Penn State Football: James Franklin becomes Nittany Lions’ 16th head coach

Where there is smoke, there is fire.

After a week chalk full of rumors, back-and-forth and more, Penn State officially hired James Franklin as its 16th head football coach on Saturday.

Franklin, 41, spent the last three years transforming Vanderbilt from perennial SEC doormat into a competitive team coming off of back-to-back bowl appearances in addition to a 16-4 record in its last 20 games. That record was second only to Alabama among SEC teams.

The Pennsylvania native was eager to come back to the state and coach the Nittany Lions.

“When I met my wife, she asked me what my dream job was and I said Penn State. I’m a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart,”  said Franklin during his introductory press conference.

Franklin amassed a 25-15 record in three seasons with the Commodores, including back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2012 and 2013. Prior to his first head coaching job in the competitive SEC, Franklin was the head coach in waiting under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland where he spent two seasons  offensive coordinator from 2008-2010. Prior to that he had a stint as offensive coordinator at Kansas State (2006-2007) and spent a year as the Green Bay Packers’ wide receivers coach in 2005. Franklin called his NFL experience very important in his coaching development. 

Franklin becomes Penn State’s third head coach since 2011.

His coaching career started in 1995 as a wide receivers coach at Kutztown, and has since held positions as receivers, tight ends and defensive backs coach during his career in addition to his multiple stints as offensive coordinator.

In addition to his record on the field, Franklin has proven to be a dogged recruiter among the college ranks. On Saturday he defined his recruiting strategy as one to dominate the state of Pennsylvania. His ability to recruit elite talent is no doubt a major draw for Penn State as it looks to further compete in the Big Ten landscape.

“We’re going to dominate the state, dominate the region,”  said Franklin emphatically, while discussing recruiting.

He’ll have some big shoes to fill in Happy Valley, as former coach Bill O’Brien pushed his way through NCAA sanctions in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal to a 15-9 record in two years, winning a couple coach of the year awards in 2012 in the process. O’Brien left the Nittany Lions for the NFL’s Houston Texans just before the turn of the new year. 

Going forward, Franklin leaves no doubt that Penn State is where he wants to be, as he reiterated that the school was his dream job and that he plans on being there for a “very long time.” The first task at his dream job according to Franklin is to hit the recruiting trail hard, and reach out to all 95 of his new players in addition to coaches as soon as possible.

Franklin said he plans on sitting down with current Penn State coaches to discuss their situation going forward, with former interim and defensive line coach Larry Johnson among them. Johnson has been at Penn State since the 90’s under Joe Paterno. In the meantime, Franklin plans to bring much of his staff from Vanderbilt with him to Penn State, calling his staff “Northeast guys.”

“We’re going to build a program that everyone (Penn Staters) can be proud of,” said Franklin.

If you were counting his first press conference as a game, he won it in a landslide. And yes, he did end the presser with a customary “We Are…Penn State.”