In James Franklin's first three months as the head coach at Penn State, he has transformed what had become a feel-good story into a public-relations juggernaut. And he's done it with the help of a young, energetic staff and social media—two things that high school kids relate to better than anyone.
While Joe Paterno was a molder of men and Bill O'Brien was a player's coach, Franklin knows that success on the field starts on the recruiting trail, and he is a master of the craft.
His slogans like "PSUnrivaled," "Dominate the State" and "107kStrong" have become rallying cries for both fans and recruits.
Fans find themselves waiting eagerly for Franklin's signature tweet, indicating he and his staff have received yet another verbal commitment:
He consistently preaches about family and building relationships, then goes as far as to wish his players happy birthday on Twitter.
In a nutshell, Franklin never misses an opportunity to be noticed by fans and recruits, and both are currently eating out of the palm of his hand.
In fact, Penn State's 16th head coach was doing work for Penn State before the job was even available.
When it was first rumored that Franklin could be the successor to Bill O'Brien, 2014 commit Michael O'Connor gushed about his relationship with the coach while he was at Vanderbilt, telling me:
I got to sit down and meet with Coach Franklin in his office. He's a great coach and I have a lot of respect for him. We'll see where it goes but he'd be a great hire for Penn State and it was an honor to be recruited by him.
Penn State's current recruiting class sits at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five, nationally. According to 247Sports Composite ratings, Franklin has already landed verbal commitments from eight 4-star recruits in the 2015 class.
That's three more than last year's entire class, and Franklin has almost 10 months left with which to work.
Along with being an excellent recruiter, he's a tireless promoter, and his sense of awareness is uncanny.
During Penn State's pro day on Tuesday, a picture surfaced of Franklin with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Eagles head coach Chip Kelly. There were more than 20 coaches in attendance, and Franklin likely spoke to each of them. Still, the majority of his 70,000 followers on Twitter, specifically his target demographic of Pennsylvania high schoolers, are fans of either the Eagles or the Steelers—a fact that Franklin fully comprehends.
Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) April 8, 2014
That tweet was re-tweeted nearly 600 times in less than 24 hours.
Franklin is engaging and trustworthy, while exuding confidence without coming across as cocky. Several of the players on the team were recruited by Franklin while he was at Vanderbilt or Maryland.
Safety Adrian Amos told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN about his recruiting relationship with the passionate Franklin: "He's that person all the time. That's very important. It builds a little bit of trust. You know what you're getting."
Left tackle Donovan Smith added "Being a big recruit, coaches would tell you things just because. Coach Franklin always kept it real. Genuine since day one."
Not much has changed with Franklin's approach to recruiting.
Verbally committed 3-star linebacker Jake Cooper told Nick Polak of BlackShoeDiaries.com that when he committed, "Coach Franklin ran out of his office down the hallway screaming that I committed, and everybody came up Coach Spencer gave me a chest bump, a lot of people gave me hugs, it was great."
Whether it's a production of his wide receiver coach running a 40-yard dash or a signing-day party hosted by Mike Mauti and Lavar Arrington, Franklin wants everyone to know that something special is going on at Penn State, and only the fortunate will be involved.
He has managed to build a bridge to the future while embracing the past and has Penn State football on an upward trend that it hasn't experienced in decades.
Franklin understands that perception is reality while success breeds success, and he is using those two bits of knowledge to build momentum before ever stepping on the sideline at Beaver Stadium.
He's telling you that Penn State football is back and you believe him, because it's true.
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