After days of speculation and reports that a deal was close to being done, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin has officially been named as the next head coach at Penn State.
Franklin replaces Bill O'Brien, who left to take over the Houston Texans, and will make $4.5 million per year, a hefty increase over the Nittany Lions' previous coach, according to ESPN's Brett McMurphy. CBS Sports' Bruce Feldman reports it's a six-year deal.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to come home," the Pennsylvania native said in a statement released by Penn State. "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," Franklin said. "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!!"
Franklin amassed a previously unthinkable 24-15 record in Nashville. He guided the Commodores to three straight bowl games and had a winning record in SEC play over the past two seasons. In only three years, he put his name all over the Vanderbilt record book, putting together consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in program history, the most wins in a two year period since 1926-1927, and their first end of season ranking since 1948. He has the Commodores recruiting at a competitive level in the SEC, which has simply never happened before at that school.
Despite operating under a strict academic handicap, and having to sell a program that doesn't exactly sell itself, Franklin's first two full Vanderbilt recruiting classes ranked #29 and #19 by Rivals--the highest in program history, of course--pulling in more than his fair share of highly-sought after 4-star prospects. And by virtue of having spent seven years as an assistant under Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, he's familiar with Penn State's familiar recruiting grounds while he opens up a gateway to the fertile lands of SEC country.
On Thursday, McMurphy and Feldman reported that Penn State was expected to hire Franklin, but there was no official agreement in place. Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams and defensive end Caleb Azubike stated the head coach had not yet made a decision on whether or not to leave Nashville.
Williams kept pushing hard to keep Franklin at Vandy. The AD made a counter offer, according to SB Nation's Steven Godfrey. Football Scoop reports Vandy offered 10 years and almost $50 million. Franklin told Williams Friday night that the PSU deal was done.
The search to replace O'Brien, who left Penn State fans feeling burned, didn't take long, but it featured plenty of twists and turns, and several names were involved. Initially, Black Shoe Diaries, SB Nation's Nittany Lions site, expected 10 names to be possible candidates, a group mixing connections with the school, college success and NFL experience: Franklin, Mike Munchak, Greg Roman, Jim Caldwell, Tom Clements, Darren Perry, Greg Schiano, Al Golden, Ed Orgeron and Rob Chudzinski. Interim coach Larry Johnson garnered support from players and alums.
If any coach can navigate the tricky waters ahead for Penn State, it's Franklin. The former Maryland head-coach-in-waiting is a Pennsylvania native, which will play well among the fractured Penn State fan base, and he's demonstrated the ability to outwork opponents both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
For a program still playing with a short deck, that is absolutely essential. O'Brien displayed similar traits, and he was able to keep the program's head above water somehow. We'll see if Franklin can build on that progress.
Now Vanderbilt must embark on its own coaching search. It's still in the early going, but outside names like Derek Mason and Mark Hudspeth, and current assistants Bob Shoop and Herb Hand could be potential favorites. As Christian D'Andrea at Anchor of Gold, SB Nation's Vandy site, points out, some in the know in Nashville aren't happy with the way the Franklin saga has played out, but believe the Commodores can hire a solid replacement.