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Swapping O’Brien for Franklin, by the Numbers

Now that James Franklin is officially Bill O’Brien’s replacement at the helm of the Nittany Lions football program, there are sure to be plenty of comparisons between the two coaches in the coming year. Let’s take a look at Franklin’s résumé compared to his predecessor:


Both coaches bounced around the NCAA and NFL for a bit before settling into their respective head coaching positions. It’s interesting to note that each coach has a deep offensive background, as both Franklin and O’Brien spent the majority of their time as position coaches focused on the offensive side of the ball. Take a look at each coach’s career path below:


  • Brown University TE/ILB coach (1993-1994),
  • Georgia Tech Graduate Assistant/RB coach/offensive coordinator/QB coach (1995-2002),
  • University of Maryland RB coach (2003-2004),
  • Duke offensive coordinator (2005-2006),
  • New England Patriots offensive assistant/WR coach/QB coach/offensive coordinator (2007-2011)
  • Penn State head coach (2012-2013)


  • Kutztown WR coach (1995)
  • East Stroudsburg DB coach (1996)
  • Roskilde Kings offensive coordinator (1996)
  • James Madison WR coach (1997)
  • Washington State TE coach (1998)
  • Idaho State WR coach (1999)
  • University of Maryland WR coach (2000-2004)
  • Green Bay Packers WR coach (2005)
  • Kansas State offensive coordinator/QB coach (2006-2007)
  • University of Maryland offensive coordinator (2008-2010)
  • Vanderbilt head coach (2011-2013)

Franklin definitely bounced around a lot in his early years, but seemed to find a home at Maryland in his eight seasons there. O’Brien and Franklin actually crossed paths at Maryland in 2003 and 2004 as position coaches under head coach Ralph Friedgen.

As head coaches, Franklin and O’Brien have posted similar records during their brief stints:

O’Brien: 15-9 overall record, 0-0 in bowl games (undefeated, amirite?), .625 winning percentage

Franklin: 24-15 overall record, 2-1 in bowl games, .615 winning percentage

The records don’t immediately jump out at you, but neither coach walked into a promising situation when they took they’re respective jobs. Vanderbilt had gone 2-10 right before Franklin took over, and we all know what O’Brien had to deal with when he took control.

Like O’Brien, Franklin was able to turn the team around almost immediately, as the Commodores were bowl eligible for the next three years (2011: 6-7, 2012: 9-4, 2013: 9-4). This is even more impressive considering Vanderbilt competes in the SEC, which is widely considered the toughest conference in college football. So while O’Brien had to overcome extraordinary circumstances at Penn State, Franklin is definitely no stranger to adversity either.


Here are the recruiting class rankings for each coach, according to Rivals:

Under Franklin:

  • 2011: #71
  • 2012: #29
  • 2013: #19
  • 2014: #26

Under O’Brien:

  • 2012: #51
  • 2013: #43
  • 2014: #24

There is no doubt both coaches are excellent recruiters. Obviously, O’Brien had the inherent disadvantage with the sanctions, but Franklin has reeled in three straight top 30 recruiting classes (which includes 14 four-star recruits) in the toughest conference in college football. Franklin was also was a recruiting coordinator during his time at Maryland, so he’s somewhat familiar recruiting in the northeast. He even almost got former Penn State cornerback Stephon Morris to go to Maryland. Indeed, there’s certainly no doubting his charisma.

Coaching Ability

Perhaps one of the bigger discrepancies between each coach is their respective records against top 25 teams. O’Brien went 3-2 against top 25 teams in two years, while Franklin was a measly 1-8 against top 25 teams in three years. However, that can be chalked up to the fact that Franklin was facing top 10 teams week in and week out, which is not the case in the Big Ten these days.

Also (just by looking at some numbers), Franklin and O’Brien call fairly similar games. Penn State threw the ball 409 (!!!) times last year to Vanderbilt’s 376. On the ground, Penn State ran the ball 501 times, while Vanderbilt ran the ball 504 times. Obviously Franklin’s coaching philosophy could very well change when the dust settles, but it’s assuring to know that the game plan won’t change much going forward — especially with freshman phenom Christian Hackenberg under center.

Penn State fans can also rejoice over the fact that Franklin went for it on fourth down 28 times last year (compared to O’Brien’s 24), and converted on 22 of those attempts. At least we won’t have to wane off a “kicking is for QUITTERS”-type coach.


It’s not that hard to see the similarities between Franklin and O’Brien’s careers. Both spent a lot of time crafting their skill set in college and the pros, and both have turned around programs through great coaching and recruiting. So while some fans may not be completely on board with a Franklin hire, just remember: O’Brien and Franklin don’t seem to be all that different on paper.

About the Author

Greg Schlosser

Greg is a senior majoring in energy engineering at Penn State. He is a big fan of Pittsburgh sports and sandwiches with coleslaw and french fries. You can email him at [email protected] or find him at the Phyrst drunkenly requesting the band to play "One Headlight."


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