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Up Close with Steelers Hall of Famer Jack Ham

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Jack Ham is a Steelers legend, with four Super Bowl rings, eight Pro Bowl selections, the record for most career forced turnovers by a linebacker and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

A three-year starter who played for Joe Paterno at Penn State, Ham is currently a sports analyst for Penn State Radio Network. PSR Editor Tony DeFazio spoke with Ham last month about the direction of Penn State football.

TD: What do you like about the James Franklin hire?
Ham: It's a continuation of what Bill O'Brien got started and has continued with over the past two years here at Penn State. Just the energy he's bringing to the Penn State program on the recruiting side. He's bringing a lot of his coaches from Vanderbilt here as well, and the track record of what Franklin was able to do at Vanderbilt. He built that program as well. With Bill O'Brien leaving for the pro's, which we all anticipated—maybe not as quick as it ended up happening—but to turn around and get James Franklin as the next Penn State head coach, I think it was a huge find for the university.

TD: What challenges will Franklin face?
Ham: He's taking over a program that has gone through the sanctions and everything that Penn State has had to go through. I think the worst is over now. But he's got to be his own man, his own coach. That's why he was successful at Vanderbilt. The continuity of the staff he's bringing with him will help that.

Penn State fans expect Big Ten Championships, high rankings and those kinds of things. There are high expectations from the fans, but also from Franklin as well, to take this program to the next level and back to where it was before.

TD: Is there a division among Penn State fans, between what O'Brien referred to as the "Paterno people" and others?
Ham: No, and even Bill backed off of some of that as well. If you go to Ohio State, if you go to Michigan, if you go to Michigan State, or anywhere, fans are very passionate about their teams. Obviously Penn State is a unique situation, coming off of the Sandusky scandal and all of those things. Bill did a great job of holding his team together in a very difficult time.

I think in the back of all of our minds, when you get to a point where you've had the same coach for 40-some odd years, I think all of us knew that'is not going to happen in this day in age. And it's probably not going to happen again.

The passion of Penn State fans is high and, I think if you go across college football its the same. People care. People care about the program and they want to see it back where it was before. Bill O'Brien started it and I think James Franklin can take it to the next level.

It's 2014 you're not going to have coaches stick around as long as they used to, but then again I think James Franklin is a college guy, whereas Bill O'Brien always had the pros in the back of his mind. That's where he came from and I think he obviously wanted to get back to that as a head coach. James Franklin is a guy with a lot of energy, he loves college football. We'll see but I think Penn State is very fortunate to have him as their new head coach.

TD: Franklin is the fourth Penn State coach for this group of seniors. Will it take time for fans to get use to this new era of college football?
Ham: You're right. Plus it was such a unique situation with Joe Paterno here for so many years, but we are into that new era. You don't have coaches for that long of a time, but you've got to make adjustments. Times do in fact change, just like the old Bob Dylan song. That's where we are right now.

But James Franklin really seems to be a college guy. He loves the college atmosphere and college coaching, and coaching young people. Not that Bill O'Brien did not, but I always think he thought in the back of his mind that pro football was always where he ultimately wanted to go with his career.

TD: How important is it for Penn State to recruit well in western Pennsylvania?
Ham: I think it's very important. James Franklin mentioned that when he took the head coaching job here. The state of Pennsylvania, and I think western Pennsylvania, will be an important focus for him. Recruiting seems to be something that comes easy to him. Like I said, he's a high-energy guy and you have to be that way to recruit. He is an outstanding recruiter and he has that track record already.

Like I said before, when you lose coaches in such a short amount of time, to be able to get a guy like James Franklin, that bodes well for the future of the Penn State football program moving forward.

TD: Is this as big a buzz as you have seen surrounding Penn State football in quite some time?
Ham: without a doubt. When they got Bill O'Brien, no one knew anything about Bill O'Brien except that he yelled at Tom Brady on the sideline. He ended up being a good head coach and really held that whole thing together at a really difficult time. And now the energy surrounding James Franklin taking over, like I said, the Penn State program really seems like its on its way back in that direction with an outstanding coach and what I think is a great hire for Penn State

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