Jawing, trash talking and good old-fashioned arguments have been part of coaching since the 1800s. In the Big Ten, it usually meant Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler had a civil disagreement. The latest spat involves two coaches who have never coached in the Big Ten and one team that isn’t even officially in the conference: Penn State’s James Franklin and Maryland’s Randy Edsall.
Since leaving Vanderbilt for Penn State in January, Franklin’s made quite a splash. At his introductory press conference, he said the Nittany Lions would dominate the recruiting region. Those comments came with a nod and a wink toward Urban Meyer. But Franklin’s lived up to his declaration by securing commit after commit and placing Penn State in the top five nationally.
He made more headlines in May when, during a speech in Baltimore, he declared Maryland as in-state territory for the Nitttany Lions, and continued by saying other schools in the region “might as well shut them down because they don’t have a chance.”
To the surprise of no one, Edsall rolled his eyes at the slight.
“We’re not going to boast and brag,” he said this week at a charity golf outing in York, Pa., two hours from State College. “We're more about substance at Maryland. We’re going to find guys that fit the profile we’re looking for. We’re going to worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else. Talk is cheap.”
And with that, the Penn State-Maryland rivalry became one to watch in the Big Ten.
Upon closer examination, Franklin’s comments, while brash and reeking of arrogance, do contain slivers of truth. Penn State currently has the nation’s third-ranked recruiting class – and three commits are from Maryland and one is from Washington, D.C. The Terrapins’ class is ranked more than 30 spots lower and has zero Pennsylvanians.
The schools meet Nov. 1 at Beaver Stadium to renew a one-sided rivalry. In the 37-game history, Penn State’s won 35 times with one tie. Edsall believes it could grow into an attractive rivalry, and he’s right – if Maryland makes it competitive.
So far, the coaches war-of-words has acted as gasoline on an already simmering feud. Teams take on their coach’s personality, meaning a trickle down effect at Penn State and Maryland would lean to on-field differences.
“I think it’s just a natural fit. It’ll be fun to play,” Edsall said. “They’re a good program and good school. Being a border rival is something, to me, that will be exciting for both schools.”
When Edsall left Connecticut, many in the coaching fraternity were not pleased. Not because he left for a better job, but the way he handled it. Now, Franklin’s brash style is likely not endearing himself to colleagues. Bret Bielema and Tim Beckman have experienced similar declines in reputation from Big Ten coaches in recent years.
Even non-Big Ten coaches have commented on Franklin.
“People can talk all they want, the actions are going to speak loudest,” Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said.
In 2016, Chryst will have the opportunity to make his actions speak with thunder when Pitt and Penn State begin a four-year series. The Nittany Lions begin a yearly meeting with old rival Rutgers this season, another school on Franklin’s scorched earth policy.
Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood has said nary a word relating to Franklin or Penn State. That’s because he refuses to mention them by name, opting instead to call them “the team from Pennsylvania.” There’s been plenty of negativity toward the blue and white in New Jersey.
The new few years could be hard on Penn State, depending on how well suited it is with depth. If that’s the case, Maryland, Rutgers and other Big Ten foes could take it out on Franklin. In a conference that welcomes national attention, adding flavor to otherwise bland rivalries is a welcome development.