Penn State has not seen a more polarizing figure than James Franklin. Provocative, no, noncommittal yes, and yet still divides a fan base. Penn State fan A, “Franklin is 67 and 32 at Penn State.” Penn State fan B, who isn’t a Franklin guy points out that “Franklin is 2-13 against top 10 opponents.”
Franklin has his supporters, and his haters, but he does have an accomplishment that not Nick Saban, not Urban Meyer, not Ryan Day have on their resumes. Franklin brought the Lions back to life, dead on the table, post funeral, all the national pundits put the program into the ground. SMU comparisons were being made.
This is the 10 year anniversary of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno was fired on November 9th, 2011. On December 15, 2021, Franklin is going to sign On3 and 247Sports’s number 1 quarterback, Drew Allar. In ten years, Penn State went from the consensus death penalty to possibly, the consensus number one quarterback in America.
What does Sandusky have to do with this? A lot. Franklin is 67-32 while in State College, but he went 14-12 in the worst/first two years, 2014 and 2015. Since 2016, including the disaster last year, Franklin’s record in Happy Valley is 53-20, that is a 730 winning percentage. Three of the last six seasons have been 11 win seasons, Franklin had a four year bowl run that went Rose Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Citrus Bowl and Cotton Bowl.
Franklin did anger many Penn State fans with his noncommittal, nondenial, denial of rumors that he was off to USC or LSU. It is rumored that Franklin is insulted at the notion of him being called a “CEO” type of Head Coach. I think he is exactly that, have you ever known a great CEO to simply put all their cards on the table? Worth noting, if Franklin reads this, I also consider Saban a CEO type. Saban was a great trailblazer in treating a college football program like the Fortune 500 company that it is. If Franklin is offended that he was compared to Saban, that’s on him.
A wise football man once said, “I’d rather have the Johnny’s & the Joe’s vs the X’s and O’s” and that is exactly what Franklin has done. Recruiting is the life blood of a program. Since 2016, he’s had a 21st ranked or higher class every year, a pair of top 6 classes, 2018 and 2022, and his 2023 class currently sits at 4.
Upon the announcement of the extension, Franklin has this quote:
“With the support of President Barron, Sandy Barbour and the Board of Trustees we’ve been able to create a roadmap of the resources needed to address academic support, community outreach, Name, Image and Likeness, facility improvements, student athlete housing, technology upgrades, recruiting, training table and more. The renewed commitment to our student athletes, community and fans reinforces all the reasons I’ve been proud to serve as your football coach for the last eight years and why my commitment to Penn State remains steadfast. Throughout this process I’ve kept our leadership council, recruits and staff updated on those conversations and I’m excited we’ve reached an agreement we can finally share.”
Is it coincidence that the Disney group supports a large percentage of college football? Probably not, considering that Disney and college football have one striking similarity in their business plans? Catering to children. That’s right, millions upon millions of dollars are spent annually in this game to appease 15-17 year old children.
Sure, he got a raise, but Franklin spoke to a lot of key points targeting recruits. 16 and 17 year old boys, don’t think rationally, they want shiny, they want new, they want things they can’t afford. The middle aged critic on twitter needs to remind themselves of their 16 year old self, and what were their priorities? Of course, there was plenty of B.S. and coach speak in there, but he told one very important truth, he said he kept recruits involved in the conversation. How do we know he’s telling the truth? How many de-commitments happened during the conversations/flirtations with other schools?
The point being, this is an arms race. If Penn State wants to compete with the likes of Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, and all the power brokers of college football, the Penn State program is going to need to have the fancy shiny things that those schools have. Facilities have always been a sticking point with Franklin, he’s told us as much.
It’s understandable that many won’t or can’t understand this new world of college football, you can blame the NFL. Maybe if the NFL didn’t pay so much, kids would be more worried about an accounting degree. As flawed as Franklin may or may not be, he has put Penn State in conversations many industry experts said were a thing of the past. Ten years ago, was rock bottom for a storied program, along with Bill O’Brein, Franklin has restored the roar.
Penn State has once again been brought back to national prominence, a brand that attracts some of the best recruits in the country. Franklin has expanded the recruiting footprint, outside of Pennsylvania, south Jersey and the DMV. Franklin is an elite recruiter of players and coaches, he attracts coaches that go on to bigger and better jobs. James Franklin has taken a struggling brand and put it on a trajectory that would have shareholders thrilled. Franklin isn’t Joe Paterno, but who’s to know if Paterno could’ve embraced this new world of college football?