Franklin Not Exactly the Safe Choice — but a Wise One Nonetheless
This column was originally going to be about the conservative and steady choice that Penn State made for its new football coach.
It was going to say how the university hired a very good coach, with deep Penn State roots, whom everyone could rely on to guide the program through the rest of the sanctions and beyond. It would talk about stability and steady progress.
It was going to introduce Al Golden (most probable, I thought) or Mike Munchak (strong coach. Pro Football Hall of Fame!) and discuss what assets he would bring to the program and how the Nits wouldn't miss a beat with him as coach.
Well, to put it in the succinct yet expressive words of one of my former seventh grade students: "Not!"
When university president Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner introduced James Franklin as the new coach at a new conference on Saturday afternoon, there was a palpable feeling in the room that this was no conservative choice. Penn State was swinging for the fences.
James Franklin was one of the most sought after coaches in the country and will continue to be so into the foreseeable future. Even after losing Bill O'Brien after just two years, Franklin's stong reputation with other schools and the NFL didn't matter.
Franklin's upsides and unlimited potential were just too much for Penn State to pass up.
And in Franklin's first few hectic days on campus, he has not disappointed. He's been everywhere --going to games, signing autographs, checking out the community, meeting with his team.
On the phone, too. As of this writing he brought four coaches from his Vanderbilt staff to Penn State with more likely to come. These positions will be very important to his success, especially his choices for offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and, with the departure of Larry Johnson, defensive line coach.
There are also some rumors about the return of Ron Vanderlinden, who hired Franklin at Maryland, but they are just speculation at this point.
He also got commitments from two of his 2014 Vandy recruits to switch instead to Penn State with possibly more of them to come as well.
(That must be an interesting phone call to a recruit: "I know that we recruited you and you are committed to Vanderbilt, but, um, how would you like to play for Penn State?")
At the press conference, Franklin was confident, well-spoken, funny, animated, and forceful. From all that was written afterwards, everyone was impressed.
He talked about his deep roots in Pennsylvania and his pride at being named the head coach at Penn State. He talked about how a college football team is like a family and how everyone was important and almost like a son.
He talked about recruiting, which is one of his major strong points, and about dominating the state in recruiting. He also said that it was the best day of his life, but he must have caught a look from his wife, Fumi, and he quickly changed that to, "Third, third best day of my life." Everyone laughed.
The press release listed Franklin's many accomplishments, but one of them jumped off the page. Vanderbilt beat Georgia, Tennessee, and Florida last year. Yes, I know that Tennessee and Florida had down years (for them), but try saying that sentence aloud: "Vanderbilt had nine wins last season, including victories over Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee." Before 2013, that had never been said before.
One of the impressions that I always got from Bill O'Brien was that, win or lose, everything could be improved. Nothing was good enough yet. I got that same feeling about Franklin. He emanates that same competitive fire that O'Brien did, and it seems even closer to the surface, if that's possible.
When O'Brien first arrived from New England with his giant playbook, there was great anticipation about getting the first looks at his offense in the Blue-White game. There were guys in the press box drawing and analyzing formations and plays while trying to decide which of the three quarterbacks would be the best fit.
I don't think that will be so much the case with Franklin. He will run a pro-style system (and we already know the quarterback), but I think the emphasis will be more about the way Penn State plays and about the Lions adding another level of enthusiasm and aggressiveness to their game.
Franklin's former players at Vandy spoke about what he did for them -- he taught them how to win. Penn State players already know some things about winning, and the 15 victories they posted in the last two years are a huge tribute to them and to Bill O'Brien.
Now, the question is; can Penn State fight its way back into that thin air of league and national championship discussions?
Erickson and Joyner obviously think so.
That's why they hired James Franklin.