HOW MUCH PENN STATE head coach James Franklin knows about the internal workings of Manchester United is anyone’s guess, but there are some similarities between him and whoever replaces David Moyes in Old Trafford.
However, unlike many pundits who believe the next United boss will have a much easier time than Alex Ferguson’s successor, the 42-year old doesn’t think there’s any less pressure in being the coach after the coach after the coach.
Franklin was appointed to the Penn State gig when Bill O’Brien left to join the Houston Texans after just two seasons in charge. O’Brien had been the man chosen to take the reins in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal; an affair which led to the sacking of the legendary Joe ‘JoePa’ Paterno after 45 years as head coach of the Nittany Lions.
An extra dimension to Franklin’s new gig though, is that he will have his very first competitive game in charge taking place in Dublin as Penn State take on the University of Central Florida (UCF) in the Croke Park Classic on August 30.
“It’s clearly an added challenge.
“Obviously there’s a lot of things we have to do from a logistics standpoint and things like that but we’re excited.
“I think it’s going to be a great cultural opportunity for the guys, something unique, something different, but I think there’s no doubt there’s a lot more that goes with it than just a game.”
Franklin does have an additional incentive for coming to Ireland though, after his parents married here.
“I’m trying to get a lot of my family to come to the game.
“My dad was in the air force and was stationed in Manchester, England and they eloped to Ireland to get married – my parents – so that’s kind of a unique story so I’m trying to get those that are still in England to come to the game.”
He’s not the only one on the Penn State coaching staff with connections to Ireland either as offensive coordinator John Donovan will have dozens of relatives attending the game.
“John’s parents are both directly from Ireland, he’s been there himself and he’s got over 40 family members coming to the game so this is a really cool thing for him,” says Franklin.
Like his counterpart George O’Leary at UCF, Franklin has has been very involved when it comes to the logistics of getting a team of 200 or so players and staff to Ireland for the game, but he admits that sometimes it is better to delegate.
“I’m pretty hands on with everything but I do have a great staff and they were over there [Croke Park] last weekend and that’s what they were doing.
“They’re scouting everything out, getting everything organised and ready to go. You know, everybody there has been unbelievably supportive and helpful but I think it’s important that our guys go out there and get a feel for how things are going to go and what we expect.”
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As for his players, they’re looking forward to travelling to Ireland.
“I think they’re really excited.
“A lot of them have never travelled outside the States so that’s going to be a unique experience for them but I think they’re excited.
“It’s interesting, you get to a point where you’re really locked in and focused on football and the game and things like that and for us as coaches and them as players you’re trying to get so locked in to just the game but now you have to balance that with them having an experience they’ve never had before.”
That experience though, does bring its own problems.
“I would say the biggest thing is the return. We practise on Sunday so we’re going to come back and we’ll need to have the [game] film broken down so all our coaches are going to be on the plane grading the film, getting prepared for our next game.
“We normally work a full day on a Sunday from about nine in the morning to about 11pm at night, grading the previous game, coming up with a new game plan and then practise in the evening — around 7pm to 9pm — so it just kind of puts you a little bit behind in your Sunday preparation for the next game.
“It’s no different really than when I was in the NFL and you’d play a Monday night game and those Monday night games, the fans loved them, but they were miserable on the coaches, especially for the coach who played a Monday night game in San Francisco and you wouldn’t get back to Green Bay until 5am and you’d go straight into the office without going home.
“So there are some challenges that come with it. The other thing is that coaches are creatures of habit so we try to keep routine as consistent as we possibly can with things like making sure the meal is the same meal we always have the night before the game.
“It’s just all the normal logistics of things like that.”
And how many fans does he think will travel from Pennsylvania?
“Probably about 107,000.
“Honestly, our stadium in Penn State holds about 107,000 and that’s kind of been our theme that we will sell out every single game next year and this one is included in that.
“Honestly though, I’m not sure, I’m doing a lot of speaking engagements right now and I’ve been amazed by how many people who’ve come up to me and said ‘coach we’re going on the trip and we’re going to be in Ireland with you.’
“It’s interesting in the way you guys are advertising the game and the way Penn State are advertising the game that it’s a great experience for fans who’ve said ‘I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland’, it’s a great excuse.
“They can get two things accomplished, they can see a beautiful country and interact with tremendous people and an unbelievable culture and get the chance to see a team they love, Penn State football, compete, so it creates opportunities for people to do things they normally wouldn’t do.”