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December 14, 2018

James Franklin

University Park, Pennsylvania

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon and welcome to Bowl Media Day today. We'll start with an opening statement from coach.

JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, appreciate everybody coming out to cover and support Penn State football. Appreciate that. As you can imagine, it's been a crazy couple weeks since the season has ended. Coaches and staff running in a thousand different directions.

Grades are coming in right now, getting some really good news there, which is great. Always the academic aspect of it, how important that is to us. Those things are starting to trickle in right now. That's been really good.

Obviously our guys getting some time off, which is always a fine line. Guys with bumps and bruises at the end of the year just trying to get healthy. Players getting away from us a little bit, us getting away from them. It's probably always healthy, as much time as we spend together as the year goes on.

Then obviously trying to balance some of the practices that we're doing this time of year, as well as the academics, as well as the recruiting and the coaches running in a thousand different directions.

Look forward to Wednesday with signing day to get a good portion of that kind of put behind us. Looking forward to this weekend, getting some really good practice work, which at this time for us is more about fundamentals, technique, good-on-good, with sprinkling a little bit of Kentucky in there each day. Then as we get closer, obviously we shift that.

Our GAs have done an outstanding job of doing all the breakdowns for us that the coaches have been kind of able to look over on the road and things like that. Obviously we're going to have to get hot and heavy on Kentucky here and try to work through the details.

Typically we game plan on offense, defense and special teams as a staff. Although we've been able to get some work done kind of individually as coaches, it's not really how we do things. We need to be able to kind of sit in a room for a number of hours as a staff and kind of iron out all the specifics and the details from a planning perspective.

This is how we've done it really for the last eight years. I think we got a good plan and a good model. But we're always looking to try to kind of get better and polish and refine.

That's about all I got. Open it up to questions. Appreciate, again, everybody coming out and supporting Penn State football.

Q. What stands out to you about Josh Allen? Is there anybody in particular that he reminds you of?
JAMES FRANKLIN: First of all, I was following him on Twitter and sending him a bunch of direct messages, like, Hey, you may want to save yourself for the draft. But obviously that didn't work.

Yeah, I think the biggest thing is his length and his athleticism and how twitchy he is. Obviously when you're considered the best defensive player in college football, the way he's been able to impact the game in so many different ways, that's probably what's been so impressive. How twitchy he is, how productive he is, his length.

In terms of what those guys are looking for next level, he kind of fits the model. We have a lot of discussions in recruiting and with some of our own players that say am I a 3-4 outside linebacker at the next level, because some guys may be undersized, how they look at each other.

This guy is 260 pounds. I think, like anything, you're always looking for the biggest, the strongest, the most athletic guys that you can use in a variety of different ways. I think he's a really good example of that.

Obviously the chess match, like always, is they're trying defensively to put him in situations to make plays, and we're trying to do the same thing formationally. How can we do things formationally to limit his impact. Same thing from a scheme standpoint. Obviously we better have an awareness of where he is on every single play.

That's kind of the chess match constantly. What can we do with some motions, things like that, to limit his impact.

Q. Have you had a chance to sit down with any juniors who might be thinking of entering the draft? Secondly, do you expect to have everybody available for the bowl game?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, so obviously it's a fluid conversation that's constantly evolving and changing. Just so you guys know, I don't know if I mentioned this before or not, literally the Sunday after our last regular season game, I met with all of them. We tried to schedule ahead of time with their parents because they were in town for the game, so they could stay over, we could meet the next morning, their position coach and myself, then we had put together basically a whole presentation.

To me it's not about convincing them to stay, it's let me give you all the information that I can get based on my resources and contacts so that you can make an educated decision, make a great decision.

Where I think people struggle sometimes is they think the coach is always going to tell the guy to come back. I told Saquon Barkley a year before his last season that he needs to leave. Obviously at the end of the season, it was a pretty easy decision. But I told him a year before.

So for us, where I think people kind of get confused there, is it really should be a very complementary process in decision making. What I mean by that is if the guy leaves early, and he's a first or second round draft choice, that's good for him and his family. That's also good for Penn State football. If he leaves early, and gets drafted very late or not drafted at all, that's bad for him and his family, and that's bad for Penn State football.

We're really working together here. What you hope you've done is over six years, the recruiting process, once they've showed up on campus, you develop that type of relationship with them and their family that you have that trust.

The hard part is, which I don't agree with, we changed a rule a few years back and allowed the agents to be able to talk to our players from the time they're a freshman to the time they're a senior, where that was not the case before. It's another one of those rules we decided to change because we don't feel like we can govern. I don't think it's a good rule. You have freshmen talking to agents right now. I mean, how is that good for anybody? So it's a battle.

But I met with all those guys on Sunday, had really good conversations. The conversation wasn't like, We're deciding today. It's, Here's the information, let's continue talking about this, make sure you include us in the process so we can help and guide and be prepared. It impacts us, as well. That's constantly going.

Nothing new right now at this point. Right now we're planning on having everybody for the game. Again, that changes. I think sometimes I'll meet with you guys and tell you something, then a few days later it's different. It's not that we weren't up front with you guys and transparent, it changes. It changes weekly, it changes daily.

You have the academic component that factors into this. You have the financial component that factors into this. You have the family situation that factors into this, as well.

What I always try to tell our guys is, Why would you ever declare early in the process? Say you're a kicker, I'll use that as an example, I don't know if Blake is coming out early. But say you're a kicker, and you decide to come out early. You make that decision after the last game. Then between then and the draft, 15 other juniors come out early. Why would you make that decision?

You want to have as much information as you possibly can to make a great decision. The later you can do that, the better.

Q. You've talked glowingly about Trace. On a big picture level, what has he meant to you, to this program?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, you know, for us, and probably for a lot of programs, but for us specifically, it is so much more than football and what Trace has done on the field. Obviously, the records speak for themselves.

I remember his home visit was a breakfast. I remember sitting in his house having breakfast with his family. The relationship that we had with them, his mom, his dad, his sister, Trace. Just watching him grow and watching him evolve, watching him have success on the football field, watching him have success academically.

It's so much more for us than football. Those relationships are really important to me. Being able to go to the National Football Foundation banquet last week as a whole family. Mom and dad was there, Trace was there. Talking to them a couple weeks ago about what that experience is going to be like, what a big deal that is. For Kerry to be inducted the same weekend that Trace is being honored, it's just special.

I hope guys like Saquon, and I hope guys like Trace, show our players, our young players, that when you trust, when you invest in the things that we're asking them to do, you got a chance to have a really good career and maximize your career.

That's going to be different for every single one of them. They're two guys that really showed up on campus and never really questioned what we asked them to do. They understand every time we ask them to do something, it's based on two things: what is in the program's best interest and their best interest, or we wouldn't be asking you to do it. Those are guys that have done it.

With that, they've really been able to maximize their experience here at Penn State, that's with community service, with academics, that's with them kind of growing as human beings, then obviously football players as well. I think he's a really good example.

The same thing: the parents have been part of the process. Parents are comfortable picking up the phone and calling me when things come up, mom and dad. It's so much more than football for us here at Penn State.

Q. Juwan Johnson had a big sophomore year. Talk about his season, what you see from him, for the future.
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think he's going to have a big bowl, I think he's going to have a big bowl game. I think he's going to have a great off-season. I think he's going to have a really bright future.

Obviously faced a little bit of adversity this year. I think it's a positive. That's kind of how we view things like that. You embrace it. He's going to grow from this. He's going to learn from this, not only as a football player but as a man.

It's no different than any other adversity or challenge you face: if you approach it with the right mindset, you'll grow from it. You'll probably grow more than you would through success or things going easy.

Juwan has been an unbelievable teammate since he's arrived on campus. He's always been a guy that's invested a great deal. I think the team sees that.

But what's also interesting is when you're young, you think life is fair. If I invest this, then I should get an immediate return on my investment. But it doesn't work like that. Whether it's the big man upstairs or whether it's the game of football, kind of what we talk about.

If you love the game, and if you respect the game, and if you invest in the game, it will pay back. The game respects people that view it the right way and treat it as such. I believe in that. I believe that in the game of football, I believe that in life, that it's going to happen. When it happens and how it happens, I'm not sure. But I think Juwan is a great example of that.

I'm excited about how he's going to play in this game, like a lot of guys. I don't get into it with you guys. Sometimes I think it's good. Sometimes I question whether it's the right approach or not.

Juwan, like a lot of guys, he had some things that were kind of messing with him physically during the year that I don't come in here and necessarily talk about. Those things factor into it, as well.

But he's healthy obviously now. Our quarterbacks are excited to throw the ball to him. He did some really good things at the end of the year. Excited about what he's going to do.

Q. When you look at Kentucky's rush offense, not only is it Benny Snell, you have a scrambler, an All-American. Is it reassuring a lot of the onus will be on your best unit in your defensive line?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it helps. I think our linebacker unit has really kind of grown as the season has gone on. I don't think there's any doubt that it helps. But it's going to be a challenge. That's the other chess match. They're going to be trying to do things formation-wise to try to get an advantage in the box based on numbers or leverage or angles. We're trying to find a way in each formation to have a numbers advantage and feel good about our angles and leverage, things like that. That's the chess match that happens week in and week out.

When they have a back as they do, who has been highly productive against really good defenses, a guy is motivated, because he's a hundred yards away from breaking their record, he's going to be motivated from that perspective, too.

I think our D-line and our front seven with our linebackers has really evolved as the year has gone on, playing with a lot of confidence right now. But that's going to be an important part of the game, is trying to take the thing they pride themselves on doing, which is running the ball, try to impact that in the game.

Q. Do you expect to keep your staff to stay intact? Are you trying to keep your staff intact beyond this season?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Am I trying to keep my staff intact beyond the season?

Q. Right.
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I'd like to keep our staff intact as long as possible. I think consistency is important. But I also understand that we're at a point in our profession and in this game where that's challenging. I think it's critical for us to try to do everything we possibly can to create an environment here that's competitive but also an environment here where guys want to come to work, feel good about it, their families do as well.

But there's also going to be opportunities that come that I want for our guys. I think you guys have heard me say this before. I think guys have a chance to be head coaches, and guys have a chance to be play calling coordinators, very specifically play calling coordinators, I want that for them. I want that for them.

But we can't lose guys for lateral moves. That cannot happen with the type of program that we have and for the type of program we want to be. That's critical. That's critical.

Again, just like the players that we're talking about, it's fluid. I get phone calls every day. I'm in the car recruiting, coaching our players, checking on academics, all those type of things, I'm constantly getting calls about our current staff. I'm constantly getting calls about coaches that have worked for me in the past, things like that.

It's constantly something we need to be aware of. Me and Sandy are always having kind of conversations, dialogue about it, kind of what's going on in the industry, something that we both need to be aware of and keep our finger on the pulse of what's going on out there, having awareness.

That's been good, but it's every day. It's every day.

Q. I know you mentioned you've been all over the country the past few weeks. When you're living out of a suitcase, what is the most challenging aspect of that, and what is the most rewarding aspect? From last year to this year, did you take some major nuggets from the early signing period that you plan to apply this one, anything substantial?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I would say overall I think it really just depends on your model. There's some programs that they're going to wait till the end, and they're going to try to close out and flip guys, all that kind of stuff.

For us, we're going to try to do our work year-round, try to have the majority of our class put together and set. At this time of year the official visits and things like that, the home visits, it's really a celebration of their future. It's not going in and recruiting guys, the hard sell, things like that.

For the most part we've done a good job of that. For the most part we've probably had less drama and issues than most programs in the country if you really look at it from that perspective.

But then there's also the aspect where you got to go and close on the last few guys. That's always challenging. I think the early signing period, for the most part, has done what it was intended to do.

I think the feedback I've gotten from my staff, as well as our assistant coaches around the country, other head coaches around the country, really from high school coaches and prospects, I think it's been pretty good.

It hasn't played out a whole lot different than I think most people thought it would, which was this is going to become the signing day. I don't know what the numbers are. If I had to guess, probably 85% or higher, probably as high as 95% that sign on the first signing day. The second signing allows you to maybe solve some problems.

I also know there are some kids kind of on the bubble. If you don't sign on the first signing day, it's going to be worse the second signing day because there's going to be less prospects and still 129 schools scrambling to try to get them.

For us, we'll know a little bit here in the next few days, the picture will get a little bit clearer for us. We don't have a whole lot of spots left. For us, what I've tried to do with the staff is make sure that our pool of quality candidates in terms of football, academics, fit for the this community, for our program, for our team, that the pool is big enough so that when you do lose guys, which you will, you're not going to win them all, when you do lose guys, you still have enough other guys that you feel good about that you have a chance to close on.

That's kind of where we're at. But nothing really kind of last year that showed up that we weren't expecting. It kind of played out the way we expected it to play out. The same way this year.

Probably the biggest change is obviously we had some coaching changes last year, so getting guys to understand how we do things, how we operate. That's probably the biggest difference between the previous year.

Q. You mentioned the in-home visit being a celebration. How do you manage all of that when you've been all over the map, you want to meet with these kids, their families, they're all putting food in front of you? How do you handle all of that plus all the logistics?
JAMES FRANKLIN: The food, not well. As you can see, my head and my face has gotten bigger and bigger since the season has ended. Not a good look.

Besides that, our staff does a really good job of getting it organized. One of the things that's really good is some of the parents, some of the prospects are really good about like I talked about with Trace, we're going to have a breakfast home visit because it's hard to do all the home visits at night over dinner. Typically we'll do two a night. Three a night starts to really push it. For the most part we're doing two a night. A lot of times when we get to three, it's a breakfast, then two evening ones.

You try to get as many of them done early in the process as you possibly can to create as much flexibility on the back end, which is really good.

Another thing that's been good for us is a large percentage of our guys have already applied to school, already been accepted to school, and already paid their acceptance fee. So that changes some things under the NCAA rules that helps us, too.

But overall it's just kind of the nature of the beast. One of the challenges for us is we've been predominantly a regional program when it comes to recruiting. As you guys know, I've kind of tried to expand that each year to be a little bit more national because there's just going to be years where our region won't support a certain position, and we better have the ability to be able to go a little bit further to get that done.

I think that's what you see in this class. You see a little bit of maybe some areas that we haven't been as active in in the past. Hopefully that will open up some opportunities for us in the future, as well. Ja'Juan obviously has been a big part of that. Our coaches all kind of recruit their position nationally. I think you see a little bit of that.

I think Pennsylvania this year was a down year. I saw an article, I read an article on the plane the other day which I thought was interesting. Talking about like 30 days in the WPIL, there were like 50 Division I prospects, then it dropped 15 years later down to 30. I think this year there's four.

There's some challenges when it comes to that, but that's obviously where the region is important and also nationally because we're also going to have years where it's really strong in Pennsylvania.

Q. I want to ask you about walk-ons. It's in relation to Zach Simpson. More in general, sometimes a walk-on, maybe they could have gone to a smaller school, gotten a scholarship, played a lot. You come to a big school, maybe you're going to play, maybe not. What is it like whenever you can bring kids in, they get opportunities, they earn opportunities, conversations you have about playing time? How valuable can some of those guys be, the impact they make on the field or being part of the program?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Really valuable. I think you guys see we're taking a much different approach this year, and this will be our approach moving forward. We're going to offer spots to a lot of these guys. We're going to try to compete with guys that have scholarships, whether that's IAA scholarships or Division II scholarships, for those guys to be able to chase their dreams, come to Penn State, be that guy that is able to have a significant impact, whether that's playing in games, practice, whatever it may be.

Obviously the number one selling point is to be able to come get a Penn State degree. I think the other thing that's attractive is because of the resources and the support that we have, you're going to have the opportunity to be able to become the best football player you possibly can be because of the strength and conditioning, because of the nutrition, because of the sport science, because of all those types of things.

The reality is the way the NCAA is now, say you come here and you play for four years on the team and you graduate but you never really kind of break in and earn a starting role, okay, you graduate, you can still go do that now for your fifth year and work on a masters degree or be able to play somewhere that fifth year, whether it's IAA, Division II.

It kind of gives you the best of both worlds. You still have an opportunity to chase your dream, and say as a fifth year, to me that's a pretty marketable situation. You're a fifth-year senior, been at Penn State for four years, you want to come back for your fifth year, great, we'd love to have you. You want to move on and still play one more year of football. That's good. You want to go somewhere and have a significant role, that's out there for you, too.

For us, we're going to be pretty aggressive moving forward. That's been a big shift for us this year. You see guys turning down scholarships to come and walk on here at Penn State. I think that's going to be really important.

If you look at the best programs in the country, they've been able to do that for a long period of time. That's something that we're going to continue working hard at.

Q. You've coached against Mark Stoops during your time at Vanderbilt before. What are your thoughts on him as a coach? How has that Kentucky program evolved?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I like Mark a lot. We went out this summer and visited their program. There's a leadership summit that we do each summer. It kind of rotates. I think two years ago it was at Texas A&M. Last year was at Kentucky.

So I've been able to kind of obviously coach against Mark, but also this past summer being able to go out and do that leadership summit on Kentucky's campus, in their facilities, it's valuable from a number of different perspectives.

Number one, it's always great to talk about leadership and organizational structure. Also great to spend time with Mark, get to know him on a personal and professional level. That's been really good.

Also all the other aspects. For me and Phil Esten, to be able to get on their campus and see Kentucky's facilities, there's an advantage to that. Kentucky has phenomenal facilities, phenomenal facilities. They've done a really good job there.

There's a lot of value in it. You look at obviously he comes from a football family, comes from a highly successful football family. I think about my time at Vanderbilt playing Kentucky. The Big Blue Nation is strong. I remember we would play them in basketball, and the Big Blue Nation would take over Nashville, the blue would be everywhere.

You look what they've been able to do, just kind of steady growth in the football program. Mark has done a really good job. I know their athletic director, a bunch of people in their administration. But it's been impressive.

You look at even the defensive end, outside linebacker, he's from New Jersey. They've been able to kind of find some guys, develop guys, have done a really good job.

This will be an important game for both of us. Obviously you want to win the game because it's the next opponent, but also sending the seniors out the right way is important.

I also believe that it also propels you into spring ball, into the season as well. There's a lot of reasons why this game is important for both programs.

Q. I know one of the major benefits of going to a bowl game is the expanded area of practice, particularly for the younger players. For this additional month, for your true freshmen, guys not involved on the field quite yet, what can they stand to gain from this? What are the most important things they can accomplish here in December?
JAMES FRANKLIN: I think it's good for a lot of different things. I think it's really good for our GAs. Our GAs are high-level guys that have all coached full-time at other places. It allows them to coach our players, individual, script, run practices, compete against each other. I think it's really important for those guys, their development, the way we do it.

I also think it's really good for our young players. This year we've been a little bit more aggressive in who is a part of those practices. In the past it was literally just the non-travel guys. Well, that didn't make a whole lot of sense to me, so we've added.

Basically say you're a three or a two, you're not getting a whole lot more than 10 reps a game, you need to be at development practice. We've kind of expanded that list to get more guys reps, more guys opportunities. Meeting time, individual time, practice time, scrimmage time, all those types of things. I think that's been really good.

I don't think there's any doubt, when you can get, say, seven more practices, seven more practices on top of the 15 spring ball practices, it's really kind of how it is in my mind. Those seven practices are an expanded spring ball practice. I think it's important how you do it.

There's programs that I've been around, you probably don't want to hear this, probably doesn't sound great, but there's programs around the country that the players aren't necessarily looking forward to the bowl game. It's 15 extra practices. It's not fun. You don't have an indoor facility. You're outside freezing your tail off.

I think it's really important in how you approach all of that. The practices are fun, that they're getting better, that they're competitive. We've been fortunate, our practices have been really good since we've been here. Guys like how we handle spring ball practices. Then obviously when you get into game week, game week is game week. You got to do what you got to do to get ready to play those games.

My point to you is, I've been around programs where it's just more practices. It's not about fun, not about getting better, those types of things. You need great leadership in your locker room for that. You need a really good culture. But also it's important on how the coaches approach it, as well.

Q. You mentioned this program being about more than football. Is there a defining, specific moment that you can point to that really kind of defines what Trace has meant, whether in practice or in a game?
JAMES FRANKLIN: Yeah, I get asked those types of questions a lot. I don't really kind of view things that way. I don't think it's ever about one moment. I don't think it's ever about one game. I think it's a combination of experiences. I think it's a combination of traits. It's not about a specific moment or a specific game.

I think that's what really tells Trace's story. I think that's what really tells our football team's story. It's Trace as a recruit. It's Trace as a student. It's Trace as a member of this community. It's Trace as a redshirt freshman. It's Trace as the starting quarterback. It's Trace handling success. It's Trace handling adversity. That's for all of our program.

I'm not a favorite moment guy, not a favorite game guy, I'm not a favorite food guy. I don't really look at life that way. It's about the big picture, it's about complete experience. That's what I think about when I think of Trace. I think it's a combination of traits, a combination of experiences.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, coach.

JAMES FRANKLIN: Thanks, guys.

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