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Can James Franklin Succeed at Penn State?

Once, not so long ago, Franklin was a decent offensive coordinator with the Maryland Terrapins, but not exactly the flashy name that gets a program’s fans excited. In fact, he wasn’t even the first choice of Vanderbilt, who were heavily pursuing some guy by the name of Gus Malzahn. When Malzahn said no, the Commodores turned their attention to Franklin, who (obviously) said yes.

Franklin’s first season in charge was nothing to write home about, finishing 6-7 and winning just 2 conference games, but there were signs of progress, even at that early stage. The Commodores were far more competitive, losing 4 games by less than a TD, despite Franklin taking over a program that had won just 2 games in each of the previous 2 seasons.

His second season (2012) was a breakthrough for Vandy, winning 9 games for the first time since 1915! A 5-3 conference record was excellent and again they were competitive in every game except at Georgia. Last season was more of the same, with another 9-win season and a 4-4 league record. Vanderbilt ended both seasons ranked in the AP top-25 – the last time the Commodores were ranked at the end of the season was 1948.

On the 11th January 2014, Penn State announced Franklin would be their newest head coach.

Why the change?

Franklin sure pissed off a lot of people by leaving Vandy for Penn State. Much of the Commodore fan base took it hard that the man who brought them recent sustained success should leave them for another school – and who can really blame them? SEC fans took umbrage at the fact an SEC coach could leave their mighty conference for, lordy, lordy, the Big Ten. But to be honest, it doesn’t mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

Is Penn State a better gig than Vanderbilt? Maybe, not my call; but the larger recruiting base will certainly appeal to Franklin, sanctions or not. His predecessor, Bill O’Brien, earned himself an NFL gig after just two seasons, another attraction for Franklin. On the subject of O’Brien, he also did the difficult job of pulling the team through the worst of the Sandusky scandal, and Franklin has done a solid job so far of getting many of the PSU contingent on his back.

Can Franklin Succeed Here?

Simply put – yes! Franklin has proven that he can turn around a struggling team in a hurry – and in the mighty SEC. Taking over a team with some decent talent in the recently mediocre Big Ten should almost be a walk in the park. His offensive background will be useful in furthering the development of star freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, while his amiable personality will be a plus on the recruiting trail. Being a local boy sure doesn’t hurt.

There is one potential cloud on the horizon. Wait scratch that – there’s a potential hurricane on the horizon. For those who don’t know, there was a rape scandal in Vanderbilt last season involving 5 football players, all of whom were dismissed for their part in it, as would be the proper procedure. Here is the big concern – Franklin was alleged to have covered up the matter at first. The operative word is “alleged”, and one would hope the Penn State administration have ensured that this was nothing more than an allegation, but this matter has yet to be closed. In fact, one professor even went as far as to write a letter to the Penn State athletic department imploring them not to hire Franklin. We will just have to wait and see how this works out, but it is easily the biggest stumbling block to Franklin’s success.


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