Franklin compares favorably to O'Brien

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
1:00
PM ET
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- More than 15,000 fans filed into Beaver Stadium for Bill O'Brien's first-ever pep rally. Most stood and chanted for 45 minutes before the head coach finally appeared.

As they watched in rapt attention, O'Brien paced with a hand in his pocket and asked for the crowd to be "loud and proud" before the 2012 opener. Then he left. The speech clocked in at 64 seconds.

"I'm not the pep rally coach," O'Brien said later.

[+] EnlargePenn State coach James Franklin
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesNew coach James Franklin is engaging the community in a much different fashion than predecessor Bill O'Brien.
O'Brien's successor is nearly the polar opposite -- and that's why his personality is a better fit for Penn State. James Franklin took the dais for nearly an hour at Saturday's introductory news conference and seemed to treat it more like a talk show. While a stonefaced O'Brien tried to remind the media he was "not the coach of unity," Franklin took the opposite approach and excited fans with exclamation marks at the end of every sentence.

"The healing process is why I'm here," Franklin said. "It's why we're all here, to bring this great university back together and try to unite the former players, the current players, the alumni, all the people."

Franklin hasn't been the head coach for a full week yet, but he already has garnered a lot of good will in Happy Valley. Some alumni lamented in the moments after Franklin's hire that he wasn't a Penn State guy -- even former QB Todd Blackledge admitted that Miami (Fla.) coach Al Golden was his first choice -- but Franklin quickly won over fans with his high energy and his promises to "dominate the state" and pack the stadium.

Fan sentiment can change in a hurry if winning doesn't follow all the impassioned speeches and promises. But, if this is the first quarter in Franklin's Penn State career, he certainly has seized an early lead.

Franklin embraced the role of ambassador; O'Brien was a throwback coach who wanted nothing more than to lead the football team. He shied away from bold statements -- "Dominate the State" never would've flown as a mantra under O'Brien's staff -- and he certainly never said anything remotely close to accepting every speaking engagement, like Franklin did.

On the contrary, O'Brien once matter-of-factly explained his disdain for "birthdays, weddings, theme parks, and the beach." That was in stark contrast to Franklin's first message.

"People ask us to come speak at social events, we're going to be there," Franklin said. "People ask us to blow up balloons at their kid's birthday party in the backyard, we'll do that as well."

Franklin rotates between hyperbole and truth so often that sometimes it's hard to know where the line is. Sometimes, there isn't one. The Pennsylvania native once called a stranger's boss to get him out of work so he could watch a Vanderbilt game. He has stopped at fraternities to see what he'd need to get them cheering in the Commodores' stands.

O'Brien was a great college coach who commanded respect and loyalty from his Nittany Lions. But that's all he was -- a coach. He dug PSU out of sanctions that some initially labeled as a fate worse than the death penalty, and he left the university in much better shape than he found it. Franklin's mettle hasn't yet been tested in the most important arena of all -- on the field -- but he quickly has surpassed O'Brien in the public relations front. And he certainly has a head-start on winning over Nittany Nation.

"Both of them seem similar as coaches on the field, as far as I've seen," linebacker Mike Hull said Wednesday. "But, off the field, Coach O'Brien, he just liked what his job entailed on the field -- whereas Coach Franklin is really involved in the community and really likes the Penn State spirit and atmosphere."

During O'Brien's first day on the job, a police escort helped whisk him away to the Bryce Jordan Center. During Franklin's, he grabbed an umbrella, walked over a muddy patch of grass and introduced himself to a pair of girls ages 5 and 9 at the airport.

O'Brien won over his team and that, in turn, earned him the fans' support. But, at this early point, Franklin already has earned both.

Josh Moyer | email

Penn State/Big Ten reporter

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