STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — James Franklin smiled when he took the dais here Saturday as he was formally introduced as Penn State’s 16th head football coach.
“I’m excited to come here,” he said during an hourlong news conference. “I’m a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart.” The former Vanderbilt coach met with Commodores players at 9 a.m. ET Saturday before hopping on a twin-jet to Happy Valley. About two dozen fans and photographers stood behind an airport gate at Penn State to greet the new coach. The Pennsylvania native, who grew up in Langhorne, Pa., shouted to fans there: “It’s good to be home!”
Franklin signed a six-year deal worth $25.5 million in total guaranteed compensation, with a buyout starting out at $5 million and gradually decreasing to $1 million by the last year of the contract. Penn State’s newly formed Compensation Committee unanimously approved the deal, 6-0, at a Saturday morning meeting.
“I’d still be at Vanderbilt if it wasn’t just such an unbelievable opportunity,” he said. “We’re coming with the mindset we’re going to build this program. … We plan on being here a very, very long time. This is my dream job; this is where I want to be.”
Franklin, who coached at Vanderbilt the last three seasons, entertained overtures this offseason from the NFL’s Houston Texans, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns before agreeing to a deal with Penn State. He replaces Bill O’Brien, who left for the Texans earlier this month after two seasons.
O’Brien guided PSU through unprecedented sanctions, levied by the NCAA in response to the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal. He finished with records of 8-4 and 7-5.
Players were largely stunned by O’Brien’s departure last month but wished him well. Those same players told ESPN.com they were looking forward to working with Franklin.
“I’m really excited. I think Coach Franklin was a great choice to get,” receiver Geno Lewis told ESPN.com on Saturday. “We’re really a team that’s together, and we’re all in. We’re excited to be stable and have a coach to get the ball rolling.”
The hire was widely regarded as a positive for the university, but not everyone supported it. University associate professor Michelle Rodino-Colocino started an online petition in advance of the news and called the potential hire “appalling” because of an investigation regarding several of Franklin’s Vanderbilt players accused of committing a rape.
The coach dismissed four players in connection with the incident but was suspected of deleting criminal evidence. Prosecutors cleared him of wrongdoing, but a trial for the accused players is set to begin in August. Rodino-Colocino’s petition received more than 500 signatures. However, an official from the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape told PennLive.com there was no reason to condemn Franklin.
Franklin said Saturday his discussions with Penn State regarding the alleged rape were honest and forthright. Athletic director Dave Joyner said he “couldn’t be more confident in the character of this man.”
Franklin comes to Penn State after inheriting a Vanderbilt team in 2011 that made one bowl game in the previous 28 years and hadn’t experienced a nine-win season since 1915. Under his tutelage, the Commodores made three bowl games in a row — the first time in school history — and finished with back-to-back nine-win seasons.
He spoke passionately for much of his introductory news conference and told the media that Beaver Stadium’s 107,000-seat capacity would be filled every week. He also said he planned to run multiple pro-style sets and would “dominate the state” and the region in recruiting.
“Best day of my life,” Franklin said, reversing course after glancing left and laughing after making eye contact with his wife and daughters. “Third best day.”
Earlier this week, ESPN reported that other candidates for the Penn State job included Miami’s Al Golden, former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Penn State interim coach Larry Johnson also reportedly interviewed with the committee.
Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said in a statement the Commodores plan to hire someone who can build on the progress of the past few years. Williams said Franklin called him Friday night telling him he was accepting the Penn State job.
“There is no question that James Franklin’s outstanding work has helped put Vanderbilt football on the national stage,” Williams said. “We are extremely sorry to see the Franklin family leave our university and community, and we thank them and wish them the very best.”