Could James Franklin Leave Penn State For USC?
Update November 20: James Franklin briefly addressed the rumors linking him to USC’s head coaching job at his weekly press conference on Tuesday.
Although Feldman and Mandel praised him for his big personality and love for the spotlight, Franklin resorted to his normal, passive interactions with the media when asked about the USC rumors.
“It’s that time of year when all this stuff happens,” Franklin said. “Like always, we’re completely focused on Maryland. I don’t think it’s fair or right to even talk about that job.”
Original Story: Be careful what you wish for, Penn State fans. Just weeks after “Fire Franklin” cheers made their return to Beaver Stadium for the first time in two years, some reporters think Penn State head coach James Franklin could leave Happy Valley on his own accord.
As USC enters the last week of the season still fighting for bowl eligibility, Franklin seems like the Trojans’ most viable option to replace current head coach Clay Helton, according to college football reporters Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel.
The two spit-balled the idea for nearly 15 minutes on their podcast The Audible Monday evening, echoing speculation from Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples, Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel, and Feldman himself, who first entertained the idea on Dual Threat With Ryen Russillo last week.
Feldman and Mandel cited Franklin’s animated “salesman” personality as the primary reason he could potentially make the move across the country. They even went as far as to compare him to former Trojans head coach Pete Carroll.
“There are a lot of coaches out there. James Franklin is the one that would be a no-brainer,” Mandel said. “I know people think he’s overrated, but I think they’d agree he’s an upgrade over [Helton]. He has a big personality that would do well in that market.”
Feldman and Mandel said that big personality would come in handy in reselling USC to Los Angeles’ football fans, given the Rams’ return and resurgence and the optimism surrounding crosstown rival UCLA.
Other hot coaches Feldman and Mandel believe USC should have on its radars are Iowa State’s Matt Campbell and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm.
Even though more than a few fans have ambitiously called for his job this season, rumors involving Franklin leaving Happy Valley should come as a surprise to most. He’s under contract with Penn State until 2022 after signing a monster extension worth more than $30 million last August. And as he attempts to take his team from “great” to “elite,” Franklin appears invested in program for the long run.
“We have started to build something here that I think can really be special,” he said in August after signing his extension and becoming the fourth highest-paid coach in the country at the time. “It provides stability for my family, but it also provides stability for my assistant coaches, it provides stability for their families, it provide stabilities for our players, it provides stability in recruiting, all of those types of things.”
However, despite Franklin’s apparent job satisfaction, Feldman and Mandel believe the USC job and Hollywood’s siren songs might be tantalizing enough to draw Franklin away from his home state. They also noted that USC has the financial flexibility to buy Franklin out of his current contract with Penn State. He’s owed more than $23 million in guaranteed money over the next four seasons.
“Here’s the reality: If you’re the USC head coach, you have by far, the best job and best program in the conference,” said Feldman, who added Franklin currently has the third best job in his division. “You have the best recruits in your backyard, manageable academics to get them in, and the best facilities. The Pac-12 South is also at its worst and wide open.”
“Penn State fans never fully embraced Franklin,” Mandel said. “They’re 8-3, and that’s not a bad season by any means, but I’m sure a lot of people think it should’ve been better.
“You can stick around and continue to butt heads with Ohio State and Michigan, and try to keep winning [recruits] over. Or you can go to a place that’s excited to win and in Hollywood where you’re going to get the royal treatment the minute you get off the plane.”
The last time Franklin was connected to new job rumors was last fall when CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd reported Penn State was preparing for Texas A&M to make a move at him. Nothing came out of those reports, but granted, there was a much different feel around the program — even though that was only 13 months ago. Penn State was 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country when Dodd’s report surfaced.
After consecutive New Year’s Six bowl appearances, USC has underwhelmed all season. Sitting at 5-6, the Trojans play No. 3 Notre Dame this weekend. They could miss the postseason in a non-sanctions year for the first time since 2000. Feldman reported that former USC players complained about the current team looked like it had a “fake swagger” and “no juice” in its loss to crosstown rival UCLA over the weekend.
Although they believe Franklin makes the most sense for the Trojans on paper, both Feldman and Mandel agreed that he might be too far out of USC’s sphere, which has historically included coaches with connections to the program. They noted Jack Del Rio, Hue Jackson, and Jeff Fisher as likely hires that would fit the mold USC has seemed to favor in the past.
You can listen to the full podcast below. Feldman and Mandel discuss Franklin-to-USC rumors from 2:37 to 15:10.
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