April 23, 2024

James Franklin getting new coordinators up to speed for spring ball

Penn State Nittany Lions Football

Penn State Coach James Franklin walks along the sideline with his assistants before game against Illinois Saturday September 16, 2023 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The veteran coach is no stranger to replacing assistants, but as the Nittany Lions start spring ball this week, he’ll be making adjustments with his three new coordinators.

There’s no denying that James Franklin has been very successful at Penn State. After all, he has stockpiled an 88-39 record with the program over the past 10 seasons. Not to mention the Nittany Lions are coming off back-to-back, double-digit win campaigns.

There are other Big Ten programs that would love to have the type of success that Franklin is having in Happy Valley. However, he continues to struggle against the likes of Ohio State and Michigan, which has kept Penn State from reaching postseason glory. To some Nittany Lions fans, the wins haven’t been enough.

Penn State had one of the best defenses in the country last year, but the offense was a liability when it mattered most. Although Manny Diaz took the head-coaching job at Duke, and Franklin fired Offensive Coordinator Mike Yurcich, he believes their replacements will have an instant impact on the team this spring.

Andy Kotelnicki made Kansas’ offense very exciting to watch over the past three seasons. Which is why the fans are thrilled to see what Kotelnicki can do with Drew Allar, who led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns, plus two running backs that combined for 1,654 rushing yards, and 17 total scores in 2023.

“I think some of the things that we can do to compliment the run game in the play action pass is to create explosive plays to really open the field up, and make them defend the whole 120 yards, and the whole 53 and one-third, I think is really important,” Franklin said. “I think the play-action pass will be a big part of that with Drew, with Andy, with our offense in general.”

Kaytron Allen and Nicholas Singleton are arguably the best running back tandem in the Big Ten, and they’ll give Kotelnicki options in the backfield with their versatility. The wide receivers are another group that Franklin expects to make strides over the next three weeks. Franklin likes that the unit has experience and production, plus the addition of Ohio State transfer Julian Fleming should provide the room with more leadership.

“I think there’s some things that you can do with the wide receivers in terms of motion, in terms of alignment, like stacks and bunches and things like that, that we can do to help our guys versus man coverage,” he said. “I would say the combination of you look at what they were able to do at Kansas, what we were able to do the last couple of games, play-action pass specifically, motions, shifts, formations, bunches, stacks, things like that to make it more challenging for people in man coverage.”

Tom Allen will be orchestrating the defense this time around, and the former Indiana coach knows the Big Ten like the back of his hand. It’s unfortunate that the defense lost Chop Robinson, Adisa Isaac, Kalen King, Johnny Dixon and Keaton Ellis to the NFL, but Allen has enough talent to keep the wheels rolling this fall.

Allen has already made a few changes with the linebackers too, a group he’ll be working closely with. He moved linebacker Abdul Hodge to edge rusher, which should help out the pass rush. Allen is also a great game day motivator, which is something Franklin admires.

“I know Tom [Allen] is really, really enjoying being a coordinator again,” the 52-year old coach said.

Special teams will also have new leadership in Justin Lustig. He was a 2022 Broyles Award nominee as the nation’s top assistant coach while coordinating special teams at Vanderbilt. Penn State didn’t return any kickoffs for a touchdown last season, but did score on two punt returns. The urgency is there to make special teams a strength again, and Franklin believes everything is in good hands with Lustig.

At the end of the day, Franklin wants to accomplish familiarity and chemistry with his three new coordinators during these 15 spring practices. So by the time the Blue and White Game rolls around, the fans will get to see what Franklin’s staff has put together in such a short period. The process has been encouraging in Franklin’s eyes so far.

“For Tom [Allen] to be able to compromise and for Andy [Kotelnicki] to be able to compromise and Coach [Justin] Lustig to be able to compromise where it’s appropriate, I think that has been really good.”