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For Penn State coach James Franklin, focus is on 1-0 and nothing else

The Nittany Lions have a lot at stake this month, beginning with Saturday's showdown with fellow unbeaten Minnesota. Franklin wants to make sure the focus is solely on the next game.

Penn State coach James Franklin works hard to make sure his team doesn't look past the next opponent.
Penn State coach James Franklin works hard to make sure his team doesn't look past the next opponent.Read moreBarry Reeger / AP

If you’re a Penn State fan in 2019, November is what it’s all about.

Your team was ranked fourth in the initial College Football Playoff ranking. It has a game matching a pair of unbeatens Saturday at Minnesota. If things go according to your plan, you’ll watch another matchup of undefeated teams two weeks later at Ohio State. And if that goes well, dare you think, “Playoff?”

As for head coach James Franklin, however, his tweet after the first rankings reveal Tuesday night told it all.

“Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota, Minnesota …” Franklin wrote, continuing on for a total of 25 mentions, closing with “Minnesota!!!!!!!”

That’s the way Franklin has been since he took over the job at Penn State almost six years ago. He has talked of a 1-0 mentality in every one of the 75 game weeks in which he has prepared his team for the next opponent.

Whether the Nittany Lions are playing Ohio State, Pittsburgh, or Idaho, he insists the process remain the same, keeping an even focus, not getting too high or too low. Now with so much at stake, “1-0” takes on added importance.

Franklin said convincing his players in the early years evolved from the point of merely memorizing “1-0” and other values to actually believing in them.

“I think maybe early on, guys were saying ‘1-0’ but not really living it and believing it," he said this week. "I think our guys are now. The reality is, you only have so much energy to spread around. Our belief is if you can focus all your energy on the task at hand, you’re going to be the most successful doing it. A lot of the other things are outside of your control anyway, so why would you even do it? You spend energy on things that won’t help.

“That’s what we try to do. The world is complex enough. The university and the classes and the challenges are complex enough. Their families and home lives are complex enough. We want to try to make it as focused and as clean and as efficient as we possibly can, and we have found this is a very useful tool in doing that.”

Being a senior, punter Blake Gillikin has heard four years of “1-0.” The numbers take up the entire screen during slide shows and are constantly reinforced throughout the week.

“I’m not sure when he started the whole tweet thing,” Gillikin said. “It might have been last year or two years ago. We thought that was really corny at first, but it really, really works. Even the guys on the team now will tweet that out. Someone will say something in the locker room about ‘two weeks down the road,’ and someone will come back on him and say, ‘We’re focused on this week.’

“We’re really bought into that since it’s kind of been around for a while, and obviously it’s worked this year really, really well.”

Even younger players have gotten the message, players such as redshirt freshman offensive tackle Rasheed Walker, who was asked this week if it was difficult to stay focused with so much at stake this month.

“I don’t think it’s going to be hard to stay focused,” Walker replied. “Since the beginning of the season, our whole mindset is, whoever we’re playing that week, that’s who we’re locked in on the whole week. I don’t even know who we’re playing next week. But as for the focus, I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

The focus could have swayed after Penn State received its highest ranking in the history of the CFP rankings. Franklin said he didn’t watch the ESPN show and found out what happened while in his office when he heard team managers shouting nearby.

While he said he wasn’t going to restrict his players from watching the show, he will continue to reinforce his message.

“If the players want to watch it, great. That’s fine,” he said. “But again, we’re focused on Minnesota and trying to find a way to be 1-0, and any energy we spent on other things takes away from that.”