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Maryland Head Coach-in-Waiting Franklin Wears Emotions on His Sleeve: Offensive Coordinator Calls Trait Both a Strength and a Weakness

"He does have that characteristic about him where he can kind of figure a person out and try to connect with someone on a different level," Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said of James Franklin, above.
"He does have that characteristic about him where he can kind of figure a person out and try to connect with someone on a different level," Maryland quarterback Chris Turner said of James Franklin, above. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
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By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 25, 2009

Earlier this spring, former Maryland center Edwin Williams was being honored at the football team's postseason banquet. Williams struggled mightily with his grades early on at Maryland, but was named to the all-ACC academic team in each of his final two years. He also earned all-ACC first-team honors for his performance on the field last season. After the ceremony, Williams's mother, Cheron, pulled offensive coordinator James Franklin aside.

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"Edwin's mom said, 'You came into our home and told our son and me where Edwin would be . . . ' " Franklin said. He paused and looked down at his desk.

"I get emotional talking about it," he said, before continuing.

" ' . . . where Edwin would be five years from now,' " Franklin said, his voice quivering. " 'And all these things have come true for him.' "

Franklin's eyes were red and watery. He reached under his glasses and wiped away a single tear leaking out of his left eye. "This is what I tell you about being emotional," he said. "It drives me crazy. It's my greatest strength and my greatest weakness."

The attribute that simultaneously drives Franklin mad yet is vital to his effectiveness as a communicator is one of the reasons why, in February, Maryland named him as the eventual successor to Coach Ralph Friedgen. As he sat in his office at the Terrapins' training facility this week, Franklin, currently the team's offensive coordinator, reflected on the precipice at which he is perched and on the experiences that got him to this point.

The summer after his sophomore year in college at East Stroudsburg, Franklin interned at an adult psychiatric facility in Philadelphia. Franklin was asked to do intakes, which meant helping incoming patients fill out all the necessary paperwork and checking them in for their stay.

Many of the facility's patients suffered from severe mental health issues, and Franklin, then a psychology major at East Stroudsburg, tried to prepare himself to experience the extremes. But when a husband brought in his wife, who was dealing with depression, Franklin came to a self-defining realization.

"She was just very upset and unhappy and depressed and didn't know why, really," Franklin said. "I remember thinking to myself: 'Wow, this is deep. This is tough to hear. I don't know if I can do this.' Because over time what happens is you get desensitized to it and you just fill out the paperwork. But I didn't want to get desensitized because I like that about myself. I love it and I hate it, the fact that I'm so emotional."

During high school and college, Franklin spent his offseasons as a paperboy, a dishwasher, a landscaper and a road paver. He once worked for a mortgage company and as a pizza delivery man. At one point, he considered quitting school to work full-time for the Philadelphia water and sewer authority. He thought about becoming a psychologist.

He knew he wanted to help people and make an impact on society; he just didn't yet know how. Franklin says now that the diversity of his résumé helps him relate to players of all upbringings, to enter any home and establish connections with parents deciding whom to trust with their sons' future.

"He does have that characteristic about him where he can kind of figure a person out and try to connect with someone on a different level," quarterback Chris Turner said. "Sometimes if someone's from a different background it can be difficult, but he manages to find a way."

Offensive lineman Bruce Campbell said he wasn't sure what to make of Franklin's hyper-passionate demeanor when the coach first introduced himself to the team in the spring of 2008. Franklin told the players where he was from and that he had coached at Maryland before, from 2002 to 2004.

"And then he started talking about his family and stuff, and he started getting a little emotional," Campbell said. "I was like, 'Wow, is this our coach or is this a therapist doctor or something like that?' It seemed like he was trying to get us to fall into like a trap or something. But really, it's not even a trap; it's just him."

Franklin eventually chose to become a coach rather than a therapist, even if it sometimes seems he never left his original interest behind. He is contemplative, but can make snap adjustments. He is polite, but can be fiercely intense.

En route to becoming the coach-in-waiting at College Park, though, Franklin achieved the goal he established the day he filled out paperwork for a woman suffering from depression: He never became desensitized. There are times when Franklin's wife, Fumi, will make fun of her husband as he chokes up while watching a sentimental television program. "They'll get me," he said.

There also are times when Franklin observes Friedgen making a personnel decision and ponder what choice he would make. Soon, that responsibility will be his. For now, though, he's content to continue helping people in the manner that best suits him.

"At first, I wasn't really believing what he was saying," Campbell said. "But after a while I ended up listening to him and really trying to trust him. If you learn to trust him you come around to see that everything he says and all his little messages -- it's real."


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