If nobody else believes in Penn State’s football program, Pat Kraft does.
Kraft was hired as the Nittany Lions’ vice president for intercollegiate athletics and took the reins on July 1. Since then, he’s brought nothing but confidence and a promise of winning across all sports.
Penn State held a press conference before the Rose Bowl that kicked off with Kraft Friday morning. While a berth in the Rose Bowl is a step in the right direction, there’s still work to do to get to the top of college football.
“I’ve told James ‘what do we need to be successful? What do we have to do to win a national championship?’” Kraft said.
The Nittany Lions haven’t finished the season as a top-four team since the College Football Playoff was introduced during the 2014 season, with the closest finish happening in 2016 as the No. 5 team in the country.
The likelihood of Penn State making a College Football Playoff will increase in 2024 when it’s set to expand to 12 teams. Whether it’s 12 teams making the playoff or two, Kraft believes the Nittany Lions will win a national championship, specifically with James Franklin at the helm.
To Kraft, Franklin’s ability to resonate with his players is the main reason.
“Why I know we’re going to be elite, we’re going to win a national championship and we’re going to be great is because I believe he does everything the right way with those young men,” Kraft said. “That’s really what it’s about.”
The passion Kraft has shown for his job has also been noticed by Franklin. Kraft has been heavily involved in the football program since he stepped on campus, as he’s gone to most of the away games.
According to Franklin, he’s heard positive feedback about Kraft “from all of the coaches.”
“He is passionate about Penn State, Penn State athletics and all the sports,” Franklin said. “I think he's going to have a strong voice. I think he's going to be vocal from a Big Ten perspective in terms of representing our school, and I think you're gonna see it on a national level as well.”
The confidence between the athletic department’s leadership and Franklin goes both ways, according to Franklin.
The hiring of Kraft wasn’t the only major hire Penn State conducted, as the university also hired Neeli Bendapudi as its president prior to the 2022 football season. Bendapudi oversees everything from academics to athletics, which includes the football program.
In Franklin’s eyes, the tandem of Kraft and Bendapudi has already been beneficial.
“I can speak in a lot of ways about [Kraft] and [Bendapudi]. Their energy is contagious,” Franklin said. “She spoke at the [football] banquet last week on Sunday, and she crushed it. She’s just so positive, so energetic, and she just had the whole room kind of eating out of her hand. Pat’s the same way.”
Football is the primary money maker for most schools, especially at Penn State, a school with a long football history. However, Kraft is determined to better the athletic landscape across every sport.
Across the board, the Nittany Lions most successful sport is arguably wrestling, as Cael Sanderson has led Penn State to nine national championships since 2011. Still, Kraft wants to improve the facilities and equipment the wrestlers have, describing the training room as “inadequate.”
Basketball is another sport the Nittany Lions have been improving in since the hiring of head coach Micah Shrewsberry. With both football and basketball, Kraft stressed the importance of keeping a good staff around the head coaches and that money isn’t everything.
“It's not just about paying the coach and the great coaches know that. It's about keeping the staff and being able to hire staff if you lose staff. It's also about putting the infrastructure behind them to be successful,” Kraft said. “Paying the coach is great, but the great coaches understand that it's all the other stuff that helps you eventually win a national championship.”
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