After Penn State fell to 0-4 at Nebraska Saturday, James Franklin was asked to assess the performance of defensive coordinator Brent Pry, a loaded question to say the least.
"(It's on) all of us, the head coach and every assistant, every person in the program," Franklin said. "Obviously we're not doing a good enough job. That's all of us, and it starts with me. It starts with me."
He has to say that, of course. He has to publicly stay off Pry’s (and everyone else’s) back while piling everything on his own.
Beyond being part of a head coach’s job description, it doesn’t mean much. Certainly, it doesn’t help answer the question of how things can go this wrong for a football team.
Don’t expect a definitive answer to that one in This Space. I don’t know why Penn State imploded. Neither do you. Neither does Urban Meyer, although he had an interesting take on the general topic on Fox Sports’ pregame show Saturday.
At a place like Penn State or LSU or “the Wolverines,’’ - even in retirement, Meyer can’t bring himself to say the word, “Michigan.’’ - the problem isn’t bad players. It isn’t bad coaches.
“Now maybe they're not coaching well, or maybe the players aren’t playing well, but that’s where I say, ‘Look under the hood,’ ’’ Meyer said.
Whenever a team of his struggled, he said, the culprit was one of three things:
1. There’s a trust issue. “The players don't trust the coach, the coach doesn’t trust the players or, worst of all, the players don't trust each other,’’ Meyer said.
2. A dysfunctional work environment. This Meyer defined simply as, “the expectations are very high, but we don't work hard. Stop with the expectations. Your work ethic must exceed or equal your expectations.”
3. Selfishness. A running back being willing and able to pass-block, for example. Or a player not just embracing special teams but throwing himself into the collisions that special teams entail.
“That's not fun,’’ Meyer said. “Why would you do that? Because you love your team and your teammates.’’
Which of these could apply to Penn State?
Selfishness? I wouldn’t go that far, but especially on defense, Penn State does not look like a team that fights through the whistle every single snap. It does look like a team on which everyone wants to make the big, look-at-me play and nobody wants to make the little, quiet ones.
It would be hard for fans/media to perceive a trust issue.
Interestingly, though, Franklin did say Saturday that, “It’s hard to call (the game) when you don’t have the confidence that you’re not going to turn the ball over.’’
That sounds like the definition of a trust issue.
Working hard enough, in a sense, could be pandemic-related. Franklin sounded a lot, last week, like a coach who wishes he’d spent more time on football and less time on health-and-safety protocols over the past couple months. Certainly he’s never had a more unpolished Penn State team.
“I'm going to let the trainers and the doctors manage COVID, and I'm going to coach football,’’ he said after Wednesday’s practice. “I know that sounds ridiculous.’’
Sounding ridiculous is the chance you take when you play amateur psychologist, and try to quantify subtle, intangible things.
Less than a month ago, Penn State was No. 8 in the country. Then the games started, and the Nittany Lions drove straight into a deep ditch. Everyone has reasons, even if no one knows THE reason.
Whoever said, “Victory has a hundred fathers, and defeat is an orphan,’’ didn’t know much about football.