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Penn State Football: New PSU Athletic Director Will Be Franklin’s Fifth in Four Years

by on June 26, 2014 7:45 PM

James Franklin gets an A – with one incomplete -- for working with his ADs over the past half-decade.

There certainly have been a lot of them.

Whoever Penn State hires as its new athletic director will be Franklin’s fifth AD in a little more than four years.

And for the most part, the previous athletic directors have loved this guy.

One AD hired him as Maryland’s head coach-in-waiting – only to have her successor renege on that promise. A third hired him as Vanderbilt’s head coach. A fourth hired him as Penn State’s head coach. And athletic director No. 5 will soon be his new boss at PSU.

All that has happened since Thursday, Feb. 6, 2009, the day he was tabbed as Maryland football’s next head coach. But, for Franklin, next never happened – at least not with the Terrapins.

Franklin is used to change, that’s for sure. But save for that second Maryland athletic director – Kevin Anderson – he’s accustomed to very strong and positive one-on-one, personal relationships with his boss. That will be key in the coming months and years, since Franklin is really the triple lynchpin for the revitalization of the Nittany Lion football program, the #107kStrong refilling of Beaver Stadium and his service as the primary ATM for the $115-million annual budget of the PSU athletic department.


Debbie Yow, the AD at Maryland from 1994-2010 and now at N.C. State, was the first of three athletic directors to hire Franklin as head football coach. Sort of.

At Maryland, she and Franklin were very tight. In February 2009, she named Franklin the head coach-in-waiting to replace veteran coach Ralph Friedgen, who  had a 64-36 record from 2001-08 at College Park (and was 75-50 in 10 seasons). At the time, Franklin was the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach heading into his seventh season on the Terps’ staff and a hot commodity in the pro and college coaching ranks. Still a wunderkid in his 30s, he was promised $1 million from the school if he was not named to succeed Friedgen by Jan. 2, 2012.

But almost exactly four years ago, on June 26, 2010, Yow left Maryland for N.C. State -- leaving Franklin in the lurch. Anderson, Yow’s successor and a former athletic director at Army, disliked coach-in-waiting agreements and said there were no guarantees for succession. Franklin left for Vanderbilt in December 2010, and Friedgen got the boot from Anderson.

Franklin’s new boss, Vandy athletic director David Williams, liked Franklin as much as Yow did. Williams was Franklin’s internal champion, recruiting helicopter financier and program-building partner. (Williams was rewarded handsomely for it, too; he was the No. 1 paid AD in the country in 2013, with a salary of $3,239,678, according to USA Today). He remains a close friend of Franklin’s.

In the days before Franklin left Vanderbilt, Williams said, “I’d shave my head (to keep Franklin), and I’d give him the money I saved going to the barber shop.”


The guy who subsequently hired Franklin away from Williams and Vanderbilt – Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner -- already had a bald noggin. Joyner led the search committee for Penn State’s successor to the departed Bill O’Brien. It was a coaching job that came with a first-year salary of $4.3 million. Joyner, happily and emphatically, became Franklin’s fourth AD in 44 months.

In the hiring process, Yow’s recommendation carried a lot of weight with Joyner and Penn State officials.

“We used contacts and people that knew James closely,” Joyner said, “including officials and administrators from Vanderbilt, including Debbie Yow, who gave a resounding, resounding positive on James and his character and how he approaches situations, and her feelings after working with him and knowing him for 17 years.”

Franklin took the job knowing that Rodney Erickson would step down as Penn State’s president no later than June 30 and that very likely Joyner would not be too far behind. Eric Barron had yet to be named as Erickson’s successor (that would come a month later). On the day he was introduced as Penn State’s head coach, Franklin was asked if he had any trepidations about taking the job knowing that he didn’t know who his long-term bosses would be.

“I was completely upfront and honest with all my concerns and things I was excited about,” Franklin said in January. “They were completely upfront and honest about all their concerns and things they were excited about. … I think with the right plan, and the right people, and the discussions we had, what I was sold on and what I believe is that Penn State has a plan and has a purpose and has a certain type of individual that they want to bring here that is going to be attracted to this institution.

“Hopefully,” Franklin added, “we’re in a position where we’re able to have these conversations for a very long time. But the plan was and the discussion was that Penn State is going to attract the best and the brightest and people with the same values. So that’s what made me very, very comfortable.”

Here’s a more detailed look at the recent ADs for whom Franklin has worked, with recent comments by Franklin – many made while on the 2014 Coaches Caravan:


Yow was Franklin’s boss: 2000 to 2004, 2008 to June 26, 2010. Yow was at Maryland for 16 years -- longer than the tenure of the five previous Terp athletic directors combined -- before leaving for N.C. State. She was the first female AD at Maryland, N.C. State and the ACC, and oversaw 20 national championship teams while at Maryland.

Franklin said, on the caravan in Washington, D.C.: “I think it's so important that you have that type of (strong) partnership and mentorship. Debbie was (that role) early on, and Debbie is tough. She is. She’s tough. But I always thought she was fair. I always thought she was really, really smart. I always thought she was really calculated. And I always thought she gave really good advice. So she has been a really great resource for me my entire career and still will be.

“Debbie Yow, to this day when I talk to her, she asks about my daughters. And I ask about Dr. Bill, her husband. We have those types of relationships. I think it’s critical. I think it’s critical to the relationship for football. I think it’s critical for the health of the entire athletic department.”

Franklin said, on the caravan about the concept of a head coach-in-waiting: “I think in a lot of ways it makes sense, but it has to be for a very, very specific situation. After going through that situation, I probably would not do it again. But on the same hand, because I went through those situations, Ralph (Friedgen) was great in terms of involving me in the decision-making process and why he did things and how he did things. Debbie was really involved in those things as well. So, although I probably wouldn’t want to go through that again, I learned invaluable experience by going through it. Again, like I said, I’m grateful for the opportunity because the other thing is, whether it worked out or not, people started looking at me and putting me in a different perspective from that experience.”


Anderson was Franklin’s boss: Sept. 7, 2010 to Dec. 16, 2010. Anderson replaced Yow, then announced that the signed agreement for Franklin to eventually replace Friedgen guaranteed nothing. Anderson subsequently fired Friedgen after Anderson’s first year on the job. His main hires since taking the job have flopped. In three seasons, football’s Randy Edsell is 13-24 overall and 6-18 in the ACC, while basketball’s Mark Turgeon has been 59-43 overall and just 23-29 in the ACC. Maryland joins the Big Ten this fall.

Franklin said, in an interview with while on the caravan: “Everybody that comes into a leadership position, they kind of have their own plan of where they want to go and how they want to attack things. And I respect him for that. (Nixing the coach-in-waiting deal) was a decision that he made. Fortunately I had some opportunities at that time and was able to go to Vanderbilt -- which, like always, there’s a blessing in disguise. That turned out to be an unbelievable experience for me and another opportunity to grow professionally.”


Williams was Franklin’s boss: Dec. 17, 2010 to Jan. 9, 2014. Williams led the search committee that hired Franklin, who personified Williams’ quest for a big-time football program. For much of Franklin’s tenure, Williams wore many hats and was Franklin’s go-to guy to get things done. Williams had a wide power base. During Franklin’s tenure, he was vice chancellor for university affairs and athletics, general counsel and university secretary for Vanderbilt and its medical center, as well as a tenured law professor.

Franklin said, on the day he was hired by Penn State: “David Williams, the athletics director, was a tremendous mentor and leader. I’ll be forever grateful to him.”

Franklin said, on the caravan tour in Washington, D.C.: “David Williams is the same way (as Yow). Really, really smart. Vanderbilt is a complex place and a sophisticated place. Together, we were able to come up with a plan that worked. There really hadn’t been a plan in 30 years there that had worked. I don’t think there’s any way else to do it. The head coach and the AD are going to have to work together to build a successful program. It has to be that way. Those guys will be mentors, those guys will be friends for the rest of my life. Not just because of how they were for me professionally, but how they were with my family. I would go to David Williams’ house for dinner with his family.”


Joyner was Franklin’s boss: Jan. 10, 2014 to present. Joyner – an orthopedic surgeon by trade, who was on the Board of Trustees that fired Joe Paterno -- was appointed under the dark cloud of the Sandusky scandal. The two brightest moments of his 32-month tenure have been the hirings of Bill O’Brien and Franklin. O’Brien and now Franklin have expressed frustration over the need for upgrades in the football program.

Franklin said, in a press release when Joyner’s retirement as of Aug. 1 was announced last week: “I will forever be grateful to Dave Joyner for this tremendous opportunity he presented to me and my family. He cares about Penn State as much as anyone I have met and has great passion for the University and its mission. He has been an unbelievable resource and has been very supportive of me, our student-athletes and the football program.”

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