JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt’s Franklin jumps ship to Penn State

JOE BIDDLE: Vanderbilt's Franklin jumps ship to Penn State (Image 1)

Much to the chagrin of Commodore Nation, it was Anchors Away for James Franklin.

Unlike many college football coaches who jump ship for more money, such was not the case for Franklin.

He agreed to a six-year contract that will pay him up to $4.5 million a year. Vanderbilt countered Penn State with a 10-year contract worth $5 million a year. In addition Vanderbilt agreed to continue adding much-needed football facilities.

It was a whirlwind weekend for Franklin, as he wrestled between moving to Penn State and remaining at Vanderbilt. He grew up in a Philadelphia suburb, so maybe it was the attraction of going home that was the difference.

It didn't take him long to pledge his allegiance.

“I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart,'' Franklin repeated a number of times during his inaugural press conference Saturday afternoon. “I think I'm the right guy to come back and unite this state.''

More likely, it was the opportunity to coach a more nationally known program, one that is still under NCAA sanctions. Those sanctions give Franklin more time to put his program in place.

There is no doubt Franklin will find Penn State an easier place to win in the Big Ten, than Vanderbilt was to win in the SEC. Back-to-back nine-win seasons was unheard of at Vanderbilt. He may well have hit the ceiling at Vanderbilt. Even at that, Vanderbilt fans cannot fill the SEC's smallest stadium unless a top level SEC opponent brings thousands of fans.

How will Franklin fare at Penn State? He has seven home games this season, including Ohio State, Michigan State, Northwestern and Maryland. Non-conference games include Central Florida, Akron, UMass and Temple. Rutgers and Maryland are new Big Ten members.

“This is my dream job,'' said Franklin, who came to a Penn State summer football camp when he was in the 11th grade. “We are going to dominate this state. We are going to dominate this region.''

Franklin is obsessive-compulsive about playing them one game at a time. He was famous for treating each game the same at Vanderbilt.
After beating Georgia this season, Franklin refused to admit that what many considered to be his first signature win in his three seasons was no different than beating Presbyterian or Austin Peay. You might trace that kind of off the chart nonsense to his psychology degree.

No one in the Nashville media bought it, instead considered it absurd. Franklin might think a long time about trying to pull that charade at Penn State. Beating Ohio State will not be the same as beating UMass or Akron.

Penn State media and fans might want to know what they are getting in Franklin. He is extremely bright, charismatic, organized, a marketing machine, a tireless worker and recruiter. No small detail slips by him.

Franklin also feeds an enormous ego. The joke around Nashville media was that it was dangerous to get between Franklin and a TV camera. He is a self-promoter, but was able to accomplish things at Vanderbilt that had never been done in the more than 100 years of football there.

His three Vanderbilt teams were 24-15 overall, boosted by an 11-1 record over non-conference cupcakes. Of his 11 SEC wins, only two came against teams that finished with winning records. His best SEC record was in 2012 when Vanderbilt went 5-3. Those five teams were 6-34 in the SEC, led by a 0-8 Auburn team.

Franklin didn't stay long enough to coach a team filled with his recruits. This year's seniors committed and signed with Bobby Johnson or Robbie Caldwell. It included All-SEC wide receiver Jordan Matthews.

By no means is Franklin leaving a bare cupboard for his successor. His 2013 recruiting class was ranked No. 22 in the country. His commitments are currently ranked No. 29.

“Our program is stronger in every way than it was just a few short years ago,'' said Athletics Director David Williams. “I want to assure our campus community and Commodore Nation that we are prepared to begin the process that we've used in the past to identify and hire our other very successful head coaches.''

Franklin will be difficult to duplicate, but there are some young coaches who would find Vanderbilt's job appealing.

I'm not in the Human Resources business, but my preference among possible replacements I have seen is Colorado's Mike MacIntyre. He has been their coach one season. The AD is former Vandy football assistant and administrator Rick George.

MacIntyre is the son of former Vandy coach George MacIntyre. He played at Brentwood Academy under Carlton Flatt and played two years for his father at Vanderbilt. He finished his eligibility at Georgia Tech and has coached and recruited in the South at Ole Miss and Duke. He was on Bill Parcell's staff in Dallas. He turned around San Jose State's program in his first head-coaching job before moving to Colorado.

James Franklin said he was excited to be going home. Mike MacIntyre would truly be coming home.  

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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