When the Nittany Lions open the year in Ireland on Aug. 30, it’ll be more than the start of another football season. It’s the start of a new chapter for Penn State football — with a new head coach.
James Franklin took over the program after Bill O’Brien’s departure and immediately began his “Dominate the State” campaign to keep Pennsylvania’s best players close to home.
And it appears to be working. The Nittany Lions have 12 four-star prospects (according to Rivals) in the 2015 recruiting class, and he has said he has no doubt that fans will sell out Beaver Stadium every home game.
But Franklin won’t be the only new face on campus greeting students when they return.
In February, Eric Barron became the university’s 18th president. Barron is no stranger to Penn State. He was a 20-year faculty member here and a former dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.
Most recently, he spent about four years at the helm of Florida State, where he oversaw a $1 billion fundraising campaign and worked to turn the school into a “dynamic, elite research institution,” according to his online biography.
During his tenure, Florida State was named the most efficiently run university in the country, and the Seminoles won this year’s football national championship.
Also new to a top leadership position at Penn State is Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour, who took over effective Aug. 18, replacing Dave Joyner, who retired.
Barbour comes to Penn State from the University of California, where during her 10-year tenure the school’s athletic programs won a combined 18 team national titles and 88 individual championships. She oversaw a $321 million renovation project for the football team’s Memorial Stadium and the opening of a 142,000-square-foot athletic center that housed sports science offices, sports medicine units and the football and 12 Olympic sport programs.
“When you spend a professional lifetime serving institutions and most importantly students, you dream about coming to a place like Penn State,” Barbour said at the July 31 news conference Barren called to announce her hiring. “You dream about the opportunity to lead a program like Penn State athletics. Why? Because it represents the opportunity to have it all. Athletic excellence, academic achievement, community engagement and physical responsibility.”
Those qualities — excellence, achievement, engagement and responsibility — are common goals among these new leaders.
Barron has described his approach as student-centered and said he wants an education at Penn State to be transformational.
“I want you to come, I want you to stay, I want you to graduate and I want you to go have a successful career,” he said shortly after his arrival in May. “That sounds awfully basic, but a lot of colleges lose people along the way.”
Franklin told the Faculty Senate early on that is committed to academic.
“You’re not going to find a coach that cares more about their players than me, and their complete development — academically, athletically, socially, spiritually — the whole package. That’s what drives me,” he said when he first arrived.
And in recruiting, he has strived not only to find the best players, but the players who will be the best fit here in University Park.“It’s easy to go out and find great football players,” he told the university’s academic governing body, “but it’s making sure we find the right fits for this community and this campus as well.”
Franklin stepped from a small jet Jan. 11 and into his “dream job.”
Calling himself a “Pennsylvania boy,” he said, “This is the best day of my life.”
Franklin spent the three years coaching the Vanderbilt Commodores before being named Penn State’s 16th head coach in the program’s 127-year history in January.
“We’re coming here with the mindset that we’re going to build this program. We’re going to build it the right way, and we’re going to build it for the long haul, “ Franklin said. “We plan on being here for a very, very long time. This is my dream job. This is where I want to be. 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.”
Barbour takes over an athletic department with 31 varsity teams that reported a $6 million deficit during the past fiscal year.
“I know we have much higher aspirations than to dominate the East and the (Big Ten) conference, “ Barbour said. “We aspire to win national championships in each and every one of our 31 sports.”
Barbour believes her business acumen will serve as a valuable resource. She earned a master’s degree in business administration from Northwestern during her time as assistant athletic director for the Wildcats from 1982 to 1989.
Barron was on the faculty at Penn State from 1986 to 2006. He was a distinguished professor of geosciences and the director of what was previously called the Earth System Science Center, and he served as the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences dean for the last four years of his tenure.
“I love this university, and it is truly great to be back, “ he said.
“I can’t wait to get to know you. I can’t wait to work together to make a great university even greater. Thank you.”