Franklin vows to be at Penn State 'for long haul'

Franklin vows to be at Penn State 'for long haul'

Franklin on recruiting: 'We are going to dominate the state'

January 11, 2014, 8:15 pm
Share This Post

James Franklin will be Penn State's fourth head coach since 1950. (USA Today Images)

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Given his incredible success in three years at a formerly bottom-of-the-barrel football program at Vanderbilt, there's not much to dislike about James Franklin.

Infectious personality? Check. Proven winner? Yep. Charismatic and driven recruiter? Indeed.

Franklin, who was formally introduced Saturday as Penn State's next head coach, is considered by many to be a home run hire and a hit to the Penn State faithful, clearly noticeable on Twitter and message boards.

However, many votes of confidence have been seemingly shadowed by a "but..." — one that had to do with Franklin's long-term commitment to the football program and surrounding community.

But, if Franklin's resolute showing at Saturday evening's press conference was any indication, those with concerns about the new coach's investment in Penn State football should be at ease.

"We're going to build [this program] the right way, and we're going to build it for the long haul," Franklin said with resolve. "We (his family) plan on being here for a very, very long time. This is my dream job. This is where I want to be."

Franklin, 41, doesn't have any direct connections to Penn State. He's never coached in the Big Ten and joked about his experience at a Penn State football camp in 11th grade, finding out from then-quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell that he wasn't good enough to play under center for the Nittany Lions.

Instead, Franklin, who was born and raised in Langhorne, Pa. and attended Neshaminy High School, went on to quarterback East Stroudsburg for four years from 1991 to 1994.

Even though he never attended Penn State, Franklin still views his arrival in Happy Valley as a homecoming of sorts.

"I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart and so excited to be here," Franklin said. "I think I'm the right guy to come back and unite this state. Unite this state and bring this program back to where I think it can be."

That Pennsylvania connection wasn't present with Penn State's last head coach.

After 46 years of Joe Paterno at the helm, those who filled Beaver Stadium every home weekend expected not only wins and academic integrity, but also an emphasis on stability when Bill O'Brien entered the fold.

But O'Brien, a determined coach with a wealth of NFL experience before taking the job at Penn State in January 2012, didn't hide the fact that he likely wouldn't be sticking around for decades.

"Respect my profession. My profession is coaching, and in my profession, the National Football League is the highest level of coaching," O'Brien said on Jan. 7, 2013. "You don't get any higher in coaching than the National Football League."

When O'Brien left for the Houston Texans a little more than a week ago, some Penn State fans used social media to vent, mostly expressing anger and frustration at O'Brien's short tenure.

Penn State fans saw the success that was ahead and tasted what could be with O'Brien and freshman phenom quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

They felt crossed, and Penn State fans don't want to be searching for a new coach any time soon. At least, not in the next two or three years.

Sure, Franklin had reported interest from the NFL this offseason, and, as Franklin pointed out himself, his track record doesn't scream stability.

In Franklin's coaching career, he's lived in nine different states. The longest tenure anywhere in his career was his first stint as an assistant at Maryland from 2000-04. (Franklin would later leave and come back to serve as offensive coordinator from 2008-10.)

"I'm a blue-collar guy that had to work my way up the ladder to get in this position," Franklin said Saturday. "If you look at my résumé, it's probably not a great example of who I am. ... I'd still be at Vanderbilt right now if it wasn't just such an unbelievable experience."

Penn State released the details of Franklin's six-year deal — a contract that will pay him $4 million in 2014 and increase by $100,000 each year.

The contract also pegs Franklin's NFL buyout clause at $5 million for the first two years, which is about $1.5 million less than what the Texans had to pay for O'Brien.

That, along with Franklin's résumé filled with short stints, could be worrisome to the Penn State faithful.

But based on how Franklin spoke at Saturday's press conference, it wouldn't be surprising to see him, at the very least, fulfill the length of his contract.

Franklin's situation is different than O'Brien's.

O'Brien made his NFL aspirations obvious by interviewing with professional teams after his first year at Penn State; Franklin, whose only NFL coaching experience was wide receivers coach of the Green Bay Packers in 2005, didn't mention anything resembling an urgency to get to professional football.

In fact, Franklin said himself that he's a "college guy" — a college guy that will stick around to help Penn State football grow on the field and off it and restore the aura of the program, both statewide and nationally.

"Wearing these colors, representing this state, representing these high school coaches and the people of the fine state of Pennsylvania is what I want to do for a very, very long time," Franklin said.

"Our plan is to go out and win a bunch of games so we can stay here."

John McGonigal covers Penn State football for The Daily Collegian.