Christian Hackenberg is 6 feet, 4 inches. Gary Wooten, a linebacker, was listed at 6 feet, 2 inches and 237 pounds. I am maybe 5 feet, 10 inches on a good day and certainly wasn’t any taller than that when I was a freshman.
I lived in the neighboring dorm to Christian Hackenberg when I was a freshman and Wooten lived in mine. In fact, there were several other Penn State football players living in my dorm and the dorm that Hackenberg lived in.
Why am I telling you this?
I had the same size bed as Hackenberg and Wooten, a twin XL.
There’s a problem with that and it’s the problem that James Franklin’s newest contract is trying to fix.
Franklin’s new 10-year deal that’s $7 million in base pay with a $500,000 retention bonus isn’t about USC, LSU or even adding extra money to his already very large salary. It’s about making sure Penn State football has the amenities it needs to so that when players like the highly-touted Hackenberg come to play for the blue and white, they don’t have the same sized bed that scrawny me had.
And those amenities and that buy-in from the administration is what Penn State needs if Franklin wants to become the first African-American head coach to win a national title.
“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 (NIL), facility improvements, student-athlete housing, technology upgrades, recruiting, training table and more,” Franklin said in the press release.
That statement stands out louder than anything else that’s in the press release and the contract.
During this whole process of the 2021 season, when Clay Helton got fired at USC and the LSU job opened up, Franklin’s name instantly appeared as a potential candidate for those roles. Penn State fans everywhere said “here we go again” and patiently (or impatiently) sweated as Franklin played a game of chess, somewhat more publicly than ever before.
Personally, I don’t believe Franklin ever had the intention of leaving. He’s a smart man. He knows that the USC job would just be a reset of the work he’s achieved at Penn State with a slightly larger salary. The LSU job has more pressure than one in State College would have, plus some of the same problems that stand in Franklin’s way currently– mainly one coached by Nick Saban and another coached by Kirby Smart.
The Langhorne, Pa. native knew that. But he’s also smart enough to apply just the right amount of pressure to get things he needs. Like better on-campus housing for his athletes. Housing that has proper-sized beds for football players. Or facility upgrades. Or maybe a deeper pool for assistant coaches’ salaries.
That is and was the play here. And that’s exactly what Franklin is going to get. Another way we know this: the buyout structure and termination policy. Franklin’s buyout drops to $2 million in 2024, meaning if the ball doesn’t get moving on things like even more updates at the Lasch Building, he will start looking again. Plus in the without cause termination policy, he would have to pay back the current year’s salary times the number of years remaining on his contract. That’s a lot of money.
As I said, Franklin is smart. He knows he has to win with a contract that looks like this. All of those seemingly little things to people who only look at a football program through the lens of three hours on a Saturday aren’t small to Franklin. And hopefully, for future Penn State linebackers’ sake, their beds won’t be either.
Darian Somers is a 2016 Penn State graduate currently living in Frederick, Maryland. You can follow him on Twitter at @StuffSomersSays.