28 defeat that ended with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham shouting at Franklin and poking a finger into his face.

"Those days are long gone. And they're never coming back. Ever," Franklin said with an unblinking expression that barely masked the roiling emotions inside.

While he can come off as overly confident or combative, Franklin's passion and football savvy helped turn around the Commodores' program, leading them to three straight bowl games and a 24-15 record. His accomplishments made him one of the hottest names in college coaching, with his name linked to several openings including ones in the NFL.

'In your face'

While plenty of coaches are passionate, Franklin, 40, manages to convey a sense that he is on his players' side. As Maryland's offensive coordinator, he was known to leap up and down while his players conducted drills, cajoling some to work harder and chiding others. Younger than most coaches, he didn't seem above the fray.

"He'll get in your face," said running back Davin Meggett, a member of the Washington Redskins' practice squad who played for the Terps while Franklin was the offensive coordinator and "coach-in-waiting."

"He'll come off as a little too energetic, but only because he is very, very passionate about his kids being successful," said Meggett, recalling a 2008 halftime speech in which Franklin punched an erasable board used to diagram plays, sending it tumbling to the ground. "He's extremely intelligent. He likes to win and he likes for his ideas to work."

In 2012, Franklin stumbled by joking publicly that he could tell a lot about an assistant coach's confidence by how attractive the assistant's wife was. He quickly apologized on his Twitter page, which he often updates.

In two stints as a Maryland assistant — 2000 to 2004, and 2008 to 2010 — Franklin was an aggressive salesman for the school. He frequently made himself accessible to the media, going further than most coaches in explaining internal operations such as play calling or how players are graded by coaches after games. He fist-bumped reporters as they arrived to interview him.

"He's intense, but it's not negative," Smith said.

Franklin is known for his recruiting and "tenacity," said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247 Sports. Franklin's approach is "positive and motivational, yet direct and no-nonsense."

Assuming he assembles a formidable staff to help him, Shurburtt said Franklin's recruiting "is going to resonate with high school coaches, prospects and their families throughout the I-95 corridor [Baltimore, Washington, Eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey], which is talent-rich and an area Penn State has made a living on during the past half century."

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