Grading The Committee: Assessing The James Franklin Hire
For the second time in two years, the Penn State athletic department had to organize a search committee and hire a new head coach for the football team. Two years ago, a relatively unknown NFL assistant named Bill O’Brien was the last man standing when the dust settled. This time around, the Nittany Lions landed one of the hottest names in the football world, convincing Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin to ditch the Commodores and replace O’Brien at Penn State. Let’s take a look back at the hiring process now that the hire has been made.
Timeliness — When it comes to timeliness, it would be nearly impossible for the committee to do worse than it did in 2012, when it took 57 days following Joe Paterno’s firing for O’Brien to be named his successor. This search took just eight days, as O’Brien left the team late on the night of December 31. Dave Joyner said that it would be a “matter of days, not weeks” for Penn State’s next head coach to be hired, and he meant business. A short list of candidates seemed to be in place soon after O’Brien headed to Houston, interviews were conducted quickly, and the Nittany Lions finished up an efficient search.
Cachet — You can call it prestige or brand value or clout or stature, but there’s no denying that it’s important to hire someone that turns heads. This is especially true when you take into consideration the tradition and historical standing of Penn State in the world of college football. O’Brien didn’t fit the bill when it came to this category, but there’s no doubt that Franklin does.
What he was able to do at Vanderbilt thrusted Franklin into the spotlight of football coaching searches. He might not be coming from an overwhelmingly impressive program, but Franklin transformed the Commodores’ football team and his name was tossed around in just about every coaching search worth talking about on the college level. Even better, Franklin was said to be a candidate for both the Washington Redskins’ and Cleveland Browns’ openings. So when it comes to cachet, Franklin is overflowing with it.
Recruiting — To put it quite simply, if you can recruit at Vanderbilt, you can recruit at Penn State. When Franklin first arrived at Vandy, the school had just pulled in a recruiting class ranked #71 in the nation with no recruited earning more than three stars. In just three seasons since then, Franklin has managed to recruit classes ranking #29, #19, and #22, earning three, five, and, six four-star recruits over that period. The Nittany Lions got a very solid recruiter in Franklin who should have no problem competing with the best in the business now that he’s at Penn State. Maybe he’ll even convince the trustees to buy a helicopter.
Image — You would think that the search committee would have wanted a coach with a squeaky clean image considering the events that have transpired at Penn State since November of 2011. Four Vanderbilt players were dismissed for their alleged involvement in a June 23 rape of a 21-year old girl. Franklin and other Commodore coaches were subpoenaed for texts between them and the players. I should be clear to note that there is nothing that has been released that implicates Franklin in the crime. He has been cleared by the District Attorney’s office despite talk of a possible cover-up that involved coaches, but the very fact that his name came up in a rape investigation involving his players should have been at least a small red flag for the committee. Penn State sent its brass, including its athletic integrity officer, to Franklin’s home on Wednesday, and he was undoubtedly vetted with proper scrutiny.
Overall — Penn State landed the biggest name of the college football coaching search season in Franklin. He doesn’t have a ton of experience as a head coach, notching just three years at Vanderbilt, but if you’re a believer in “quality over quantity” than Franklin is the perfect hire. He brought Vanderbilt from obscurity to competitiveness and now enters the Penn State program looking to continue what O’Brien started. The search committee acted swiftly, was seemingly in control throughout the entire process, and was able to corral one of its top two choices.
For that, Joyner and his crew have earned themselves an A.