Blue White Illustrated

February 2022

Penn State Sports Magazine

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Page 4 of 67

F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 2 5 W W W . B L U E W H I T E O N L I N E . C O M T he Lasch Building is again buzzing with life. Construction is active on the north end of the complex, a major ex- pansion to the weight room now well underway. Project managers and workers filter through the hallways, their fluo- rescent yellow vests and hard hats con- trasting against the players and coaches decked out in head-to-toe Penn State football gear. Coming out of a disappointing 7-6 season in which they lost six of their last eight games, the Nittany Lions look to be bouncing back. They've welcomed a key transfer at receiver along with nine midyear enrollees from a 2022 recruiting class that is ranked seventh nationally by On3, and the clean slate that every off- season brings has rekindled that familiar aura of possibility. But for Penn State head coach James Franklin, this particular offseason stands in contrast to others. Beginning his ninth year with the Nittany Lions and 12th as a head coach, Franklin has lost some of the most integral and trusted colleagues of his career. Longtime defensive assistant Brent Pry left in December to fill the vacant Virginia Tech head coaching gig. In early January, longtime right-hand man Michael Hazel, Penn State's director of football operations for the past eight years, joined Pry in Blacksburg. And just a few days later, team strength coach Dwight Galt announced his retirement after a 38-year career. All three of those people were critical, foundational and distinct pieces of the program's day-to-day operation. But for Franklin, they were more than that. Per- sonally and professionally, they helped create a familial presence in the program. Franklin recently reflected on his for- mative years in coaching, and in doing so, he shed light on just how influential that presence has been on his career and life. "When I was 31 years old, at the Uni- versity of Maryland … Dwight Galt came and talked to me about the importance of being a relational leader," Franklin recalled. "I was coaching guys so hard at that point in my career, and I wanted ev- erything exactly right, and detailed and thorough, and all the things you read that are important. But I wasn't connect- ing with my players the way I needed to connect with my players. For me, that was the important moment in my career, which is funny, because as Coach Galt had said, that's my strength. That's who I am as a person. Once that happened for me, then my career changed." Less than a decade after that moment, having coached for the Green Bay Pack- ers and at Kansas State in the interim, Franklin showed how indispensable he considered the advice. After landing his first head coach- ing job at Vanderbilt in 2011, Franklin persuaded Galt to come with him. Galt had spent 26 years at Maryland, first as a student, then as a staffer and eventually as the Terrapins' director of strength and conditioning. For Galt and Franklin, the move also marked the continuation of an 11-year bond between the two coaches and friends. Making the same move to Penn State together in 2014, Galt described a dynamic built upon deeply held, mutual respect. "We're very close. I think our rela- tionship is based on a huge trust," Galt said. "I believe very strongly in who he is, not only as a football coach, but as a man, and as a person, and as a friend. I think that we have that trust in each other. "I trust him so much that if he dis- agrees with me, I'm fine with it. We'll talk it through, and I believe in his deci- sion-making. He has proven to me time and time over … that he thinks things through, has good common sense, and everything will always be what's best for Penn State football. That trust between us has made us really, really close profes- sionally." Galt's input is not all that Franklin will be without moving forward. Pry, whom Franklin has described as one of his best friends, and Hazel, a thoughtful confidant with a keen eye and independent perspective, also served as key sounding boards. Although he's lost a shared history that won't be duplicated by their re- placements, Franklin has sought the same kind of diversity in the individuals who are going to fill those roles. "I don't want to be surrounded by all the same personalities and all the same opinions and a bunch of yes-men," he said. "I want to be surrounded by a bunch of different people with differ- ent perspectives, diverse backgrounds, diverse perspectives, diverse ideas. The only way I'm going to make the best de- cisions for Penn State is to hear and see all those things and say, OK, great, I've got all the information, now here's the direction we're going." With three such people now gone, Franklin will need to set the program's direction without some familiar voices moving forward. ■ Franklin lost three of his key lieutenants in recent months. Defensive coordinator Brent Pry and director of football operations Michael Hazel left for Virginia Tech, while strength coach Dwight Galt retired. PHOTO BY STEVE MANUEL O P I N I O N NATE BAUER HOT READ Trusted Aides Depart, But Franklin's Program Keeps Moving

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