Head Coach James Franklin has been pretty successful during his time at Penn State. Although they experienced a devastating loss to USC in the 2017 Rose Bowl, the Nittany Lions have built a successful program post-Paterno, and the coaching philospohy of James Franklin has been a driving factor for that success. When asked about what he believes is attributing to their recent success, Franklin responded with what he believes are the 3 things teams need to win at the highest level.

  • System/Scheme
  • Player Development
  • Recruiting

In the interview, Franklin states that coaches can’t have only one of the 3 things teams need to win, you have to have all of them. “You can’t win at the highest level with just one. You gotta have scheme, you gotta have development, and you gotta have recruiting. That’s where a lot of (coaches) make mistakes. You have coaches from an ego perspective think that they’re going to out-coach you, you have other coaches that say ‘I’m just going to out-recruit you’, and then you have some coaches that really focus on development.”

“The fact that we are not one dimensional, it really helps” said Franklin.

So, what exactly are those 3 things teams need to win in depth and how do they come into play? We break down Franklin’s list to bring some perspective.

System or ‘Scheme’

In order to win at the highest level, you need to have a system in place. In football, scheme used to describe a team’s formation.  In hockey and basketball, its known as a system. A system is the overall scope, or process, of how your team plays the game. Your system can be applied all the way down to the processes you put in place to how your team practices and plays the game as well.

Your system is going to be your identity when you’re trying to win at the highest level. In order to develop your system accordingly to your team’s identity, you need to understand what your identity is in the first place and then build a system around it. In reality, what your system should be is your identity as a team THEN you recruit the right players to fit within that identity.  For example, you don’t want to recruit smaller players when your identity is to play smash mouth football, to be big down low on the post in basketball, or to have a strong net presence that can clear guys out in hockey.

Smart coaches understand what their identity is and create a system or scheme around it so that their players can flourish.

Player Development

Player development is one of the most important things that teams need to win at the highest level that coaches can tend to overlook.  That’s because at the highest levels, its almost expected that the athletes are to know the fundamentals to perform.  This assumption usually leads to neglecting time specifically carved out for skill development and fundamentals, which can and will lead to players regressing in their ability to play the game.

Carving out time in order to develop the athletes on your team needs to be seen as an investment. The best coaches understand that every repetition taken in practice that works on fundamentals is like putting money in the bank. Focusing on skill development, especially the little micro skill nuances, helps create a more talented and athletic player, which leads to a better athlete playing in the system. It’s an advantage for coaches to execute their game plan or scheme when they get off of the bus with the best players.


The final point that Franklin touches on with his list of things teams need to win at the highest level is that you have to get the best players possible with the right mindset. That’s where recruiting comes into play.  Recruiting is the foundation for building a solid program that consistently wins at the highest level and draws more and more players to want to play for that program. If a coach doesn’t put their best foot forward and exhaust their resources in recruiting each year, they’re not doing the things needed to win at the highest level.

“Recruiting matters. Good players help make plays that normally wouldn’t be good come out being great.” – James Franklin

A coach’s ability to recruit is the number one reason why they will be successful or not. If you don’t have the right players, you will end up playing your system or scheme vs. athlete, which means that you’re going to lose 90% of the time. An average scheme/system with elite athletes will dominate the best schemes that can’t execute because the players are not athletic, too weak, or too slow.


If you want to be successful in your coaching career, you need to understand right now that recruiting is the most important thing teams need to win at the highest level. First, you get the best players you can possible that have the right mindset. Then, you develop those players to become even better than they were when they were the previous day by developing their skills and pushing them to their limit mentally and physically day in and day out.  Lastly, you develop a scheme, or system, that utilizes the strengths of your players and creates the identity of your team.

That’s how you win.  By executing those three steps, you are doing the necessary things teams need to win at the highest level. Now, it’s more complicated than you think to do so. But once you have the foundation in place and have a vision of where you want to take your team, you can start putting your best foot forward.

share on social media graphic


Contributes to the “new culture” of sports and helps motivate you to achieve your potential.