Top 5 Takeaways from the Penn State HBO Special
Penn State was featured in HBO’s new series “24/7 College Football” Wednesday night. The hour-long special was chock-full of interesting tidbits from the week leading up to the Nittany Lions’ matchup with Purdue. Here are some of the biggest things we learned from this all-access look into Penn State football.
The life of a head football coach isn’t fully what it’s cracked up to be
It’s very rare that we get to see a personal side to James Franklin. This HBO special goes all in on highlighting him as a human being, and we are finally given a glimpse of what day-to-day life is like as the head coach of Penn State football. To put it mildly, that day-to-day life is tough. On Mondays, in particular, Franklin heads off to work at 5:30 a.m. He then stays at the office well beyond dinner, often studying film by himself in a dark and empty Lasch Building.
Between meetings, practices, press conferences and weekly team rituals (not to mention recruiting, which goes unmentioned in the special), Franklin has very little time to spend with family. He says that his only two interests are family and football, mainly because he doesn’t have room for any more. Thursday nights are the most fun in the Franklin household, as the head coach and his family make the most of their time together by cuddling up on the basement couch and watching TV. It’s an incredibly heartfelt moment in the episode—one that makes you feel for a husband and father doing his best to be there for his loved ones.
James Franklin puts program success first, but that doesn’t mean he’s without personal goals
While the job of head football coach is undoubtedly consuming, Franklin clearly enjoys it. The reason he got into coaching in the first place was because he knew that he could make an impact on countless lives through the game he loves. He wants to be there for his players. He wants to see them succeed, both on the field and in the classroom. He wants to build an elite football team the right way. We’ve been aware of these goals for a while. What we’ve never known is what Franklin’s individual motivations are.
In a rather candid moment, Franklin describes his journey to landing at Penn State. He specifically reflects on his first nine years as a coach—a period in which he lived in seven different states and countries. Franklin has had to work his way to the top, and he says it’s all been in pursuit of one dream: to be the first African American head coach to win a college football national championship. You can tell that he gets a bit nervous as he reveals this, since he often doesn’t talk about himself publicly; his focus is always on the program. Regardless, it’s another humanizing element for Franklin that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Sean Clifford and KJ Hamler’s relationship is just as amazing off the field as it is on the field
The electric duo has already connected for four touchdowns this season. After watching this episode, it’s obvious why their chemistry on Saturdays is so strong. Clifford and Hamler met at a youth football camp in middle school, and they’ve been friends ever since. This is common knowledge for some Penn State fans, but seeing their interactions up close is new for us all.
After Clifford misses Hamler on a wide open pass in practice, the Nittany Lions’ star receiver goes up to his quarterback and jokingly criticizes him for throwing a “sloppy ball.” In the game against Purdue, Hamler adamantly directs his pal’s attention to the video board for an instant replay of Pat Freiermuth’s 7-yard touchdown. Hamler picked up a key block late in the play, and he wanted Clifford to acknowledge the greatness of it. The two can also be seen talking to each other and laughing in the team meeting room on multiple occasions. It’s just heartwarming to see two of Penn State’s best offensive weapons getting along as teammates and as friends.
Sean Spencer might be the coolest person in State College
Penn State’s defensive line coach made a remarkable impression in the HBO special. Spencer, commonly known as Coach Chaos, was featured riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle to campus with funk music blaring in the background. Upon his arrival, he was also shown walking into work donning shades and a biker vest. It was quite the entrance, to say the least.
Spencer’s energy was on full display throughout the entire episode. You can tell that he’s incredibly passionate about what he does and that he cares about his players. He’s nicknamed his linemen the “Wild Dogs,” and he’s even made each member of the unit his own dog tag. Every Friday, these tags are placed in a bucket for all of the linemen to draw from. The players will then look down at the name on the dog tag that he selects, and that will be the person he plays for in the week’s upcoming game. It’s a message about teamwork and unity: two traits that are integral to the unit’s friendship off the field. The Wild Dogs are said to be the closest group of people on the team, and that’s due in large part to the charisma of Coach Chaos.
This coaching staff understands the nature of today’s college football landscape
Penn State would never have been a part of anything like this 10 years ago. The program was all about tradition, integrity and humility, and nobody would have bent from those principles to let HBO put together an unfiltered, hour-long special on the team. While it is important to honor the past, it’s also what hindered Penn State’s development as a program for many years. Some schools leapt ahead into the 21st century of college football as Penn State remained somewhat stagnant.
However, Franklin and company recognize that this type of exposure matters. Are there some things in this episode that aren’t positive? Absolutely. There are numerous shots of empty seats in the student section. The considerable amount of swearing could be viewed as offensive by some. At the end of the day though, this was a phenomenal ad for Penn State football. Seeing the coaches with their families, the players getting an education, the dancing in the locker room, the support from the community, the drone shots of State College on a pretty fall day—it will all work wonders for recruiting and for enhancing the program.
This staff has found a way for Penn State to move into the future while honoring the past, and this episode was a prime example of that.
Connor Griffin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.