- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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James Franklin won more games at Vanderbilt than most people expected. But there should have been no surprise that Franklin won the press conference as he was introduced as Penn State's new head coach on Saturday. Crushed it, actually.
Self-confidence is one of Franklin's more easily identifiable traits. It fairly oozes out of him and is part of the reason why he has been such a terrific recruiter during his career. So Franklin had no problem setting the bar high for his Nittany Lions tenure during a news conference that lasted almost an hour.
On recruiting, for example, Franklin said, "We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region." He later mentioned the domination angle a couple more times. He also said he would recruit all corners of Pennsylvania and that his team would primarily be comprised of in-state players, though he'd also recruit nationally. Look out, Pitt.
Did we say confident? Here was Franklin's reply when asked about attendance at Beaver Stadium, which has sagged a bit in recent years:
"How many does the stadium hold?" he asked. "[It will be] 107,000 every single game from here on out. That stadium will be sold out from here on out."
Franklin's predecessor, Bill O'Brien, was uncomfortable having to play the role of Penn State's top ambassador and unifier of the community. The new coach made it clear he embraces that wholeheartedly.
"I think I'm the right guy to come back and unite this state and bring this program back to where I think it should be," said Franklin, a Pennsylvania native. "... The healing process is why I'm here. It's why we're all here. To bring this great university back together."
Franklin said he took all the deans, provosts and faculty leaders out to lunch when he first got to Vanderbilt and will do the same in State College. He plans on reaching out to just about every stakeholder at the university and said he'd never turn down a speaking engagement. In a great line, he added that "if people ask us to blow up balloons in the backyard, we'll do that as well."
He didn't run away from the Joe Paterno faction, either, calling him a great man and saying he was enthralled by Paterno's "success with honor." Franklin said he's talked to several former Penn State players on the phone already and that he has gotten to know and respect Paterno's widow, Sue.
In short, Franklin said all the right things to get the Nittany Lions fan base fired up. Here are some more notable items from his introduction:
Franklin was asked about the Vanderbilt scandal in which four players were accused of raping an unconscious 21-year-old woman in June. He called it the most-challenging situation he'd ever been through and said he and Penn State's search committee discussed it thoroughly.
"We were honest and we were upfront that we made decisions quickly and tried to do everything we possibly could to respect the situation," he said.
Athletic director Dave Joyner said the vetting process on Franklin was the most thorough background check used on any hire in school history. The search committee did its due diligence, he said, and spoke to many people at Vanderbilt about Franklin.
"My belief, without a doubt, is James Franklin is a man of extremely high character," Joyner said.
The uncertainty at president and athletic director, where new people should be in place by the summer, was a concern for Franklin. But he said he was sold on the larger picture and was confident that Penn State "has a plan and has a purpose." He also called Penn State his dream job, something he said he mentioned to his wife when they started dating. Franklin grew up a Penn State fan and attended a Nittany Lions camp in the 11th grade.
"I thought I was good enough to play at Penn State," he said. "I was not."
Franklin said he hoped to be at Penn State a long time. He had interest this offseason from some NFL teams but said, "I'm a college guy. I'm a relationship guy."
Franklin said he will sit down with Larry Johnson, who served as interim coach after O'Brien left, and former assistant Ron Vanderlinden, but described himself as "fiercely loyal" to assistants he's worked with in the past. Expect several Vanderbilt assistants to follow him to State College.
On his coaching philosophy, Franklin said, "We're going to be multiple-pro style offense, defense and special teams. I'm not a guy that's going to pigeon-hole what we do." He added that Penn State would be aggressive in everything it does, including getting off the bus. And he said the team would take chances and have fun, "and it always helps to have a quarterback." He's pretty excited to coach Christian Hackenberg.
Franklin didn't have a lot to say about dealing with Penn State's remaining NCAA sanctions. He said he'd let the administrators handle trying to get those penalties reduced and he'd focus on making the team the best it can be on and off the field.
Franklin plans to reach out to Penn State's committed players very soon. Some of them he recruited at Vanderbilt. The ones who chose the Nittany Lions over the Commodores will find themselves at the bottom of the depth chart, he joked.
3dJosh Moyer and Tom VanHaaren