Open up the checkbook, Penn State. You’ve got something special on your hands.
After No. 7 Penn State defeated No. 6 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship game Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Nittany Lions are 11-2 with a shot at going to the College Football Playoff.
If they miss out Sunday afternoon, they’re going to the Rose Bowl.
Not a bad fall-back plan.
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Two months after fans shouted for head coach James Franklin to be fired, the Nittany Lions are in an unthinkable position. They turned a 2-2 start into a nine-game winning streak and in the process re-established Penn State as a formidable power in college football.
It seems necessary and right to present a point totally contrary to what many wanted a couple months ago: give Franklin a contract extension, and pay offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead more than he’s making now. They both unquestionably deserve it.
Let’s start with Franklin.
The 44-year-old coach, now wrapping up his third year at Penn State, inked a six-year contract when he was hired in January 2014. He’s making $4.2 million guaranteed this year; his guaranteed annual compensation started at $4 million, and is bumped up $100,000 ever year until his contract runs out on Dec. 31, 2019.
This season, Franklin came in at No. 10 in highest-paid college football coaches, with Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze making slightly more.
Should Franklin earn more money than he’s making now? Perhaps. You can argue he’s accomplished more than Freeze, Swinney and Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin given the quick turnaround from crippling scholarship restrictions, handed down by the NCAA in July 2012 in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal.
Franklin’s national success in recruiting (No. 15 class in 2015) considering the cloud over Penn State, coupled with two winning seasons and a trip to the Rose Bowl, at least, in his third season, puts him on-track for an extension.
Penn State has him for three more seasons, which is fine.
But when you think of the way college football’s coaching carousel is handled — coach jumping ship here, getting fired after three years there (i.e. Oregon’s Mark Helfrich), why not ensure to everyone in college football, most importantly recruits, that Franklin is here for the long haul?
You want a program that can compete in-division with Ohio State and Michigan? It doesn’t seem like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, two of the three highest-paid college football coaches, are going anywhere anytime soon.
A report from USA Today’s Dan Wolken already surfaced on Nov. 25 that Penn State was working “aggressively” to extend Franklin’s deal, and that was before he had “Big Ten Champion” on his resume.
Now is the time to strike.
And while the administrators are at it, make sure Moorhead isn’t going anywhere.
In his first season since leaving his post as Fordham’s head coach, Moorhead has made arguably the biggest offensive transformation in college football this year. Entering Saturday night, the Nittany Lions were averaging 36.6 points per game, up from 20.6 in 2014 and 23.2 in 2015.
That’s all Moorhead, utilizing the talented guys Franklin and Bill O’Brien recruited and pushing the ball downfield like no one’s seen at Penn State before.
It’s inevitable that Moorhead garners head coaching offers, perhaps as soon as this offseason. He owns a 38-13 head coaching mark in three years at Fordham, and the remarkable job he’s done at Penn State in such a short period will count for a lot.
Will Moorhead stick around forever? No, he’s bound to earn a head coaching gig somewhere down the line.
But what happened on Saturday night was a clear affirmation of the job both coaches have pulled off. The Nittany Lions lit up the Badgers, and as the confetti fell, they carried the Big Ten trophy off the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In chaos, Penn State found further clarity.
Considering Penn State’s success this season — and what it can achieve in 2017 and the years following — locking up Franklin and Moorhead long term with a pay bump should be priorities No. 1 and 2 this offseason.