Penn State Football

Penn State football: School officials make late-night flight back to University Park; Franklin emerges as leading candidate

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin has emerged as the leading candidate for the Penn State job, but no offer has yet been made, a university source said Thursday.

That was hours after several top Penn State officials, including search committee members, had flown from Florida to University Park Airport, arriving late Wednesday night amid reports that Franklin had been offered the job. Franklin owns property in Florida.

As the scents of jet fuel mixed with de-icing fluid at University Park Airport late Wednesday night, Penn State Athletic Director Dave Joyner stepped out of a small plane into the sour air and down onto the runway. He was flanked by university President Rodney Erickson and a handful of Penn State officials including Vice President for Administration Tom Poole and Athletics Integrity Officer Julie Del Giorno.

Poole is on the six-member search committee along with Joyner. The plane did not carry a prospective coaching candidate as it returned from Destin, Fla., according to flight-tracking websites.

It is known that the search committee has spoken with Franklin about the opening. Franklin’s agent, Trace Armstrong, could not be reached for comment. He was also not among the passengers to exit the plane.

Joyner and Erickson walked quickly through the airport terminal with cellphones to their ears. Joyner got into an SUV and left without talking to reporters. Poole declined comment.

Late Wednesday night, the Times-Tribune (Scranton) reported that Penn State has offered the job to Franklin. The paper cited “several sources close to Penn State’s program.”

A high-ranking Penn State source told the Centre Daily Times the job had not been offered, however. The university source said that while it appeared Franklin had likely emerged as the leading candidate, no announcement is expected Thursday.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday night that although the Washington Redskins reached out to Franklin last week, the Vanderbilt coach does not plan to interview with the NFL club. Schefter and Franklin are represented by the same agent.

Larry Johnson, who is serving as interim head coach, and Miami’s Al Golden are other candidates Penn State is considering in addition to San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who reportedly was interviewed earlier this week. Former Penn State player and Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak has also earned the interest of the search committee. Penn State had talks with Munchak on Sunday. Schefter reported that Munchak will interview with the Detroit Lions on Friday.

Meanwhile, Franklin has become a hot commodity and a coveted candidate for multiple programs and NFL franchises. He’s led Vanderbilt to its most consistent wave of success in the program’s 123-year history. Franklin has compiled a 24-15 record at Vanderbilt with three bowl appearances, and drew reported interest from Texas officials before the Longhorns hired Charlie Strong.

A former quarterback for East Stroudsburg University, Franklin, 41, was born in Langhorne, north of Philadelphia. He coached at Maryland, where he was tabbed coach-in-waiting behind Ralph Friedgen. But Franklin took the Vanderbilt job before he could take over the Terrapins.

Now, Vanderbilt is ready to make a final push to keep Franklin on its payroll.

Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams told Nashville’s 104.5 FM on Wednesday he’s been in contact with Franklin and is prepared to negotiate to keep what he called “the best college football coach in America.”

“I’d shave my head, and I’d give him the money I saved going to the barber shop (to keep him),” Williams said.

A week has passed since Penn State introduced its search committee and Joyner said he expected to name a new coach in days rather than weeks.