Penn State Football: With Franklin’s 5th Anniversary On Tap, Stability is the Key
It’s kind of odd that we’re going to talk here about stability and Penn State football.
I get it. After all, James Franklin just fired a guy 355 days after he was hired, having shifted him to a different position only 13 days after his first day on the job.
And one day after the last game of his first season.
But that’s what happened last week with David Corley, who Franklin hired as a running backs coach last Jan. 12, then moved him to wide receivers coach on Jan. 25 after Josh Gattis left for Alabama.
You have to feel for him. But, only so much. Major college football is a business.
Corley is the seventh assistant coach to leave the Nittany Lion full-time coaching staff since Franklin arrived at Penn State on Jan., 11, 2014 — yes, CJK has a five-year anniversary coming up.
Corley and John Donovan were both fired; the other five left of their own volition…in most cases, anyway. (Given that Bob Shoop and PSU settled their dueling lawsuits out of court, we’ll never be totally sure.)
When Franklin hires Corley’s replacement, it will be the eighth new addition to Franklin’s staff beyond the original group of nine that started him with 60 months ago. (Wondering: How much has your office changed over the past five years?)
THE STATE OF THE NATION
Sounds like a lot of change. And compared to the old days at Penn State, it certainly is.
But, in 2019 context — for better and usually worse — it’s not so much.
• Assistant coaches are jumping the sinking ship in Ann Arbor to land in Columbus in Noah’s Ark-like pairs these days.
• Since Franklin became Penn State’s head coach 1,823 days ago, the other 13 Big Ten Conference football teams have had at least 32 different head coaches, both permanent and interim.
• Franklin, soon to be 47, is now the No. 4 tenured head coach in the Big Ten these days, behind Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz (heading into his 21st season), age 63; Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (14th season), age 44; and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (13th), age 62.
• With Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on tap for a contract extension from the Board of Trustees in the next month or so, the PSU leadership triumvirate of president Eric Barron, Barbour and Franklin has been together for five full football seasons, beginning in August 2014. (All three were hired that year — Franklin first, then Barron, then Barbour.)
This is very important, given where Penn State was from 2011-2013: Their time together ranks No. 2 overall in the Big Ten in stability. No. 1 is Northwestern, with president Morton Schapiro (hired in 2009), athletic director Jim Phillips (2008) and Pat Fitzgerald (2006). Northwestern is a private school, which I think is germane.
Barron-Barbour-Franklin had been tied at No. 2 with Ohio State for shared time of concurrent service, but when Urban Meyer resigned, the Penn State power-brokers’ moved to second all by themselves. Their shared, continuous tenure is undervalued and when looking across the Big Ten landscape, underappreciated.
THE WOOD ANNIVERSARY
This is all kinds of timely, given that this Friday will mark five years since Franklin was officially introduced as Penn State’s head coach. It will be his Wood Anniversary.
Of course, the knocking-on-wood days are over, save for the final 15 minutes of certain games. (Memo to James: Hire my buddy, Penn State sports analytics prof Dr. Andy Wiesner, as a consultant.)
Still, the 2019 season will be telling. After an inauspicious 16-14 start to his head coaching reign at Penn State (albeit it under very challenging circumstances), the Nittany Lions caught fire and went on 16-1 tear. Since then, they’ve come back to earth a bit, going 13-6 since opening the 2018 with four consecutive wins. It’s an interesting donut.
The next season — and half-decade — will truly define Franklin.
There’s no doubt that he took over Penn State during a tumultuous time and got everyone pulling the rope in the same direction — one of many catchphrases rolled out on the day he was hired. (It’s contagious: I implored my students to “go 1-0” for each test when rolling out the spring semester syllabus in my Sports Industry class today.)
ON THE RECORD
Overall, he’s done an admirable job, with a 45-21 record, a Big Ten title, three New Year’s Day appearances and an overall 2018 Beaver Stadium attendance mark that ranked No. 2 in the country in tickets sold. Conversely, that also includes a 3-12 record against Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State — all rivals in my book. ’Nuff said.
He’s overhauled Lasch Building and the recruiting process as well. He is a process-oriented guy, with an emphasis on benchmarks and best practices and systems and preparation, right down to his post-game speeches.
It’s a thoughtful, painstaking, relentless and methodical approach that doesn’t always serve him well, however, in the fourth quarter of close games, to be honest.
Overall, he has Penn State back again. In many ways.
Back to where it was on the field, where Joe Paterno left it. While Franklin is 45-21 at Penn State in five years, over his last five seasons, Paterno was 46-17, with two 11-win seasons and a Big Ten title.
I’m not comparing Joe to James, either way — so don't @ me — just their five-year marks. I get it: Different times, different challenges. Different dollars, different sense.
Franklin’s contact with Penn State runs through the 2022 season — four more years — at which point, if he is still employed by Penn State on Dec. 31, 2022, he will receive a retention bonus of $1 million to go along with his $7.25 million base salary that year.
In truth, Franklin’s five years have passed by pretty quickly. With a lot for Penn State to cheer about. But time — and #107k — waits for no man. As Franklin begins his second half-decade, his challenges are more immediate:
Finding Corley’s successor, maybe pairing that with a new offensive coordinator or co-OC and a special teams coach. Or not.
Either way, we can see a clear path to Franklin — who turns 47 on Feb. 2 — to being head coach at Penn State at age 50, and maybe beyond. It’s a notion that the coach himself may not have imagined five years ago.
COMINGS AND GOINGS
Here’s a look at the changes on his assistant coaching staffs as Franklin heads into his ninth season a head coach — three at his previous institution, Vanderbilt, and six at Penn State:
Vanderbilt — two changes after the 2011 season (6-7 record) and zero after 2012 (9-4).
Transition from Vanderbilt to Penn State — only two changes after moving to PSU following a 9-4 2013 season at Vandy.
Penn State — zero after the 2014 season (7-6); three after 2015 (7-6); zero after 2016 (11-3); four after 2017 (11-2); and, thus far, one after the 2018 season (9-4). Specifically:
Nov. 29, 2015 — Offensive coordinator John Donovan fired the day after PSU lost its regular-season finale at No. 6 Michigan State, 55-16.
Dec. 12, 2015 — Joe Moorhead hired as offensive coordinator and QB coach.
Jan. 9, 2016 — Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop left for the same position at Tennessee.
Jan. 10, 2016 — Brent Pry promoted to D-coordinator.
Jan. 11, 2016 — Offensive line coach Herb Hand left to coach the O-line at Auburn.
Jan. 13, 2016 — Matt Limegrover hired as offensive line coach.
Jan. 18, 2016 — Tim Banks hired as safeties coach.
Nov. 29, 2017 — Moorhead officially named Mississippi State’s head coach.
Dec. 1, 2017 — Charles Huff named Mississippi State’s assistant head coach and running backs coach.
Dec. 1, 2017 — Ricky Rahne named offensive coordinator; Phil Galiano promoted from a consultant’s role to special teams/assistant D-line coach; Tyler Bowen, a former PSU GA, returned to coach tight ends, after stops at Fordham and Maryland.
Jan. 12, 2018 — David Corley hired as running backs coach.
Jan. 19, 2018 — Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis leaves to be co-offensive coordinator and WR each at Alabama.
Jan. 25, 2018 — Ja’Juan Seider hired as running backs coach; Corley re-assigned to wide receivers.
Jan. 2, 2019 — One day after the Nittany Lions’ 27-24 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, Corley fired after one season on the coaching staff.