Penn State will face Georgia in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., Jan. 2. The matchup was officially announced in a teleconference Sunday night.
You can listen to it above. In the meantime, below you will find a transcript of PSU coach James Franklin's comments.
JF: Can’t express enough how excited our coaches and players are, and our fans. Again, such a storied program at the University of Georgia, couldn’t be more excited. It’s a great opportunity to play in this wonderful bowl game in Jacksonville, Florida. Our coaches, players and fans are so excited, so I really, really appreciate the opportunity, and I look forward to a great game.
Q. Considering the way November went for you, could you ask for a better situation for your team?
JF: No, we’re just so excited. It’s just such a historic bowl game and a historic program. I have tremendous respect for Coach [Brian] McClendon and everything he has done in his career, as well. Our guys are excited. This will be two years in a row for us with the opportunity to play in a bowl. We’ll have the opportunity to compete against one of the most storied programs in college football and go play well, and represent all of the Nittany Lions out there. We’re just really looking forward to the opportunity.
Q. Can you talk about what the challenges have been for you for those of us who haven’t followed you since you were at Vanderbilt? Maybe some of the challenges that have been the same and some that have been different? What have been some of the challenges as you try to build Penn State back up?
JF: I think a lot of people are aware of some of the challenges we’ve been through. We’re still under the scholarship limit. Next year will be the first year we’ll be back at full scholarships. Last year, halfway through the season we found out we were able to go to a bowl game. So there’s just been challenges. Limits in scholarships, sanctions for multiple years, a $60 million fine – there have been a lot of things we have been working though.
I’m the fifth different head coach at Penn State in 27 months, so there have been a lot of challenges we’ve needed to work through, but our players have been unbelievable. I’m so proud of them. They’re killing it in the classroom, they’re doing unbelievable things in the community and they have stuck together at a very, very challenging time in Penn State’s history.
So the program is headed in the right direction. People are really, really excited, and we’re starting to do some really good things as a program. We still have a lot of work to do. This bowl game will give us a great opportunity to get extra practice time with our players, and then hopefully go out and play well and springboard into next season on a real positive, high note.
It’s going to be a challenge. Georgia is a tremendous program, extremely talented, obviously plays in a great conference and has tremendous coaches, so it will be a real challenge.
Q. Are you hoping to have the offensive coordinator spot filed before you start bowl practices, and if not, who will assume most of [former offensive coordinator] John Donovan’s responsibilities, and how do you see that affecting the team?
JF: We had practice this morning. I went to the Big Ten Championship game and didn’t get back until 4:30 in the morning, and then we had practice this morning at 9 a.m., and it went great.
One of the special things about bowl games is it allows your family to stay together for another month or so. At this point, Ricky Rahne is fulfilling those responsibilities on our staff, and then I hope to have the [offensive coordinator] position filled in the next week-and-a-half to two weeks or so. We’ll just have to see how the process plays out, but that person will probably come on and spend that time evaluating our players, evaluating our staff and being able to have some input, but it’s not like we are going to put in a new system right before the bowl game. We are going to try and keep things as normal as we possibly can, and it will be a great opportunity and a great experience for Ricky Rahne, as well, to call a game and also put in a game plan.
Q. Do you have a practice schedule together? When you’re going to be traveling, what your sort of itinerary is in the run up to the game?
JF: We’re actually driving in a car right now, just left a home visit, so I don’t have that in front of me. But what we do is, we take all of the bowls we can possibly go to in the beginning of the season, and we already have them all done. So we have all the practice schedules, the number of practices we want to get in, the days we’re going to practice based on academic schedules and things like that.
All of those things are done ahead of time so soon as we find out what bowl we’re going to, we’re able to email that out to our players, our academic counselors, to the strength staff – so we’re all on the same page as we move forward. Some of those practices like this morning, had nothing to do with who we were playing, it was more what we call program development type things, in terms of fundamentals and techniques like Coach [Brian] McClendon was talking about [in his previous answer], and we’ll get into specific bowl prep later.
All those things have been mapped out ahead of time, when we’ll leave for the game, how we’ll travel, all those sorts of things are done, and then we take our plans and then we get with the bowl reps and kind of work out all the details and specifics from there. But I don’t have it in front of me now to read it off. Like I said, we did practice this morning, we will do a coordinators practice tomorrow and then Friday and Saturday we’ll practice as well as a full staff.
Q. Did you guys allow yourselves to do any preliminary prep as the bowls kind of wound down and maybe you centered in on a few teams, and have you taken a look at anything Georgia-related to this point?
JF: Well what you do is you just start trying to get film and those types of things, but it’s hard because you don’t want to get going and start breaking down film and put hours of work into it and then all of a sudden somebody loses on one of the championship weekend [games] and now you wasted eight hours of work, so we got started on it as soon as we found out tonight, and we had a pretty good idea on what we thought was going to happen, but we’ll get going on that this week.
For us, like I mentioned, our first couple of practices for the bowl aren’t specific to Georgia anyway. They are program development practices just to get our younger players and our older players focused on fundamentals, footwork. We do some drills we haven’t done since camp or spring ball. We kind of get those drills back going, and then we’ll shift gears and focus on our opponent, which is going to be a tremendous challenge for us.
So at this point, no, we’re just at the beginning levels of that. We do have some history with the program obviously, and I think that’s helpful to a degree, but the most important thing is we have to study the film and see what they did at the end of the season so strong with four wins. So we want to break that film down, see what they did well, and how we’re going to approach this game.
Q. What do you think is the benefit of having an offensive coordinator in place prior to that bowl game so they can evaluate the roster?
JF: I think that is the biggest thing, if we can get somebody in place to evaluate our players, to be around our staff, so that right after the bowl game they are able to jump right in on day one in terms of moving forward with the program and what we’re going to be doing on offense. And then the other thing to that is helpful is for our players, to not have that in the back of their mind and be concerned or worried about the future and what it holds. They’ll be able to setup meetings with that guy and sit down with him as well and just kind of get to know him on a personal level. So I think it really allows them to get focused on the game and not be concerned about what the future holds and what it is going to look like.
And to honest with you, the same with me. As a coach you constantly have 25 things on your desk that need to get done, so as long as we can find the right person and make the right hire, and I can get that off my desk, that is one less thing that we’re focused on, the better. Now I can focus on whether our guys are finishing strong academically, making sure we’re still out in the community, finishing this recruiting class the right way, and we’re starting to move forward every way possible. If it takes more time than that, then I’m perfectly comfortable to take that time to make sure we get it right. This is an important position for us obviously, so we’ll see how the thing plays out. But in a perfect world, that’s what you would like to see.
Q. At the start of the season the SEC had the most hype, but at the end of the season the Big Ten had four teams among the top 12 or so in the final rankings. Can you talk about the depth and quality of the teams in the Big Ten and how that helped prepare you guys for this season.
JF: Obviously great conferences. The SEC is a great conference. The Big Ten is a great conference, and you have the ability to go out and compete. Being fortunate to have had the chance to coach in both conferences as a head coach, I have very much respect. I think the Big Ten, especially the Big Ten East, has really made some moves, and it’s exciting. I think that’s why you get in the game as a coach or player, to compete at the very, very highest level. So I think it’s exciting for college football. It’s exciting for the Big Ten; I know it’s exciting for Penn State. But all those things like rankings are great and all that, but our focus is to find a way to get a win against a great program, the University of Georgia.
Q. Have you started the interview process for the position of the offensive coordinator, and if so, have you began to whittle down the field?
JF: I’ve mentioned this before, we have a list and I’ve had a list for a while. But as you can imagine when you have a position like this, you have a lot of people that become available that you didn’t know would be available and your phone starts ringing off the hook. Penn State’s such a respected program and they realize what a great opportunity we have here, so it’s opened some doors.
There have been conversations going. There have been a lot of research and studies being done, in terms of looking at what people have been able to do in their history, in terms of putting an offense together, in terms scoring points, in terms of finding ways to be successful and winning on the football field and putting your players in position to be successful, so all those things are happening right now. Conversations, doing some statistical analysis and then obviously looking at finding a time and a place to sit down and go through some of these things. That process has been ongoing since we made this decision.
Q. Is Ricky Rahne a candidate for the offensive coordinator position or are you looking exclusively to go outside the program?
JF: Right now we’re looking outside the program. I’ve got a lot of respect for Coach Rahne and I’ve been with him a long time. I think he’s an up and coming coach who’s got a tremendous career ahead of him, but at this point I want to go out and I think the best interests for our players and our program is to hire a guy who is been calling plays, and been successful for a number of years.
Whether that is a guy from the NFL or that is a guy from major college football or whether that’s a guy who is a head coach, we’ll look at all of those different things. The most important thing is to find someone who is a great fit for Penn State. I want someone who has experience putting an offense together, and then obviously someone that will be a great fit for our players and our staff.
Q. Do you anticipate having Carl Nassib and Garrett Sickels available for the bowl game?
JF: We’re hopeful. Obviously having the time off at the end of the season and not having your All-American defensive end for the past couple of weeks and not having his counterpart on the opposite side for a week or two has an impact. There’s no doubt about it, especially when you’re playing the Michigan States of the world and people like that. We anticipate having everybody back, just based on time. This is one of those points during the season where guys are able to get legitimately a couple weeks off to fix some of those things that maybe have been bothering them and get them right and have a chance to 100 percent and have an impact in the game. So we look forward to that, but at this point, we anticipate having those guys back, but I’ll know better the week of the game.