You really have to do some digging to find many negative viewpoints on James Franklin, who was introduced as the new head football coach at Penn State University on Saturday. The PA native resurrected a Vanderbilt program from its perennial 2-10 record to three bowl games in three years, accounting for nearly half of the school’s postseason appearances all time.
Franklin’s presence is already being felt in Happy Valley, where talk of transfers and decommits ended abruptly. On the contrary, a couple of kids that were headed to Vandy even flipped with the news and will be enrolling at PSU instead. Recruiting sounds like it will be a real strength under the East Stroudsburg grad, who promised to “dominate the state” in his opening remarks.
Here’s an overview of what some people are saying about the hire:
Matt Brown, Sports on Earth
It’s hard to imagine Penn State finding a more fitting candidate. Franklin didn’t recruit under scholarship restrictions at Vandy, but he might as well have, given the difficulty trying to lure recruits who fit in academically there. According to Rivals.com, Vanderbilt’s 2013 recruiting class ranked 19th nationally — ahead of Miami, Texas and Oregon, among others — and its 2012 class ranked 29th. This was a program accustomed to finishing in the bottom half of the FBS in recruiting; maybe Franklin wasn’t pulling in the best of the best, but simply competing for good recruits meant a whole new reality for Vanderbilt football.
Aaron Torres, Fox Sports
Much like Meyer before him, Franklin comes to the Big Ten with area roots -- he grew up and played college ball in Pennsylvania -- yet it’s his work in the Southeastern Conference that ultimately got him the job. Franklin spent the last three years having unprecedented success at Vanderbilt, winning nine games in both 2012 and 2013. The Commodores had a grand total of one nine-win season in the 95 years before Franklin arrived.
Gregg Doyel, CBS Sports
But the story here is Franklin, who won at the worst football job in the toughest football conference in the country. If he could do that there, how will he do in one of the best jobs in one of the weaker BCS leagues? He'll win even bigger. Before, he was racing the biggest boats and beating them more often than not -- despite the wind in his face. At Penn State he will have gale-force breezes blowing into his sails. He's about to go fast, and win big.
Mike Sielski, Inquirer
President Rodney Erickson and athletic director David M. Joyner lauded Franklin for his character, for his ability to strike a balance between athletics and academics at an elite university such as Vanderbilt, but there's no mistaking to what side those scales tip. This is a university still getting over the worst scandal sports has ever seen, and in many minds, nothing will heal those wounds faster than a few 10-1 seasons. Erickson, Joyner, and Penn State's trustees didn't hire Franklin because he coached at Vanderbilt. They hired him because he won there.
Ron Wynn, Tennessee Tribune (for Phila. Daily News)
But his impact off the field might have been greater. Franklin urged Vanderbilt, a private school with a glittering academic reputation, to be equally concerned with achievement in football. He didn't ask for massive concessions in regards to admissions, but he did seek substantial improvement in facilities.
While there is little to question on Franklin’s resume, off-field concerns are another story. There is this matter of an ongoing rape scandal at Vanderbilt involving five former football players, with Franklin possibly being involved. USA Today’s Christine Brennan accused Penn State of being “tone deaf” in light of being only a couple years removed from the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal.
Christine Brennan, USA Today
Last June, four of Franklin's players were charged with raping an unconscious 21-year-old woman in a dormitory and a fifth player pleaded guilty to helping cover it up. All five were dismissed from the team. If and when there is a trial, it will be Franklin's former players on trial. One of the players' attorneys was quoted as saying he wants to subpoena Franklin.
Whatever happens in that case, by hiring Franklin, Penn State will have attached itself to it. If there's a trial and Franklin's a part of it, Penn State would be a part of it, too.
And that's not all. Franklin has attracted other controversy. During a 2012 radio interview, he said one of the top qualifications for his assistant coaches is that they must have attractive wives.
Time will tell if Franklin is involved in any upcoming proceedings, but one would think university officials vetted the incident with great care. In the wake of his hiring at PSU, it would be surprising to say the least to learn he had a role. Still, for right now, I suppose there is that.