Although he was 700 miles away when the Jerry Sandusky scandal tore through State College, Penn State football coach James Franklin said Thursday he feels a sense of obligation to a local community still yearning for transparency from the university and its leaders.
Meeting with the media for the first time since spring practice ended, Franklin was peppered with questions about his contact with the alleged victim of a rape that four of his former Vanderbilt players have been accused of committing. The discussion came two days after Franklin’s name surfaced in a court filing by a defense attorney representing one of the players.
The documents allege Franklin and Dwight Galt, a former Vanderbilt coach and current director of performance enhancement for Penn State, reached out to the woman four days after the alleged rape and said “that they cared about her because she assisted them with recruiting.”
But a day later, Nashville Assistant District Attorney Tom Thurman, who’s prosecuting the former players, suggested in comments Wednesday to The Philadelphia Inquirer that Franklin’s contact with the victim in the case was “to show support.” Thurman said Franklin’s intentions weren’t “for any purpose of covering-up or anything like that.”
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Inside Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena to kick off Penn State’s 17-stop Coaches Caravan tour, Franklin reiterated he did nothing wrong and cited a statement he released through Penn State earlier this week.
“I addressed this matter Tuesday and during my initial press conference on Jan. 11, cooperated fully with the authorities,” Franklin said. “This matter was thoroughly investigated by the authorities and also Vanderbilt’s internal counsel and external counsel. This is a legal matter though and that’s really about all I can say. So I want to be as open and transparent as I possibly can, and have been all along. But with this being a legal matter, that’s about all I can say.”
With the fallout from the Sandusky scandal still being felt by Penn State players who are banned from bowl games and have fewer scholarships, Franklin met with them earlier this week to address the allegations. Furthermore, Franklin said he and his assistants use Power Point presentations during every team meeting that relate current events to the players and the Vanderbilt situation came up during Wednesday’s meeting.
Franklin said he wants his players to be able to learn from similar situations.
“I’m very sensitive to the situation that I went through and that we went through at the former institution,” Franklin said. “Very, very sensitive to what happened here and I’m very, very sensitive to it for society in general. As a father of two daughters, I take this stuff real serious like everybody else does.”
Franklin could still be called to testify in the trial, which does not yet have a start date.
His peers are confident Franklin is a man of integrity and Penn State did its due diligence in vetting him.
Penn State officials were questioned about Franklin’s connection with the Vanderbilt case at the coach’s introductory press conference in early January. There, Penn State President Rodney Erickson described the interview process as “the most thorough ... that any individual has gone through at the university.”
Erickson and Director of Athletics Dave Joyner said Penn State performed a deep background search on Franklin and asked intense interview questions of “multiple, independent, third-party sources.” What they found satisfied them and the other members of Penn State’s search committee tasked with finding a new coach.
Meanwhile, Penn State athletics integrity officer Julie Del Giorno, Vice President and General Counsel Steve Dunham, and Frank Guadagnino, a partner with the Pittsburgh firm of Reed Smith and counsel to the university, were part of the vetting process. Erickson said NCAA-appointed athletics integrity monitor George Mitchell’s team was consulted.
Penn State men’s soccer Bob Warming, who also was part of Thursday’s event, was on the search committee that helped choose — and research — Franklin.
“Sometimes it’s not what you see or what someone says about themselves in an interview process, it’s what other people say about them,” Warming said. “And his were incredible, incredible reviews from everybody we talked to. He’s an incredible man, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him.”