For his first season and a half as Maryland’s offensive coordinator, James Franklin remained perched in the press box on game days. He called plays from the coaches’ booth, a disembodied voice on a headset to players rather than the animated guy they see in practice all week.
“Just that emotion on the sideline, I missed that, and I feel like we need that sometimes,” Franklin said.
So Franklin made a change, moving down to the field to handle his duties for the Terrapins (2-8, 1-5 ACC). And initially, it couldn’t have gone worse.
His first game on the sideline was at Duke, when the Terps lost in monsoonlike conditions. Franklin had informed the offense he would be at field level, but what he didn’t anticipate was an inability to take legible notes because of lousy weather.
But players felt there was a difference, so Franklin has remained downstairs the past two weeks.
“After [the Duke game’s] bad experience and the weather being so bad and how the game turned out, I said, ‘Maybe I’ll go back up to the booth,’ ” Franklin said. “But a bunch of guys came up to me and said, ‘We’d like to have you back down on the sideline again.’ That kind of got me over the hump.”
Coach Ralph Friedgen’s extensive history included calling plays from the booth and the field. The obvious advantage to sitting several stories up is the ability to see the entire field without needing another assistant to relay information.
Yet down on the field, a play caller can have a firm grasp of how players react to situations and has the potential to lend a calming influence to an inexperienced outfit.
“I think that helps a young team, the fact that you’re down there and involved with everything,” Friedgen said. “Tom [Brattan] will take the line, and Lee [Hull] may take the receivers. James is there to talk to everybody. From that aspect, I think it’s a good idea.”
A young quarterback only amplifies the need to improve the connection between coordinator and the rest of the offense. Sophomore Jamarr Robinson made his first career start in Saturday’s 36-9 loss to Virginia Tech and will start again in place of Chris Turner this week against at Florida State.
But the quarterback isn’t the only player who benefits. With direct access to Franklin, the rest of the offense can be certain of what the coordinator wants.
“It makes [it] a lot nicer in timeouts, especially when you have the offense all up and he come out there and figures out what we want to do and give a couple points of emphasis because he knows the offense and inside and out,” fullback Cory Jackson said. “I think there’s a couple advantages for sure, mostly just the communication.”
Franklin said he started off on the field when he became a coordinator at Kansas State, in large part because he always had coached from the sideline. Eventually, though, he decided it would be better to sit in the booth, and that carried over to his stint at Maryland.
But back on the field, Franklin has tried to create at least some of the separation that sitting upstairs provides. He said he stands at the other end of the field and calls plays away from the sideline hubbub. Then he meets with the offense once it comes off the field.
In some ways, it’s business as usual, and Friedgen said there is no influence on him with Franklin operating outside the coaches’ booth. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a helpful switch for the Terps.