Franklin embraces being face of Penn St post-JoePa

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NEW YORK (AP) - Penn State coach James Franklin is fine as long as he keeps moving.

Only in those rare moments when he gets to take a break during the Nittany Lions’ coaches caravan, a 17-stop tour spanning most of May, is he in danger of crashing.

“I’m not really good with down time,” Franklin told reporters during stop No. 11 in New York on Wednesday, not far from the site of the Freedom Tower at 1 World Trade Center. “I kind of hit the wall. I think if we just would have come and moved, I would have been fine. But the down time wasn’t good.”

A triple-espresso and a Red Bull had Franklin back to his energetic and chatty self.

“I’m ready!” Franklin said, punctuating his recovery with a couple loud claps. “Watcha got?”

What Penn State’s new coach has is roster whittled down by crippling NCAA sanctions, expectations that might be out of whack after his predecessor’s surprising success, and a fanbase that in some corners is still trying to come to grips with massive changes after decades of stability.

While former Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien had a tough time dealing with all that goes into being the face of Penn State in the post-Joe Paterno era, Franklin seems more comfortable with the job.

“I’d love to just sit in a room and draw up plays and Xs and Os and recruit as well, but that’s not what being a college football coach is about,” he said. “It’s everything. It’s getting out and interacting with the fans and the media. It’s talking to alumni. It’s raising money. It’s recruiting. It’s developing the players. It’s reinforcing academics. It’s everything. And my thing is … if you’re going to do it you might as well embrace it. You might as well have fun with it.”

Franklin has been going pretty much nonstop since moving from Vanderbilt to Happy Valley in the middle of January.

The coaches’ caravan is Penn State’s way to connect with its alumni outside of central Pennsylvania, and an opportunity for Franklin to rally support from fans still scarred from the collapse of Paterno’s regime under the weight of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal in 2011.

O'Brien did a remarkable job navigating a tough situation. He became Penn State coach without knowing the school would get hammered by the NCAA with a four-year postseason ban and huge scholarship losses.

O'Brien held the team together, and guided it to 15 victories. Still, those loyal to Paterno made it tough for O'Brien to feel as if he had the full support of the Penn State community. And the many Penn State fans and alumni who did back O'Brien didn’t trust the leadership at the school above him.

After two years of trying to help heal Penn State, O'Brien left for the NFL.

Now the job is Franklin‘s. Part of it is the caravan, where he is trying to inject Penn State with the enthusiasm he brought to Vanderbilt.

“At Vanderbilt you were trying to get people to become fans of the local team,” said Franklin, who went 24-15 at Vandy, the best winning percentage for a Commodores coach since the 1940s. “At Penn State, we’re trying to get people that maybe have fallen off the bandwagon to bring them back to being part of the family.”

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