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Franklin-To-Penn State Rumors Continue To Heat Up (And Why We Think It Would Be Less Than A Perfect Marriage)

james-franklin-podiumYesterday, a number of Vanderbilt assistant coaches began following a number of Penn State recruits on Twitter.  All Hell broke loose soon after.

Now, Vandy’s coaches are following the recruits of other schools, too, but the timing of the PSU adds was interesting to say the least.  And that’s led to more reports that Franklin and his staff are the frontrunners to take over the Nittany Lion program.

USA Today reported yesterday afternoon that Vanderbilt’s coach “would be inclined to take the head coaching position at Penn State if offered.”  This from “a person familiar with his thinking,” which is a title we’ve never seen kicked around before.  Doesn’t mean that we doubt it, only that it’s a new way of saying, “someone close to the coach.”

We’ve stated our surprise with Penn State’s chutzpah in considering a coach who could possibly have his name dragged into an ongoing sexual assault case.  While Franklin likely had zip to do with any after-the-fact cover-ups by four then-VU players, it’s still a possibility that defense attorneys might call on Franklin for information.  USA Today makes mention of the situation as follows:


“This (Vandy) season was marred to some degree by an June incident in which four Vanderbilt players were charged with raping an unconscious 21-year-old at a dormitory and a fifth pleaded guilty to helping cover it up.  All five were dismissed from the team.

Franklin would take over a Penn State program still operating under scholarship limitations and other NCAA sanctions related to the Jerry Sanduscky scandal.”


For his part, Franklin remains mum on the topic of Penn State.  But back in Nashville, Commodore AD David Williams — who deserves a ridiculous amount of credit for unearthing Franklin in the first place — says he’ll “do everything I can to make sure” that Vandy’s coach remains Vandy’s coach:


“I expect James to be our football coach.  I’m planning on it.  We’re looking at facilities.  We’re working on some stuff.  I have all thoughts that he’s going to be our football coach.”


One Vandy student has also started a petition online at begging Franklin to stay at the West End school.  Courtney Graziano ended her petition by writing:


“To Coach Franklin: I beg you to stay a Commodore



So far 500 people have “signed” the online document.

And speaking of signatures, The Tennessean reports that (at least) a pair of Vanderbilt commitments might re-open their recruitment at the last minute should Franklin bolt.  Quarterback prospect KJ Carta-Samuels said, “I just don’t know (that) without Franklin if it’s the same family, the same vibe.”  And running back commitment Mikale Wilbon had this to say:


“I’ve been getting a lot of calls about that (from other schools).  If he does leave, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  It would stun me because when I committed last spring, he was telling me he wanted to make it into a dynasty there, like Nick Saban at Alabama, like Joe Paterno at Penn State.  If he winds up leaving, I don’t know.”


Meanwhile, at least one columnist covering Penn State has made it clear that he believes Franklin should not be the next Nittany Lion coach.  Franklin would be wise to consider the rationale behind the column from’s David Jones:


“Sometimes it takes an outsider to see clearly what those amid the fray cannot so objectively see.  I am not a Penn Stater.  But what I still see at Penn State is a lot of conflict.  I see people who want to honor Joe Paterno and others who want to move beyond him.  On a more superficial football level, I see people who would resist a return to the late coach’s stodgy strategic acumen and this who would not at all mind a more basic brand of football than we’ve seen the last couple of years.  

I’m here to tell you: None of that should matter to Penn State right now.  What should matter is stability.  Keep your players.  Maintain the program’s integrity.  Stay away from drama.”


Franklin is no shrinking violet.  One can imagine the fiery young coach becoming just as fed up with PSU’s internal bickering as Bill O’Brien became before he split for the NFL.  Anyone out there think Franklin would be comfortable living in the shadow of Paterno?  Being told, “That’s not how Joe did it?”

Jones also brought up what we brought up weeks ago and what USA Today brought up yesterday — the rape case.  Of Franklin, he said this is what is known about him:


“His players clearly love what he says to them, and they play hard for him.  He’s a firecracker at recruiting.  And he has won at an amazing level in the best conference in the nation at a place where it’s never been done.

We also know he recruited four former Vanderbilt players who are the central figures in a rape trial.  And that, while the assistant district attorney has thus far cleared Franklin of wrongdoing, the case is ongoing, it eventually could come to trial and any number of heretofore unknown facts could come to light.

We know that Franklin has made oblique and evasive responses when asked some of the simplest questions about those involved in the case, even to the point of strangely answering fictional questions that were not asked…

In sum, what we don’t know about Franklin is what would give me pause if I was involved in the hiring at Penn State.  He might be a terrific guy and totally blameless in the rape case.  His fast-talking demeanor could be a function of enthusiasm rather than the oily sheen of a salesman.

But, beyond all that, here’s the thing: He doesn’t look to me like the kind of guy who either understands Penn State or can help heal it.  He only looks like another guy shopping his wares in the college football marketplace.  Someone else who could just as easily be here one or two years and be out the chute to another job.”


Jones believes PSU should hire an alum like Miami’s Al Golden (who’s already taken his name out of the running… for now) and former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak.

Our views?


*  Franklin would bristle every time a booster, fan or administrator told him what Paterno used to do.  He wouldn’t like that aspect of the job any more than O’Brien did.

*  An ex-Paterno player who knows the ins and outs of the Penn State Experience would probably be a much better fit, as Jones points out.

*  If Penn State hires Franklin in spite of the possibility that the rape case could turn into something ugly they will be — and should be — challenged over it.  Would such a hire show that PSU has really turned over a new leaf?  Or would it show that winning is still everything in State College (as it is most everywhere else)?

*  If PSU ignores the specter of potential problems and hires Franklin, they would be getting a good football coach and a good recruiter.  What the man has done at Vanderbilt is one for the history books.  On coaching alone, he’d be a tremendous hire.

*  If Franklin can overlook the Paterno-ites, Penn State is just the type of sleeping giant he deserves.  The guy has earned a shot at a big-time football factory (even if PSU isn’t supposed to be a big-time football factory so soon after the Sandusky scandal).


What we’d like to see happen?  It would be good for Vanderbilt and the SEC — and probably Franklin — to stick around for one more year in Nashville.  He should use the Penn State job for leverage and milk more money and better facilities from the Vandy administration, as that’s how the game is played.  If another school comes calling that doesn’t bear the scars of Penn State, then he should absolutely consider it.

On the surface, Franklin-to-Penn State looks like a fine match.  Good coach, big program.  But beneath the surface there are clearly some issues that should concern both parties.

Whether they will or not, only time will tell.





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