The new Penn State football coach is coming home, in a sense.
James Franklin, who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs, will be leading the Nittany Lions when they open their 2014 season in Ireland's Croke Park.
A news release on Penn State's athletics website indicates that Franklin, who has led a stunning building project at Vanderbilt, will be announced today as the Lions' 16th head coach in program history.
“I can't tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin said in the Penn State news release announcing his hiring. “I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor.”
Certainly, he is not a university “insider,” so to speak, like other top candidates Al Golden and Mike Munchak. Both played under Joe Paterno and Golden even briefly coached on Paterno's staff. But Franklin did grow up in Pennsylvania (Langhorne), attended high school and college here (Neshaminy and East Stroudsburg University) and began his coaching career at two Pennsylvania universities.
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Plus, two of his top-line assistants at Vanderbilt are Pennsylvania natives.
Franklin is one of the hottest, up-and-coming head coaching prospects in the nation and was reportedly linked to recent openings at the University of Texas, the Washington Redskins and the Houston Texans, where Bill O'Brien ended up.
Franklin is known as a high-energy, straight-talking, players'-coach and a top-level recruiter. He is a former quarterback and is known as an offensive-minded teacher.
“I think he's perfect, he's absolutely a home run. watch out,” said Mike Farrell, a national recruiting analyst with Rivals.com. “People will forget about Bill O'Brien very quickly.”
“He brings instant energy to the fan base and the recruiting world,” said Brian Dohn, a national recruiting analyst with Scout.com. “The thing is, he understands Penn State, he's from the area. He gets how to use them in the market place. He'll have instant credibility.
“Even when Bill O'Brien was hired it took time for people. They said, 'Who is Bill O'Brien?' They won't do that (with Franklin),” Dohn said. “People will know who James Franklin is.”
Franklin has moved around quite a bit as a college assistant, including offensive coordinator duties at Kansas State and two stints at Maryland, the second as assistant head coach. But his national attention comes from recent work leading Vanderbilt, the academic power and longtime football doormat of the powerful SEC.
He promptly drove the Commodores to three-straight bowl games, including their current 16-4 run, the second-best SEC record during this span, behind only Alabama. Their nine victories in each of the past two seasons are the program's most since 1915.
And he was celebrated for conquering Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in school history.
In the Penn State news release, he pointed out a difference between where he's been and where he's going.
“I've worked my way through every division of football and no other school boasts a fan base like we do,” Franklin said of the Nittany Lions.
Franklin's hiring comes a little over a week after O'Brien's departure was leaked late on New Year's Eve. Franklin was immediately considered a top replacement candidate, along with Golden, Munchak, Penn State defensive coach Larry Johnson and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Johnson, a favorite among current and recent Penn State players, has served as interim head coach and the point person to the program's 19-member recruiting class which will be finalized in a few weeks.
There seems to be a good chance that Johnson, also a renowned line coach and recruiter, could stay with the new staff, like he did with O'Brien.
Penn State officials have summoned reporters who cover the football team to Beaver Stadium for what it calls a “major announcement” at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. Franklin will be introduced at the news conference, according to a statement on the Penn State athletics website.
ESPN.com is reporting that Franklin would be paid $4.5 million a year, which would make him the second-highest paid coach in the Big Ten, behind Ohio State's Urban Meyer.
Frank Bodani covers Penn State athletics for Digital First Media at the York Daily Record and Sunday News. Follow his Penn State football coverage on Twitter @YDRPennState.