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July 8, 2008
Terps reach into past for offensive spark
James Franklin says he wasn't job hunting.
Franklin, 36, believed he had a good thing going as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State. Last season, the Wildcats had a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. And Franklin considers K-State quarterback Josh Freeman a potential first-round pick.
"I really wasn't planning on going anywhere," Franklin said.
Maryland's best offensive seasons came with James Franklin on the staff.
Maryland offensive coordinator James Franklin didn't take the most direct path to the coaching profession.
Franklin majored in psychology during his playing career at East Stroudsburg (Pa.), where he lettered as a quarterback for four years. He planned to get a doctorate and did a couple of summer internships at psychiatric hospitals before realizing he needed a career change.
"I knew right away this wasn't something I'd be able to do for the rest of my life and be happy," Franklin said, "but I wanted to help people and have an impact on society. I realized that through coaching and through having an impact on young men – giving some guys an opportunity to go to college and get an education – I realized I could have just as much of an effect on society through football as I could being a psychologist."
Franklin said his background in psychology often comes in handy on the football field.
"I really think there's a lot of crossover between the two," he said. "It's helped me in working with different types of people and so many different personality types. (I've learned) what makes people tick. I've always been the type of person to study people, study body language and all those types of things."
And even though his summer internships at adult and adolescent psychiatric facilities eventually led him to a different profession, those experiences also have helped him keep things in perspective.
"There were really, really terrible things that had happened to some of those kids, and some of the adults were really struggling with some severe issues," Franklin said. "It makes you thankful for the opportunity we have. It makes me really happy because I've seen the other side. I know how fortunate I am."
Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen had decided to give up play-calling responsibilities and wanted to hire someone familiar with his offense. Before long, Franklin was on his way east to begin his second stint at Maryland.
The move returns Franklin to the place where he worked as wide receivers coach from 2000-04. Perhaps more important, it reunites Franklin with Friedgen.
"I've worked for some really good people – Mike Sherman with the Green Bay Packers, Mike Price at Washington State – and I learned stuff from all of them," Franklin said. "But my core and foundation has come from Ralph."
Moving back to the East Coast also allows Franklin to get closer to his family, a factor that grew increasingly important to him after what he endured last fall. Franklin's mother, Jocelyn Franklin, was suffering from cancer during the 2007 season, and Franklin planned on surprising her with a visit to her Philadelphia home after an Oct. 13 night game with Colorado. He never got the opportunity.
"I got a call Saturday morning that she had passed," Franklin said. "I kept my mouth shut and coached the game. … It was tough, but I know she'd have been happy because we'd won the game."
Franklin now is within driving distance from many of his relatives. He has family members in the Philadelphia area and in Washington, D.C. His grandmother lives in Pittsburgh and will celebrate her 99th birthday next month. And the reunions aren't limited to his family. Franklin also is coaching many of the same players he recruited during his last stint at Maryland.
Maryland senior center Edwin Williams always has liked playing for Franklin, but he has seen a different side to the coach this year. Williams said Franklin showed much more confidence this spring while reminding the upperclassmen how they must take ownership of this team.
"Honestly, he makes me feel a lot more confident in myself to do it," Williams said. "He's not just talking at me. He's talking to me. I definitely enjoy that. I always enjoyed his presence in general, but he's making me feel that it's my team and not just his offense."
The Terps hope Franklin's return will help their offense recapture a spark that has been missing for a while. Friedgen arrived at Maryland with a reputation as an offensive guru after working as offensive coordinator of the 1990 Georgia Tech team that won a share of the national title and the 1994 San Diego Chargers squad that reached the Super Bowl. Sure enough, the Terrapins ranked among the nation's top 30 teams in scoring and won at least 10 games in each of his first three seasons.
Since then, Maryland hasn't produced points – or wins – nearly as often. Maryland has finished no higher than 56th in the nation in total offense and 69th in scoring in the past four seasons. The Terps have posted losing records in three of those seasons, including 6-7 in 2007.
After the Terps went 5-6 in back-to-back seasons, Friedgen named himself the offensive coordinator in 2006 and called his own plays for the first time. Maryland went 9-4 in '06, but the Terps still have continued to struggle scoring points.
Friedgen eventually decided he was spreading himself too thin and needed to hire a coordinator again, but he wanted someone who knew Maryland's system. That made Franklin an ideal candidate.
"I was looking for somebody who had been with us, and I was looking for somebody who had been successful," Friedgen said, "and James had been very successful at Kansas State."
Even though Kansas State went 5-7 last season, the Wildcats' offense was hardly to blame. K-State ranked 18th in the nation in scoring and set a school record with 3,425 passing yards. All that production came with Freeman working under center. Franklin inherits a much less certain quarterback situation at Maryland.
Jordan Steffy, Chris Turner and Josh Portis have a chance to win the job, and Steffy and Turner ended spring practice as the leading candidates. (Click here for the skinny on the candidates) Steffy and Turner shared the job last season and combined to throw 11 interceptions with only nine touchdown passes, but Franklin believes all three have plenty of upside.
"A lot of schools around the country don't know if they have one quarterback," Franklin said. "We have three quarterbacks we can win with in the ACC. We have to decide which one's going to give us the best chance to win the ACC championship."
Now that the Friedgen-Franklin combination has returned, the Terps are banking on history to repeat itself. While it's too soon to predict that Maryland will return to ACC title contention, the early returns have been encouraging.
"James Franklin has come in with a lot of enthusiasm and has worked very hard," Friedgen said at the end of spring practice. "I've been very pleased with our development. … I've been very impressed with his preparedness, his attention to detail. The transition has gone as smoothly as we could expect."
Franklin's studiousness shouldn't have surprised his boss. Franklin said many of his habits came from watching Friedgen through the years.
When Franklin talks about how much he has learned from Friedgen, he doesn't discuss any particular philosophy or game plan. Franklin instead says he learned how to prepare by watching Friedgen's meticulous attention to detail. That painstaking technique helped make Friedgen an overnight success as a head coach after spending more than a quarter-century as an assistant. Franklin has followed the same type of path while making himself one of the nation's most promising coaching prospects.
"He's a blue-collar guy from New York," Franklin said. "He's worked his way up the ladder. He's not a guy who was raised in the coaching profession and things were given to him. He's worked extra hard. I kind of view myself in the same way."
If Franklin's offense takes a similar approach, Maryland probably won't endure another losing season.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.