Franklin Strikes a Balance

James Franklin returned to Maryland this year as offensive coordinator.
James Franklin returned to Maryland this year as offensive coordinator. "You can't get on 'em constantly. . . . ," he said of his players. "Find that fine line." (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Davin Meggett had barely begun to decelerate when he heard a familiar strained yelp aimed in his direction. This was a routine running back drill on the fourth day of training camp. Just follow your blocker.

The freshman slowed to a trot and let the admonition wash over him. "Davin! I told you not to run right behind him!" came the shrill voice. "I told you to run on the inside, and what did you do? You ran right up behind him. . . . I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't do that."

Meggett turned and faced a bald man decked out in black shorts, black shirt and black shades. Both of the man's hands were extended in the air, as if he were performing the first motion of "YMCA."

As the man lowered his hands to his hips, he paused, then added one last comment. "I love you, though," James Franklin said. Meggett returned to the back of the line, and the drill continued.

Franklin returned to Maryland last December much the same person he was when he left three years before: loud, passionate, excitable. And yet, the experiences -- both personal and professional -- he gained during his time away have led to profound, if subtle, differences in the man charged with designing the Terrapins' offense.

He is the team's offensive coordinator, a position that enables him to be boisterous at times, stern at others and both in the span of six short sentences if the situation allows. It is balance for which Franklin strives, in Maryland's offense and in the way he directs it.

"I want us to do so well offensively that sometimes I need to pick and choose my battles," Franklin said. "Just like as a parent, you can't correct every little mistake, you can't get on 'em constantly, and I think that's what I need to learn to do, learn how to push them and get the very best out of them but not go too far. Find that fine line."

The high-wire act begins the moment he steps out of bed and ends long after he returns to the mattress. Lying there, Franklin thinks over the ways in which he can be a better husband, a better father to his 5- and 15-month-old daughters. He plans out the days in which the three of them can join him at the team's facilities for lunch because "this profession is challenging."

Then Franklin's thoughts turn to Maryland's offense, the one ranked No. 92 in the nation last season, the one he was charged with revitalizing. He mulls over players and positions, schemes and situations. How are we going to succeed on third and seven? And that's always how he frames the thought, not by micro-analyzing what play to call, but by taking a macro view of how best to gain specific results.

"I've never been the most talented guy when it came to sports," Franklin said. "I was a good high school player. I was a good [Division] II player. That's all I was. But I was driven; I was positive about my life and my opportunities. I think being a head coach and being a coordinator are two completely different things. If I was a head coach, I probably wouldn't be exactly the way I am right now, and I think the thing Maryland needs right now is energy."

Going Home Again

As much the Terrapins need Franklin's boundless vigor, he needs what the team provides him, as well. A year ago, Franklin's mother was struggling with cancer while he was 1,250 miles away at Kansas State, working his first division I coordinator gig.

On Friday, Oct. 12, Franklin called his mother. He had planned to surprise her by flying home to Philadelphia that Sunday. The Wildcats had a bye week coming up, which would allow him to spend a few days with the woman who used to work as a janitor at his high school. Afraid she would not last another 48 hours, Franklin spoiled the surprise and pleaded with her to hold on just a few more days.

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