Passionate, proud Franklin named first permanent Black head football coach at Penn State

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Penn State's new football coach, James Franklin, poses for photos after he was introduced Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in State College, Pa. From left in back are Penn State athletic director David Joyner; Franklin; his wife, Fumi Franklin; and Penn State President Rodney Erickson. The Franklins' children, Shola, 6, left, and Addison, 5, are in front. (AP Photo/John Beale)

Penn State’s new football coach, James Franklin, poses for photos after he was introduced Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014, in State College, Pa. From left in back are Penn State athletic director David Joyner; Franklin; his wife, Fumi Franklin; and Penn State President Rodney Erickson. The Franklins’ children, Shola, 6, left, and Addison, 5, are in front. (AP Photo/John Beale)

One that included delving into rape accusations against four Vanderbilt players last June. Franklin dismissed all four players and a fifth Commodore who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempting to cover up the crime. Authorities have not implicated Franklin in any way and Joyner praised Franklin for his decisive action in what Franklin called “the most challenging thing I’ve ever been through personally.”

Other challenges await. There’s the initial scramble to cobble together a recruiting class over the next month before National Signing Day and the assembling of a staff that will help the Nittany Lions take on Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan State in a new-look league that will add Maryland and Rutgers.

There’s also finding a way to move forward while paying homage to the past. Franklin mentioned Paterno three times by name and recalled crossing paths with the college football Hall of Famer while out on the recruiting trail as an assistant at Maryland.

“I walked in and had to show my I.D. and do everything I possibly could to get into the school,” Franklin said. “Joe walked in and shut the entire school down.  They had an in-school assembly, and I realized I had no chance.  I really had no chance.”

Now Franklin finds himself in Paterno’s position, as the face of a program that has ceded some fertile recruiting ground to places like Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Franklin believes it’s time for the Nittany Lions to reclaim their territory.

“When I say Penn State, that is the whole state,” he said. “That is the whole state.  We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state.”

They’re neighborhoods Franklin knows well. While his path through the coaching ranks included stops at Washington State, Idaho State and Kansas State, Franklin always seemed to find his way back to Pennsylvania.

It’s the place he knows best, a place where he watched his mother work multiple jobs to raise a family. He inherited her work ethic when the coaching bug hit after six months trying to play in Europe.

His career began by living in the basement of a friend, realizing the same mental toughness that helped him set records as a quarterback at East Stroudsburg would serve him well on the sideline and in the living rooms of the young men he wanted to lead.

Franklin’s role at Penn State, however, will extend far beyond wearing a headset on Saturdays.

It’s a role the business-like O’Brien did with a determined professionalism. Where O’Brien was taciturn, Franklin is decidedly more energetic, a coach who has no problem getting by on five hours of sleep or glad-handing boosters, alumni, students and faculty alike.

He pledged to “dominate” the state, but do it “the right way.” A way that he thinks will provide a blend of Paterno’s scholarly paternalism with a brash new mindset that produces enthralling football on the field and graduates off it.

“We’re going to unite the coaches, we’re going to unite the community,” Franklin said “and build this program where everybody wants it to be.”

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AP Sports Writers Tim Reynolds in Miami, Dan Gelston in Philadelphia, and Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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