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Ben State Football: No James Franklin Isn't On The Hot Seat

by on August 29, 2016 10:50 AM

"Is James Franklin on the hot seat?"

That's probably the one question I get asked the most, especially as the summer slowly ends and fall creeps into the picture. The fans who follow Penn State 13 days out of the year are particularly interested in this point of conversation and not without reason. Franklin is 14-12 after two seasons at the helm and for all the excitement he brought to the table it's not as though anyone has been blown away by the product on the field.

But as far as the hot seat, probably not.

The whole concept is admittedly an odd one in the first place. It boils down a coaching job to something black and white without a ton of nuance. It's not as though you can look at a coach's record and automatically assess the situation. In some cases sure, but not all, probably not even most.

Consider this:

In 2014 Penn State went 7-6 with a one point loss to Maryland and a two point loss to Illinois with both of those teams finishing 7-6 and 6-7 respectively. It's hard to really say that Penn State should have lost either game, especially true since the Nittany Lions had the lead in each game in the final minute, but ultimately those losses came against teams on the same tier as the Nittany Lions.

That doesn't make those losses "ok" in any conventional sense, but Penn State has been on the other side of that coin more than a few times the past few seasons. It was simply bound to come back around. If nothing else Penn State is not a better or worse program with or without those games.

In 2015 the Nittany Lions once again went 7-6 with a loss to Northwestern being the "worst" of the bunch, especially with a failed third-and-short and a dropped interception that would have won the game. Instead it was another last second field goal erasing a last minute lead. Preventable, but Franklin didn't drop a gift of a game winning turnover after going down 20-7 at the half.

The rest of the losses are about what you would expect. A close game at Michigan, a competitive game at Ohio State, in total six losses against ranked teams at the time of the game. Add in Temple, a team that turned out to be far better than any Penn State fan wanted to admit and that's another eventually ranked opponent adding to the loss column. And there's the bowl game, welcoming in an inexperienced Trace McSorley at halftime.

And we haven't even touched on the scholarship situation. The entire sanction era has gone so well for Penn State that nearly everyone forgets the team has been playing without a leg and with a hand tied behind its back. Something that puts last second losses and near wins over the eventual national champions in perspective just a bit.

The point here isn't to exonerate Franklin of questionable decisions and a far from a perfect ride through the past two seasons, but with benefit of hindsight it's hard to really say that Penn State truly botched otherwise promising seasons. If Penn State beat Ohio State in double overtime, won against Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern that's an 18-8 record. And sure Penn State would have been a 10-win team in 2014, but everyone goes undefeated when they're given the retroactive benefit of winning all the games they just barely lost.

In the end the question comes back to the alleged hot seat, and the answer is ultimately a two-parter. As it stands today Franklin isn't in danger of losing his job, Sandy Barbour and he are very much on the same page. When she says that the product on the field isn't where anyone wants it to be, that's as much a statement of reality than an indictment on the job Franklin has done. There is after all a difference between saying the kitchen needs to be cleaned, and you're the one who made the mess.

But from this season until his final at Penn State it will be a question of progress. So in that light he's very much on the hot seat if being on the hot seat includes getting held to the standard of moving the program forward. Something that so far has been a two steps forward, one step back process.

The question now of course is what acceptable progress looks like. There is a very real possibility that Penn State performs better, with more consistency and a greater threat to opponents, but doesn't actually win more games. The schedule is the perfect storm for a playoff run with a different team, but this Nittany Lion group isn't the one to take advantage of that.

So if Penn State goes 7-6 or 8-5 this year it will be about how things actually looked more than what the final record says that determines if the seat is getting warmer or not.

But right now James Franklin isn't on the hot seat, and unless the wheels come completely off, he won't be for quite some time.



Ben Jones covers Penn State football and basketball for StateCollege.com. He's on Twitter as @Ben_Jones88.
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