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James Franklin Ranked As Third-Best Head Coach In College Football By The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman

The Athletic‘s Bruce Feldman released his ranking of the 25 best head coaches in college football on Thursday, and Penn State football’s James Franklin ranked third on the list.

Franklin was only topped by Alabama’s Nick Saban, who Feldman described as “the best to ever do it in college football,” and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney in these rankings.

“The 48-year-old Franklin has done impressive work at his two coaching stops [Vanderbilt and Penn State], and both were really, really uphill climbs,” Feldman wrote. “At Penn State, he took over a program still reeling from hefty sanctions and thrust into arguably the toughest division in college football.”

As Feldman notes, Franklin’s record with the Nittany Lions is 42-11 over the past four seasons. His winning percentage in that time is among the highest in the nation. Penn State earned a spot in a New Year’s Six bowl in three of those four years, and the team capped off its third 11-win season since 2016 with a victory over Memphis in the Cotton Bowl. Franklin also guided the team to a Big Ten title and Rose Bowl bid in 2016 before winning the 2017 Fiesta Bowl against Washington.

Despite the fact that Penn State hasn’t qualified for the College Football Playoff under Franklin’s direction, Feldman placed Franklin ahead of LSU’s Ed Orgeron (No. 4), Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley (No. 6), and Georgia’s Kirby Smart (No. 7) — coaches who have won conference and national titles since 2016 — because of his track record in both Happy Valley and at Vanderbilt, where he served as head coach from 2011-2013.

“He worked wonders at Vanderbilt, leading the Commodores to Top 25 poll finishes in two of his three seasons,” Feldman said. “Keep in mind, Vandy hadn’t finished in the Top 25 for more than 60 years before Franklin’s arrival. Since he left, Vandy has had six consecutive losing seasons and is 27-47.”

Franklin, who recently agreed to a six-year contract extension with Penn State, is one of five Big Ten coaches to crack Feldman’s top 25. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is the conference’s second-highest rated coach at No. 13, and he’s followed by Minnesota’s PJ Fleck (No. 15), Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh (No. 18), and Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst (No. 19).

Ohio State’s Ryan Day was left off this list because Feldman excluded coaches with fewer than two seasons of experience as a head coach.

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About the Author

Mikey Mandarino

In the most upsetting turn of events, Mikey graduated from Penn State with a digital & print journalism degree in the spring of 2020. He covered Penn State football and served as an editor for Onward State from 2018 until his graduation. Mikey is from Bedminster, New Jersey, so naturally, he spends lots of time yelling about all the best things his home state has to offer. Mikey also loves to play golf, but he sucks at it because golf is really hard. If you, for some reason, feel compelled to see what Mikey has to say on the internet, follow him on Twitter @Mikey_Mandarino. You can also get in touch with Mikey via his big-boy email address: [email protected]

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