After three successful years at Vanderbilt, James Franklin has been hired as the new head coach at Penn State. Franklin replaces Bill O’Brien, who decided to leave Happy Valley for the NFL after two seasons.
During his three-year stint with the Commodores, Franklin guided Vanderbilt to three consecutive bowl games (a first in program history). The Commodores also recorded back-to-back nine-win seasons and won nine SEC games over the last two years.
While Franklin didn’t win a SEC title at Vanderbilt, his 24 wins from 2011-13 was the best three-year stretch in school history.
Franklin should be an excellent fit at Penn State. He is a Pennsylvania native and played college football at East Stroudsburg.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for Penn State, followed by the final grade.
Positives for Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin
The Perfect Fit
It can be a bit of a cliché. Coaches tend to throw out the “dream job” talk a lot during introductory press conferences. But for Franklin, this job is the perfect fit. As a Pennsylvania native, he is familiar with the history and tradition of Penn State. Former coach Bill O’Brien wasn’t crazy about being the face of a program, while dealing with all of the off-the-field obligations that goes with being a head coach. But Franklin will have no trouble filling all of those roles and more. Franklin just gets the college experience and thrives on building relationships with students, recruiters, coaches and administrators. Considering the long-term uncertainty of who will serve as the school’s athletic director, Franklin will have no trouble taking the torch for the football program and doing all of the fundraising or booster glad-handling.
Expect Franklin to excel at recruiting to Penn State. From 2007-11, Vanderbilt did not sign a top-50 class. But in 2012, the Commodores inked the No. 44 class and nearly landed in the top 25 last season (No. 26 by 247Sports). Franklin can clearly recruit. And considering Penn State is one of the top 15-20 jobs in the nation, it should be easier to attract talent to Happy Valley. Franklin also has experience recruiting this area from his time as an assistant at Maryland. The Terrapins have ace recruiter Mike Locksley on staff, but Franklin’s move to Penn State is a blow to Maryland's recruiting. Franklin will help the Nittany Lions close the in-state borders for recruiting wars and will help this program win some head-to-head battles with Ohio State or Michigan.
Background on offense
Vanderbilt never finished higher than seventh in the SEC in total offense under Franklin’s watch. However, that stretch was a clear upgrade from previous seasons. Prior to his three-year stint at Vanderbilt, Franklin served as the offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland. Bill O’Brien might be more of an offensive innovator, but Franklin and sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg is going to be a dangerous combination for the rest of the Big Ten. Franklin will also maximize the talent the talent on the roster and tailor his schemes to fit the personnel.
Negatives for Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin
Searching…searching…are there any?
It’s hard to find any negatives for this hire. Sure, you can nitpick Franklin’s record at Vanderbilt. The Commodores weren’t beating the SEC’s elite and lacked victories over teams with winning records. But again, 24 wins over the last three years is the most in program history. Winning eight or nine games a season at Vanderbilt is almost equivalent to winning 10 or 11 contests a year at Alabama. There’s no question Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC, so going to bowl games on a consistent basis and pushing for a 10-win season is quite an accomplishment.
Franklin to Penn State likely supplants Washington’s pick of Chris Petersen as the No. 1 head coach hire for the 2013-14 coaching carousel. While Franklin could have interest in a NFL job down the line, it seems unlikely he leaves Penn State over the next five years. There’s simply not a better fit for the job in Happy Valley. Franklin is a master recruiter, motivator and a sharp X’s and O’s coach. Penn State is still short on scholarships and has two more years left on its bowl ban. However, Franklin will have no trouble selling Penn State to recruits. Most importantly, Franklin won’t back down from any challenge, including recruiting against Ohio State or Michigan. If the Big Ten wants to close the gap that has developed between the other conferences and SEC and Pac-12 for the best in the nation, it needs Penn State to thrive. Behind Franklin, the Nittany Lions are going to win a lot of games and will be a factor on the national scene once again.
Grading Penn State’s Hire of James Franklin: A+