Penn State leadership vacuum 1/3 way filled with Franklin hiring

STATE COLLEGE – James Franklin said at one point that Saturday’s introduction as Penn State’s new football coach was the best day of his life.

Then Franklin glanced toward his wife, Fumi, and daughters Ava and Addison, and quickly corrected himself.

“No, third best day,” said Franklin, cracking one of several of his smiles on the dais in the Beaver Stadium media room.

And despite this being the land of Happy Valley and Joe Paterno, Franklin is only the third-most important hire expected to be made this year at Penn State.

School president Dr. Rodney Erickson is retiring at the end of this school year, and the long-term fate of athletic director Dave Joyner, hired from the board of trustees after the Jerry Sandusky scandal, should be resolved by Erickson’s as-of-yet unnamed replacement.

So while Franklin talked about Penn State being a dream job and that he was a “Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart,” that situation could obviously change before the last of the NCAA sanctions expire in the next two years.

Saturday wasn’t the time for Franklin to ponder that, though. Franklin said he’d love to stay at Penn State a long time and that he’d love to win a lot of games. He was asked if he was an ambassador, and the question is a good one. Much like Texas football or Kentucky basketball, being a politician for the Jimmys and Joes can be every bit as important as the Xs and Os.

In an ideal world, that job should fall on Erickson’s replacement, and perhaps it will in time. It should also fall on Joyner, though his hiring has been criticized as an inside job despite his landing O’Brien and now Franklin, making salesmanship much more difficult than administration.

Franklin said just about everything right on Saturday, though winning his first press conference is trivial compared to winning his first game Aug. 30 vs. Central Florida in Dublin.

He spoke of running multiple formations, which implied a willingness to work with the talent he has instead of slotting them into a system.

He said he wanted to “dominate the state” and then the entire northeast in recruiting.

He and Joyner both mentioned a thorough vetting of the ongoing rape case against four Vanderbilt players during the job interviews, though neither discussed specifics of their conversation to the media.

He said he was comfortable with the people Penn State would hire in key leadership spots.

He said he wouldn’t turn down a speaking engagement anywhere, as he noted that was a necessary part of the Vanderbilt job where he said he met with each fraternity and sorority three times.

“We’ll get out and interact with people. People ask us to come speak at schools; we’re going to be there. People ask us to come speak at social events; we’re going to be there,” said Franklin. “People ask us to blow up balloons in their kid’s birthday party in the back yard; we’ll do that as well.”

He also said he held tremendous respect for Paterno, whose firing still rankles many.

Franklin wants to be a uniter, among both fans and the players he’ll coach. And even though he guaranteed 107,000-person home sellouts in an exchange with a fan blogger who gained admittance to the press conference, Franklin seemed to understand it can’t be forced.

“It’s going to be a process. I have a good understanding, at being in a place like Vanderbilt, where I had to wear more hats than any other coach in the country,” said Franklin.

“You don’t just grab someone’s trust. It’s how you act on a daily basis,” said Franklin. “I have a coaching staff with myself, we’re genuine, we’re real guys. I’m a regular guy and I don’t want to be a robot coach who gives these standard answers. I don’t want to get up and stand in front and act how a head coach is supposed to act. This is their program.”

That football program has its face for the foreseeable future. Like it or not, it’s also the same face for the athletic department and school as a whole, though hopefully not for long.

Let someone else work the Jimmys and Joes. Let Franklin work the Xs and Os.

Brigandi is sports editor at The Sun-Gazette. He may be reached at