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James Franklin to Texas A&M? What He Said 50 Days Ago

by on October 12, 2017 7:00 PM

CJF to A&M?

Not likely. At all.

“Penn State officials are preparing for Texas A&M to make a run at hiring James Franklin should Kevin Sumlin and the Aggies part ways,” Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported on Thursday afternoon.

Which could be true.

Note, however, that Dodd didn’t report which officials or other circumstances.

And right now, we can’t ask Franklin himself what he thinks. The fourth-year Penn State head coach is on the road recruiting in — of all places — Texas right now.

But even if asked, his reply would likely consist of three words: “Michigan, Michigan, Michigan.”

Not that we didn’t see the ’ole “The Aggies Want James” rumor coming. I did. And wrote about it on August 20, just after he got a big contact extension, worth a maximum of $35 million if he stays at Penn State until Dec. 31, 2022. Read about it here. 

Three days later and 50 days ago, on August 23, during a media mini-scrum after a Penn State summer practice, I specifically asked CJF if The New Deal meant he wasn’t leaving any time soon.

I knew Texas A&M — and, potentially, Notre Dame — would be looming on the horizon. And I wanted to get Franklin’s take on the contract before the season got into full swing. (It is also interesting to note that Sumlin’s agent is Trace Armstrong, who happens to be Franklin’s agent as well. He's Urban Meyer's agent, too. Read about Armstrong here.)

WHAT FRANKLIN SAID

So I asked Franklin the following questions — two, because he kind of stalled after the initial query, a fairly common (and smart) tactic on his part, which gains him a few seconds to gather his thoughts.

The exchange and his 52-second response went as follows. (Watch it here, beginning at the 8:38 mark.)

Question: “Hey, James: Does the contract really cement in your mind that you’re good and happy and set until 2022?”

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Franklin: “From what specifically are you taking about?”

Question: “That that’s out of the way and you are comfortable that this is where you are at the next six years?”

Franklin: “I think, for me, it’s about stability. We have started to build something here that I think can really be special. And it provides stability, obviously, for my family. But it also provides stability for my assistant coaches. It provides stability for their families. It brings stability for our players. It provides stability in recruiting. All those types of things.

“I think you can guys know: I still believe that we still have a lot of work to do in a lot of different areas. But I think we’ve made tremendous progress. And this allows us to continue in that direction and on that trend.

“So, I feel great…I think you guys know how I feel about this place, and blessed and fortunate to be here. But we still have a lot of work to do.”

Franklin didn’t answer my question. And he never said he’s staying for six years.

But he did say why he’s staying for now.

DEFINING STABILITY

One of Franklin’s greatest traits is the loyalty he engenders from those who work with him and for him in Lasch Building.

Franklin has made 12 stops in a career that has covered 18 job titles, 12 coaching positions, 11 towns and cities, 10 leagues and conferences, eight states and two countries.

Along the way, he has not only collected experience, but also key assistants and support staff. At least 14 of Franklin's current coaches and administrative staffers worked with and/or for him prior to his arrival at Penn State. (For the complete list of 14, click here.) While none of that group has been at Penn State for longer than four years, many have known Franklin for a decade and more.

For instance, current defensive coordinator Brent Pry was an assistant coach at East Stroudsburg when Franklin was the team's starting quarterback back in the 1990s. Larry Lewis, a consultant on the PSU staff this season, was the head coach at Idaho State in 1999, when Franklin was the wide receivers coach. Then there’s Franklin’s Yoda, strength and conditioning guru Dwight Galt, who has been with him through stops at Maryland, Vanderbilt and now Penn State.

Those ties and tie-ins create a familiarity that helps Franklin streamline his operations, philosophies and staff meetings. They also create great loyalty. Which is a two-way street.

Yes, Franklin fired John Donovan. And he and Bob Shoop parted ways in stressed fashion — for myriad reasons on both sides, I believe.

But for Franklin to leave for Texas A&M and return to the SEC not only impacts him, but those who work for him as well. His assistants and staffers have been married here, purchased homes here, had babies born here, have a 10-minute commute here, have parents and in-laws and other relatives living a reasonable drive from here, have put down roots here. For every single one of them, being at Penn State is the best job they’ve ever had in the business. In those key ways and more, Texas A&M wouldn't be better.

That goes for the Penn Staters he’s hired to his staff as well, like assistant coach Terry Smith, recruiting assistants Andrew Goodman and Justin King, and grad assistant Matt Fleischacker.

And, critically, that’s also true of Franklin, who has close friends and his sister’s family nearby, in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and East Stroudsburg.

Important non-football items like this kept Joe Paterno at Penn State, when Michigan and the Steelers and the Patriots and even Miami (Fla.) tugged at him. Franklin is similar in this regard.

Franklin and Paterno are similar in another way as well. These days, in town and on campus, James Franklin likes being James Franklin. He gives rides to students in his golf cart, buys them smoothies in the HUB, frequents the local farmers markets, is a regular at DD with his daughters and is one of Champs Downtown’s best customers. He is a fixture in the community. His community.

THEN THERE’S FOOTBALL

Plus, on the field, there’s this:

The Nittany Lions are 15-1 over their last 16 games, are defending Big Ten Champs, have a(nother) great recruiting class set to sign in December, boast the leading candidate for the Heisman and are more than holding their own in college football’s toughest division. Nothing Franklin likes better than beating Urban. Unless it will be beating Harbaugh for the first time next Saturday.

Franklin could leave. But over the past 1,370 days since he was hired on Jan. 11, 2014, he’s made the Valley Happy again. And he’s happy as well, his fussing over improvements at Lasch over the summer, extended contract extension talks and the like, notwithstanding.

That doesn’t mean that his agent, Raymond Lester Armstrong II — whose 15 years in the NFL as a bruising defensive end belies his seemingly prim-and-proper, likely soft gentle negotiator name — won’t use the situation to strong-arm a few more bucks out of Penn State’s brass.

But when all is said is done, look for Franklin to stay.

He is 45 years old. Young enough to still be crazy ambitious. But also smart enough to know that for the time being, at least, Penn State is the right place — with his paycheck the right size — to channel to it.



Mike Poorman has covered Penn State football since 1979, and for StateCollege.com since the 2009 season. His column appears on Mondays and Fridays. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/PSUPoorman. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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