STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Despite overtures from the athletic director and an influential booster trying to convince him to stay at Vanderbilt, James Franklin was set to be introduced Saturday as the 16th head football coach at Penn State.
Penn State’s athletic department issued a news release Friday saying that a “major announcement” would be made at a 4:15 p.m. news conference in the media room at Beaver Stadium. A scheduled noon men’s basketball game at the nearby Bryce Jordan Center prompted the later news conference, officials said.
With final approval of a contract Saturday morning by a Penn State board of trustees committee expected to happen, Franklin, 41, a native of Langhorne, Bucks County, Pa., who is considered to be a rising star in the collegiate coaching ranks, will take over as head coach, succeeding Bill O’Brien.
Penn State is expected to disclose the terms of Franklin’s contract at the news conference, but ESPN.com quoted a source as saying that the deal could be worth up to $4.5 million per year. O’Brien made about $3.2 million this season.
Even with all signs pointing to Franklin taking the Penn State job, a generous Vanderbilt booster and the university’s athletic director worked Friday to try to keep the coach in Nashville.
A Nashville newspaper said Franklin was expected to meet with athletics director David Williams and John Ingram, a man described by the newspaper as “one of the university’s most generous donors and influential people.”
“We love James and we’re fighting hard to keep James, and we’re going to do everything that we can to do that,” Ingram told the paper. “These situations don’t age well for anybody. I think the coach needs to make a decision. ... We certainly look forward to an opportunity to reiterate to James how much we’d like him to stay.”
The Tennessean published a photo on its website of the participants in the meeting walking to their cars, but did not describe the outcome.
News of the imminent hiring spurred a professor to start a petition on Change.org urging the board of trustees to reject Franklin.
Michelle Rodino-Colocino, an associate professor in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Women’s Studies, cited the case in which four Vanderbilt football players were charged with raping and sexually assaulting a female Vanderbilt student last year. A fifth player pleaded guilty to trying to cover up the attack.
In her post on Change.org, Rodino-Colocino said the school should not hire a coach “who has allegedly covered up his players’ gang rape of another student at Vanderbilt. Our university needs to stand up for human rights.”
The five players were dismissed from the team, and the prosecutor in the case said he found no evidence Franklin was involved in a cover-up of the attack. A trial of the four accused players is scheduled to begin in August.
Franklin, a star quarterback at East Stroudsburg in the early 1990’s, led Vanderbilt, usually the weak link in the strong SEC, to 24 victories in three seasons, all of which ended with a bowl game. He has been described by friends as “energetic” and “passionate” and is considered an offensive-minded coach and a fine recruiter.
One of his first tasks is to address the Nittany Lions’ 2014 recruiting class and convince them to keep the commitments they made to O’Brien and his staff.
One recruit, four-star quarterback Michael O’Connor of Bradenton, Fla., had expressed doubts about early enrollment at the university next week but now says he will speak with Franklin before making a final decision, according to Blue White Illustrated.
Franklin also must persuade the doubters in the Penn State community concerning the Vanderbilt rape case.
The anticipated hiring of Franklin ended a nine-day search that included interviews by Penn State’s six-member search committee, chaired by athletic director Dave Joyner, with Franklin, Miami coach Al Golden, former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Nittany Lions interim head coach Larry Johnson, according to various reports.
Franklin and Roman were the only candidates interviewed who did not have previous ties to Penn State.
Franklin emerged as the clear-cut favorite and on Wednesday, university president Rodney Erickson, Joyner and other Penn State officials met with him at his vacation home in Destin, Fla. During that meeting, Franklin reportedly was offered the job.
Two websites, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, said Thursday that Franklin was “expected” to accept the offer. The holdup presumably was because the compensation committee of Penn State’s board of trustees still had to approve the contract.