Penn State’s head coaching search was over. And then it wasn’t. And then it was again — maybe.
That’s about how this week is going. Let me explain.
A chartered plane departed University Park airport yesterday at 2:19 p.m. heading for Destin, Florida. No one was sure who was aboard, but Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has a house in Destin, which caused something of a frenzy in Penn State media circles. When the plane scheduled a return trip Wednesday night about 3 hours and 50 minutes after it landed, everyone knew it had something to do with Franklin.
But would he be on the plane heading through the darkness back to Happy Valley? There were a few interesting twists. First, the flight disappeared from the public flight log after it was initially scheduled, which indicated that someone was trying to hide its existence. It eventually reappeared, but midway through the flight, Franklin tweeted about putting his girls to bed, which seemed to hint that he wasn’t on the return trip to State College. Even Penn State historian and media-critic Lou Prato got in the mix, Tweeting that Franklin was “en route to PSU.”
Sure enough, soon after 10:30 p.m. in front of about 20 media members and a few fans, the plane landed. But Franklin didn’t get off — no future Penn State coaches did. Instead, Athletic Director David Joyner, President Rodney Erickson, and Athletic Integrity Officer Julie Del Giorno, along with three or four other people, walked through the throng of media in the terminal and refused to answer questions. Both Joyner and Erickson departed in their own vehicles from the parking lot — Joyner kept his phone up to his ear, the oldest media-avoidance trick in the book.
One thing is for sure — the majority of the Penn State search committee was not on board. Of the six member committee, I would recognize Joyner, Charmelle Green, Bob Warming, and Wally Richardson easily, and the latter three were not on the plane. Franklin reportedly interviewed for the job with the full search committee earlier this week, so it certainly wasn’t the first time Franklin had contact with Penn State.
Erickson’s presence on the trip is interesting — the President is not on the search committee, and it serves to reason that talks with Franklin were reaching the tipping point if Erickson made the trip.
Soon after the plane landed, Donnie Collins from the Scranton Times-Tribune reported that Franklin was offered the job and would decide today yes or no. Multiple outlets, including ESPN ran with this report, although Collins remained the only journalist to put his name behind the claim last night. Travis Johnson from the Centre Daily Times reported later that a source told him no offer had been made, although Collins’ story ruled the night.
All signs point to the bubble bursting today, at least if Franklin is the guy. Vanderbilt isn’t going down without a fight, though. Athletic Director David Williams said yesterday that he was in regular contact with Franklin, a man he called “the best college football coach in America.”
“I’d shave my head (to keep Franklin),” Williams said, “and I’d give him the money I saved going to the barber shop.”
Professional golfer and Vanderbilt alum Brandt Snedeker even offered Franklin free lessons if he stayed.
Now we wait. If Collins’ report is correct (and we have no reason to believe it isn’t), it should be corroborated pretty quickly this afternoon. Soon after, we’ll have a decision from Franklin, and then an official announcement. And then, finally, the media will return to the University Park airport once again to greet Penn State’s 16th head football coach.
Hopefully this time he’s on the plane.