Vanderbilt coach James Franklin will be the next coach at Penn State, CBSSports.com reported Thursday.
Franklin had been considered the prime contender to take over for Bill O'Brien, who left last week to become coach of the Houston Texans. Franklin is a Pennsylvania native who guided Vanderbilt, long an SEC doormat, to consecutive nine-win seasons in 2012 and '13.
Vanderbilt finished 23rd in the final coaches' poll and 24th in the final Associated Press poll this season; it's the second season in a row but just the third time in school history Vanderbilt has been ranked in a season-ending poll.
He will take over a Penn State team that won 15 games in O'Brien's two seasons. Penn State is on NCAA probation because of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, but the organization already has eased some of the recruiting sanctions and is expected to remove the postseason ban sometime this year.
Franklin also will take over a team that will return 12 starters next season, including a rising star in quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Hackenberg, who has a huge upside, started all 12 games this season as a true freshman, and he should prove a good fit for Franklin's offense. Penn State's past two recruiting classes were vastly better than anyone expected, and there is a solid group of commitments in place for the 2014 recruiting class. Franklin is a personable player's coach who should be able to keep most, if not all, of Penn State's commitments in place.
Penn State AD Dave Joyner deserves credit for nabbing Franklin. There reportedly were NFL teams looking to interview Franklin for coaching vacancies, and that Franklin took the Penn State job shows that the Nittany Lions "brand" remains strong.
Franklin did an amazing job at Vanderbilt. He went 24-15 in his three seasons with the Commodores, the most wins in a three-year period at the school since 1926-28. He won nine games in back-to-back seasons, which tied a school record for single-season wins set in 1915. He arrived in 2011 after consecutive two-win seasons under Bobby Johnson, then took Vandy to three consecutive bowls; the Commodores had been to four bowls total before Franklin's arrival. This season, Vandy beat Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time ever.
There has been some controversy along the way, most notably that four Vandy players were charged with rape in August. Franklin also received heat in the summer of 2012 for saying that his assistants must have attractive wives: "I will not hire an assistant coach until I've seen his wife. If she looks the part, and she's a D-I recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That's part of the deal." The next day, he apologized and tweeted that, "My foot doesn't taste good."
Franklin remained a hot coaching commodity, though.
His hiring also shows that Joyner must have had some trepidation about hiring a coach with Penn State ties. The other candidates most prominently mentioned were Miami coach Al Golden, recently fired Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak and recently fired Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano. All had Penn State ties: Golden is a former Penn State player and assistant, Munchak is a former player and Schiano is a former assistant.
But could Joyner have hired someone with ties to Joe Paterno -- and by extension, ties to Sandusky? -- so soon after the scandal?
There was a school of thought that hiring someone with Penn State ties would mean that coach presumably would have more allegiance to the school. O'Brien, after all, lasted just two seasons, and the NFL already has expressed interest in Franklin. That would seem to be a legitimate concern: If Franklin is successful -- and it says here he will be -- it's a safe assumption that he eventually will look to the NFL.
Still, Joyner had to worry about the here and now. And in that regard, he made an excellent hire.