CHICAGO — The elevators at the Hilton Chicago, site of the Big Ten football media days, are adorned with logos of each conference team. Of course, Penn State coach James Franklin joked that he would ride in only one — which didn't go his hotel room's floor. So he had to walk.
Later, Franklin gathered his players and support staff for a photo on Michigan Avenue, with the entire crew making the Penn State coach's required branding stamp. Like everyone else who poses with Franklin, they raise the right index finger to form the "No. 1" sign.
"He says that you can't physically make the lion head, so that's something he does to represent Penn State," senior running back Bill Belton said. "It's something we're told to do, so we do it."
Franklin's debut at the two-day Big Ten football pageant undercut some of the dry current shared by the league's other coaches and administrators. Sure, Franklin didn't give away any secrets regarding his 2014 team, which begins training camp Monday, but he at least did so engagingly.
The coach cracked that he seldom stands too close to Christian Hackenberg, saying the wind always seems to blow through the "beautiful" sophomore quarterback's hair. Franklin said that, after recruiting freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor from Canada, he intends to produce "Dominate Canada" recruiting T-shirts.
"When I come to things like this, I don't want to be this boring, standard coach who gives really dry answers," Franklin said. "I want to have some fun. We look at that in everything we do. If we're going to work for 16 hours, I want to have fun for 16 hours."
Franklin acknowledged that, occasionally, his style rubs others the wrong way. For instance: At Vanderbilt, Franklin said in a radio interview that he would not hire assistant coaches until he sees their wives.
This summer, Maryland coach Randy Edsall referred to Franklin's comments about his recruiting successes by saying, "Talk is cheap." And several SEC coaches expressed disdain for Franklin's decision to be a guest coach at football camps in Georgia and Florida this year.
"If I have to come to media day, I'm going to have fun at media day," Franklin said. "If I have to do a 17-stop [coaches] caravan, I'm going to try to have fun at all 17 stops. From time to time, that gets me in trouble. But I don't want to lose that aspect of who I am.
"And I hope, over time, that people see that I care about kids, I care about the game of college football and I want to represent Penn State and the Big Ten the right way."
Regarding a more serious issue, Franklin acknowledged that he took the job in January with reservations about its hierarchy. Franklin was hired more than a month before Penn State hired Eric Barron from Florida State as its new president.
Barron then replaced Athletic Director Dave Joyner, who announced his retirement last month, with Sandy Barbour, the former athletic director at the University of California. On Saturday, Franklin posed for photos (index fingers raised, of course) with Barron and Barbour at Beaver Stadium.
"It was a major concern, I don't think there's any doubt about it," Franklin said. "When you take a job, and you don't know who your bosses are going to be … that was a big part of it. But the people I was able to come in contact with at Penn State sold me on Penn State. I was comfortable with that."
Belton developed a relationship with Franklin while in high school, since the coach recruited him at Vanderbilt (or, as Franklin says, his "previous institution.") On Monday, the running back noted that players were just discussing Franklin's penchant for the index-finger photos.
""Personally, I feel like I can joke with him at any time," Belton said. "I never had that in recent coaches. Coaches have their guys they joke with. With Franklin, I can joke with him at any time."