James Franklin learned early on that he’s never off the clock-- even when he’s in a public restroom.
During one particular stop on his 17-city speaking tour -- dubbed Penn State’s “Coaches Caravan" -- the Nittany Lions’ coach felt a tap on his shoulder at an unexpected time.
“I was going to the bathroom and someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked me for an autograph,” Franklin said with a laugh. “Literally, I was like, ‘Can I finish?’ And they took a step back six inches and waited until I finished. So that was unique.”
Franklin washed his hands and gave the fan his autograph. Between laughs, Franklin said he meant it when he said the passion of the Penn State fan base has been unmistakable during his travels, even if that one interaction was a bit odd.
“That was probably the thing that stands out in my mind the most; that was probably the most unusual,” Franklin said, smiling. “I appreciate his passion.”
Franklin was joined on the tour by a rotating cast of Penn State coaches, who addressed crowds in school gymnasiums and hotel conference centers throughout the month of May. Here are some of the other – bathroom-free -- highlights from Franklin’s tour:
Penn State is already turning down commits: The Nittany Lions boast 16 pledges in the 2015 class and sit at No. 2 in ESPN’s class rankings, and Franklin said he has been pleased with the results. The catch, he said, is that he has had to start turning down recruits who want to play under him.
“I’ll tell you this, I don’t like turning down good players,” Franklin said. “But you’d rather be in that situation than the opposite, that at the end of signing day, you’re scrambling to find guys to fill the amount of spots we have. We don’t ever want to be in that position.”
Perception is everything: During a stop at Franklin’s alma mater, East Stroudsburg, Franklin recalled how he and his coach would sit on the back porch, chat and eat Klondike bars. From that time at ESU, Franklin said two lessons stuck out -- the importance of consistency and the importance of perception. Take a look at the phrase “Opportunityisnowhere,” for example.
“You have your choice of reading it two different ways,” Franklin said. "'Opportunity is now here,' or 'Opportunity is nowhere.' That always kind of stuck with me: Life is about how you perceive it. You can look at things as opportunities, or you could look at them as challenges or difficulties.”
Franklin keeps a list of potential coaching candidates, should any assistant leave: He maintains a list of 15 coaches at each position and said he updates the names “constantly.” Sometimes, it’s a college coach who’s looking to take a step up. Other times, a candidate might be a high school coach who has had success.
Franklin said that’s, in part, how he settled on hiring cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, who made Franklin’s list back when Smith was coaching in high school at Monroeville (Pa.) Gateway. Smith coached one season at Temple before landing at Penn State.
“It’s not ranked; it’s like recruiting. It’s guys you’re interested in, that you think can bring something to the table to help,” Franklin said. “That list is constantly growing and, sometimes, people come off the list when they become head coaches or go to the NFL.”
Franklin wants facility upgrades: No, Franklin's not looking to tear down Beaver Stadium or rebuild the practice facility. He just wants to make some tweaks to the existing facilities. Maybe some new carpet here, a new coat of paint there -- and some technological upgrades, too. For example, Franklin would like some interactive exhibits placed around Beaver Stadium as opposed to just still photos. He’d also like each locker to have its own charging station for cell phones or iPads.
“Do we have one of the nicest, most impressive stadiums in the country? Yes,” Franklin said. “Do we have one of the nicest and most impressive weight rooms? Yes. Do I think there are other areas we’ve fallen behind? I do.”
His team will practice Sunday, be off Monday: Franklin wants his team to meet Sunday, watch film from Saturday and walk through corrections. He also wants to give an overview of the next opponent. Franklin tried this setup at Vanderbilt and said everyone seemed to prefer it -- since it helped with classes and allowed players to look ahead.
“Now, Monday, you’re not thinking about the last game at all,” Franklin said. “Monday clearly starts a new week, and you’re moving forward.”
Franklin is not a big fan of playing in Ireland: He has already sent a team of Penn State personnel to scout out the hotel, food and practice venues. But traveling overseas still brings its own challenges that Franklin would prefer to avoid. So, overall, would he say he’s a fan of playing in another country?
“No, no. I’m a big fan of the country and a big fan that our fans are excited about it. But, from a coaching perspective, no,” he said. “Everything we do is about eliminating distractions and consistency in your routine -- and I wouldn’t necessarily say flying to another country fits that.”
Wardrobe choices: Franklin said he now understands that blue is the only acceptable color to wear in Happy Valley. He donned a tie with some gold in it during one day on the job -- a tie which, of course, came from his time at Vanderbilt -- and that move apparently didn’t go over so well. Since then, he has purchased a blue tie every time he has seen one. He has 35 to 40 in all. And he hasn’t made that same mistake twice.
“It’s almost sacrilegious to wear anything but blue when it’s a work function,” he said.
His two daughters seem to take after their dad, too. Both have “Dominate the State” and “Pennsylvania kid with a Penn State heart” T-shirts. “They’re wearing that in Nashville right now,” Franklin said. “And I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing.”