It’s official; Vanderbilt’s James Franklin will succeed Bill O’Brien as Penn State’s head coach after the Board of Trustees compensation committee unanimously approved his contract this morning at a 9 a.m. public conference call. Franklin becomes the 16th head coach in program history and the fifth in the last three seasons when including interim coaches Tom Bradley and Larry Johnson.
The terms of the contract will be disclosed at a 4:15 p.m. press conference today.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin said in a release. “I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It’s important to me to be a part of a University that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.
“I’m incredibly excited to get to know the students, alumni, and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the University as a whole and to the football program in particular,” Franklin added. “I’ve worked my way through every division of football and no other school boasts a fan base like we do. We Are…Penn State!!”
In his three years as Vanderbilt’s head coach, Franklin brought the SEC bottom-feeder Commodores from back-to-back two-win seasons to three of program’s six bowl appearances, ever. He also led Vandy to its first winning seasons since 1982 — following a 6-7 finish in his rookie season, Franklin’s Commodores posted 9-4 records in both 2012 and 2013. He ends his tenure at Vanderbilt with a 24-15 overall head coaching record and an 11-13 record in SEC.
On the recruiting front, Franklin brought in the country’s 71st-rated class in 2011, followed by the 29th-best class in 2012 and the 19th-best class in 2013. Penn State, in comparison, finished the scandal- and sanction-marred 2012 and 2013 seasons with the 51st- and 43rd-rated recruiting classes in the country, so Franklin actually out-recruited the Nittany Lions despite coaching at a small, historically insignificant football program. Franklin’s 2014 recruiting class currently comes in at No. 22, two spots behind Penn State’s 20th-ranked incoming class.
Vanderbilt players coached by Franklin have enjoyed an impressive degree of success in the pros, too. Tailback Zac Stacy, a 5th-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, earned the starting job for the St. Louis Rams this past season, rushing for 973 yards and 7 touchdowns in 14 games. Casey Hayward, a 2012 2nd-rounder for the Green Bay Packers, picked off six passes as a rookie on his way to the second-best pass coverage rating of any cornerback in the league through the 2012-2013 NFL season. Quarterback and 2013 graduate Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, is currently a practice squad quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In addition, star wideout Jordan Matthews is expected to be an early selection in the coming NFL Draft.
“Dr. Joyner and I have stressed that our No. 1 priority in hiring a new coach was to hire an outstanding leader for our football program, one who will continue our long tradition of student-athlete success on the field and in the classroom,” President Erickson said. “We have achieved that goal. On behalf of the University and the entire Nittany Lion Nation, I am proud to welcome James Franklin as Penn State’s 16th head football coach.
“Coach Franklin’s record of success is extraordinary, but even more impressive is his passion for not only the game of football, but also creating an atmosphere in which student-athletes can succeed. His character, work ethic, values and knowledge of the game make him an outstanding fit for our program and to lead our student-athletes.”
Fans who are searching for a “Penn State guy” to replace Joe Paterno in the long run may be disappointed by Franklin’s lack of a Nittany Lions pedigree. However, the Langhorne native is, at the very least, a Pennsylvania guy; Franklin attended Neshaminy High School, played quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, and briefly coached wide receivers at Kutztown.
For those worried about Franklin jumping to the NFL down the line (à la Bill O’Brien), it’s worth noting that he has been a college coach for his entire career, excluding a one-year stint as the Packers’ receivers coach in 2005, and turned down NFL interviews while Penn State was courting him. Prior to taking the head coaching job at Vanderbilt, Franklin served as Maryland’s offensive coordinator from 2008 to 2010, and also coached receivers for the school from 2000 to 2004. He also made stops at James Madison, Washington State, Idaho State, and Kansas State at various points in his career.
Congrats on the new job, Coach Franklin. Here’s to a new era of Penn State football.