Walt Moody | Nittany Lions made wise decision hiring Franklin

January 12, 2014 

— David Joyner has faced his share of criticism — sometimes fair and sometimes not — during his brief tenure as Penn State’s athletic director.

He’s an easy target.

But if Joyner has proven anything since taking over during the height of the Sandusky scandal, it’s that he knows how to lead a committee that can pick a good football coach.

First, Penn State landed Bill O’Brien, the right guy at the right time to deal with the sting of NCAA sanctions and the firing and death of Joe Paterno.

Now two years later, Joyner and his committee appear to have hit another home run in finding O’Brien’s replacement, James Franklin. The former Vanderbilt coach was introduced at a news conference at Beaver Stadium on Saturday and certainly appears to be what Joyner and Nittany Nation have ordered.

Franklin certainly cut an impressing figure, both in his blue suit and tie and with what he had to say.

He gushed with enthusiasm and passion for a program that he called “my dream job.”

He promised several times to “dominate the state” in recruiting.

Multiple times he called himself a “Pennsylvania kid with a Penn State heart.”

Those are the kinds of things that fire up a rabid fan base.

Joyner promised a “robust” search after O’Brien left town to take over as coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans — and he delivered.

Penn State needed a little more than a week to land Franklin, one of the hottest names in the game after turning around Vanderbilt, the historic doormat of the Southeastern Conference.

Franklin didn’t come cheap.

Penn State will dish out $25.5 million guaranteed over six seasons for Franklin, quite a bit more than the university paid O’Brien. But there’s something to be said for ponying up for the best candidate available and Franklin had previous head coaching success at a university that, like Penn State, stresses academics.

While he was a hot commodity, Franklin still came with concerns.

Many wondered whether Franklin would be another O’Brien in terms of his length of stay in Happy Valley. Franklin had been linked with NFL and other high-profile college jobs.

Would he bolt after two years?

If you take him at his word, Franklin put that question to rest on Saturday.

“This is where I want to be,” he said. “Wearing these colors, representing this state, representing these high school coaches and the people of the fine state of Pennsylvania is what I want to do for a very, very long time.”

Doesn’t sound like he’s going anywhere soon. If reports are accurate, he turned down more money from Vanderbilt to come here.

Then there was rape case at Vanderbilt involving several of Franklin’s players. Four were dismissed immediately from the Commodores, but “sources” said Franklin told his players to delete video of the incident. Franklin emphatically denied that allegation and was cleared legally.

Anything involving sexual charges is still a raw nerve here in the wake of the Sandusky scandal.

“We were honest,” Franklin said of the rape incident. “We were up front. We made decisions quickly and tried to do everything we possibly could to respect the situation with the utmost class.”

Franklin wants to exude class and to unite communities.

He took a giant step toward that on Saturday.

For two years, the program seemed like it wanted to forget Paterno existed. Franklin mentioned Paterno multiple times in reverence Saturday, maybe going a long way to soothe the faction that seemed to rankle O’Brien.

He even received well wishes from Sue Paterno, who released a statement before Saturday afternoon’s news conference.

There’s certainly a lot to like about the guy, which might explain Franklin’s success at Vanderbilt.

He’s scraped and scrapped throughout a playing career at East Stroudsburg. He took his first coaching job for $1,200 and lived in a basement. He’s chased his dream and built up a loyal group of assistant coaches, many of which sound like they’re headed here, too.

Regardless of how much money he’ll be making now, his humble roots appeal to the kids he’s looking to bring here.

“I’m a kid who played Division II football,” Franklin said. “I’m a blue-collar guy that had to work my way up the ladder to get in this position.”

Working hard is one of the cornerstones to Franklin’s program — the others are positive attitude, competition in everything (starting with the classroom) and sacrifice.

He believes he can have the Nittany Lions back among the nation’s elite.

“I think with everybody pulling the rope in the same direction there is no reason why we can’t take this program where everybody wants it to be,” Franklin said.

And with the passion he exudes, you believe him.

While he may be a little outrageous, like saying he won’t turn down a speaking engagement or will blow up balloons for a backyard birthday party, Franklin seems genuine. He has a great sense of humor, a lovely wife (Fumi) and two girls. He sounds like someone you’d love to play for and several Nittany Lions said just that via Twitter.

And certainly, he’s a genuine Pennsylvania success story.

So you couldn’t blame Joyner for sporting a big grin Saturday.

It looks like he’s 2-for-2.

Walt Moody is sports editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4630 or wmoody@centredaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @wmoodycdt.

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