Penn State officially hires James Franklin as next head coach

Penn State officially hires James Franklin as next head coach
January 11, 2014, 11:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

Penn State made it official Saturday morning: James Franklin is the new head coach of the Nittany Lions.

The hiring of Franklin had been reported in days prior, with the university scheduling a "major announcement" for Saturday afternoon, but Penn State made it official before the introductory press conference. Franklin is the 16th head coach in Penn State history.

Franklin comes to Penn State following a three-year stint at Vanderbilt, where he led the Commodores to a level of success rarely seen by a program long considered one of the SEC's weakest. Franklin posted a 24-15 record, including two straight nine-win campaigns, two of only four nine-win seasons in program history. He also led the Commodores to bowl appearances in all three seasons, including wins in each of the last two. Vanderbilt had appeared in just four bowl games since 1902 prior to Franklin's arrival.

"I can't tell you how excited I am to come home," Franklin, a native of Langhorne, Pa., said in a statement. "I grew up watching Penn State football, and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It's important to me to be a part of a university that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.

"I'm incredibly excited to get to know the students, alumni and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the university as a whole and to the football program in particular. I've worked my way through every division of football, and no other school boasts a fan base like we do. We Are ... Penn State!!"

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The search for a new coach was made necessary when Bill O'Brien resigned to take the head-coaching job with the NFL's Houston Texans. At the time, athletics director Dave Joyner said the search would take days, not weeks, and that proved correct. According to reports, Penn State also interviewed Miami head coach Al Golden, former Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman for the job before settling on Franklin.

"We launched this search with several priorities, but our primary focus was to identify someone who shared our commitment to integrity, academics and winning championships," Joyner said in the Penn State release. "We have found that person in James Franklin. Coach Franklin is a highly regarded coach and tremendous leader, but more importantly, he shares the same vision for Penn State football that we and our fans have for the program. His record shows that he takes great pride in the academic and athletic success of his student-athletes. We're thrilled to welcome coach Franklin to Penn State."

With the job at Penn State, of course, comes the ongoing rebuilding project in the fallout of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. O'Brien took over at the height of the NCAA's punishment, sanctions that included loss of scholarships and a postseason ban. Franklin will face high expectations following O'Brien's success despite the sanctions. O'Brien went 15-9 in his two seasons.

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Penn State also hopes Franklin is around for a long time. Following the near half-a-century tenure of Joe Paterno, who was fired in the wake of the scandal, Franklin becomes the university's third coach in four seasons. His hiring hopes to bring some stability to the position.

Prior to taking over at Vanderbilt, Franklin held myriad coaching positions throughout the college and professional ranks. He started at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania before working as an assistant at Washington State, Idaho State, Maryland, Kansas State and with the Green Bay Packers. He was the offensive coordinator at Maryland from 2008 to 2010, and that's another interesting bit of info surrounding his hiring: Maryland joins the Big Ten beginning next season, with Penn State hosting the Terps in Happy Valley on Nov. 1.

Penn State will introduce Franklin at a press conference at 3:15 p.m. Saturday.