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Analysis

For better or worse, James Franklin and Penn State are stuck with one another

Photo by Penn State

James Franklin is going to be Penn State’s coach for several more years. At least. It’s something that, barring some major unforeseen situation, Nittany Lion fans are going to have to get used to.

This marriage could work out well for Franklin, Penn State and the fans, if things could get turned around for the football program.

Or, it could be a rocky relationship from here on out, with a lot of frustration and growing fatigue from losses and underachieving.

If you’re out there thinking Penn State is going to fire Franklin because of this disastrous season, stop it. Just stop it.

I’ve got 35 million reasons why.

This is the guaranteed salary Franklin is owed through 2025, under the terms of the new six-year contract he received earlier this year. Note: 2020 is year one of his deal, and he’s making $5.4 million this year.

2021: $5.5 million

2022: $5.75 million

2023: $6 million

2024: $6.25 million

2025: $6.5 million

All that adds up to $30 million. Penn State also owes Franklin an annual life insurance loan amount of $1 million. So we’re in the $35 million range for his buyout, and other reports have the buyout figure as high as $38 million because of other factors.

There is NO WAY Penn State will fire Franklin after this season, even if the Lions go 0-9 and lose the rest of their games 40-0.

The school will not and cannot eat $35-plus million. Not in this economic climate, when Penn State already has claimed it faces a $70 million revenue shortfall because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The university faces a potentially serious financial crunch in the coming years, and it would be fiscally irresponsible to just throw away tens of millions of dollars on a buyout.

So, the only conclusion one can draw is that Franklin will be back next season.

Unless …

He doesn’t want to be and chooses to take a job somewhere else.

That possibility is so unlikely that it borders on impossible.

Why? See all that guaranteed money above. Franklin is not walking away from all of that unless he has something similar lined up economically.

Which he is not going to get anywhere after the way things have unfolded this season.

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Franklin has close to zero favorability right now on the coaching market. Any other college that would want to hire him after this season would be considered crazy by its fan base and the media, based on how things have fallen apart for Penn State this season.

We’re talking about perhaps the most disappointing team in the history of college football, as the Lions are the first team ever to start 0-5 after being ranked in the preseason top 10.

If the football collapse wasn’t enough, the news that broke Friday in the detailed ESPN story also makes Franklin damaged goods right now. He might be able to avoid losing in court in the Isaiah Humphries lawsuit, which faces many legal challenges and the burden of proof.

But even if Franklin does avoid a legal loss, his reputation already has been sullied in the court of public opinion. When you read the allegations made in the lawsuit, they smack of a PSU program that has gotten out of control, and that is bad for Franklin.

So, the only conclusion one can draw is that no other college or even NFL team would want Franklin after this season.

If, by chance, one actually did, Franklin would have to pay a buyout of $5 million to Penn State.

There is one scenario I could possibly see Franklin walking away from Penn State, and it involves him just getting fed up with all the criticism he’s getting from fans and deciding he’s had enough.

The fan base has, in large numbers, turned on Franklin. That is evident if you follow social media in any capacity, with vast numbers of fans lighting into the coach for any number of reasons about this horrid season.

Franklin could say enough is enough and just leave. But again, he’d be walking away from at least $35 million in guaranteed money, so that possibility seems incredibly remote.

James Franklin is Penn State’s football coach.

James Franklin will be Penn State’s football coach next year.

James Franklin will be Penn State’s football coach the year after that, and most likely, the year after that, as well.

That takes us through 2023, all because of the enormous amount of guaranteed money from the contract he received just nine months ago. And so much could happen between now and then that it’s impossible to speculate.

If Franklin turns this mess around and gets PSU back to national prominence, then major suitors will come seeking him once again.

If Franklin continues to struggle over the next couple of years, then his future beyond 2022 or 2023 will depend on Penn State’s finances at that point, coming out of the pandemic.

The bottom line is, Franklin isn’t going anywhere any time soon. No matter how much the fan base has turned on him this season.

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Written By

Cory Giger is a 15-year veteran of the Penn State beat and a journalist with 28 years of experience. He has won more than 100 state and national journalism awards during his career, plus he's a voter for the Heisman Trophy in football and Wooden Award in basketball.

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