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James Franklin explains how Bill O’Brien aided his transition to Penn State

In a recent interview, James Franklin revealed how Bill O’Brien helped him before taking the Penn State football head coaching job.



Penn State football, Bill O'Brien, Craig Fitzgerald, Boston College
Nov 16, 2013; University Park, PA, USA; Penn State Nittany Lions head coach Bill O'Brien leads his team on the field in front of defensive tackle DaQuan Jones (91) prior to the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Beaver Stadium. Penn State defeated Purdue 45-21. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that James Franklin walked into a complicated situation when he became the head coach of Penn State football in 2014. Amid crippling sanctions, the Penn State job was a monumental task for anyone to take on. Even with the sanctions well known to the entire college football world, the full scope of the situation inside the Lasch Building was difficult to grasp. But in a recent interview, Franklin revealed that his predecessor, Bill O’Brien, was an extremely valuable information source before Franklin agreed to come to Happy Valley.

James Franklin highlights the challenges of taking the Penn State job

More than a decade removed at this point, Penn State fans are well versed in the sanctions dealt down by the NCAA to the program in 2012. In a recent interview on the Next Up with Adam Breneman podcast, James Franklin discussed at length the environment he walked into. Franklin noted that, even though most of the obstacles were widely known, the situation became overwhelming at times.

“[We] weren’t able to go to a bowl in year one,” Franklin told Breneman. “We find out halfway through the year that we’re going to be able to go. I think we had 56 scholarship players. Five scholarship offensive linemen. Players could quit and leave and transfer with immediate eligibility. Players could quit and keep their scholarships and stay. There was really a divide on campus and in the community still over what had happened. So, it was more challenging than I realized…”

Bill O’Brien advises Franklin on the Nittany Lions program

During all these challenges, Franklin revealed that he sought help from perhaps an unlikely source, outgoing Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien. Of course, the Penn State position opened up when O’Brien left Happy Valley to lead the NFL’s Houston Texans on New Year’s Eve in 2013. But as he was mulling over the Penn State position, Franklin explained that O’Brien offered valuable insight on what to expect if he took the job.

“The other thing that I don’t think a lot of people realize is, me and Billy O’Brien were pretty close,” Franklin said. “We were on the same staff at the University of Maryland. So, I was able to talk to him probably about 10 times before taking the job to kind of have an understanding of what I was walking into in terms of the players and things like that.”

Within three years of taking the job, Franklin led Penn State to a Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl appearance. Franklin has a 78-36 record during his tenure, which includes four 11-win seasons and three New Year’s Six bowl victories. Now entering his 10th season, Franklin has Penn State knocking on the door of the College Football Playoff with one of his most talented teams to date. So, whatever James Franklin took away from those conversations with Bill O’Brien, it appears to have worked. 

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Matt is a co-owner and Editor in Chief of Basic Blues Nation. Launched in 2022, Basic Blues Nation is one of the fastest-growing websites covering all Penn State athletics, with over 3.5 million readers in 2023. Matt is also a credentialed member of the Penn State football beat, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America.


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