Franklin shows Terps what could have been

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Penn State’s James Franklin points to the stands after the Nittany Lions won Saturday at Maryland.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Penn State’s James Franklin points to the stands after the Nittany Lions won Saturday at Maryland.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — This was James Franklin’s first trip back to the University of Maryland campus since 2010, when the announced vision called for the Terrapins’ program to be turned over to him.

In 2009, Maryland named Franklin its “coach-in-waiting” to be Ralph Friedgen’s successor.

The plan was hatched by then-Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow, but it blew up when Friedgen balked at retiring after the 2010 season, and Yow’s successor, Kevin Anderson, tore up the arrangement.

Franklin left to become Vanderbilt’s head coach and did a terrific job turning a once-dormant Commodore program into a respectable player in the Southeastern Conference.

Fast forward to Saturday when Franklin, now on the opposite sideline, completed his fourth year as Penn State’s head coach by putting an exclamation point on a 10-2 season with a 66-3 pounding of the Terrapins.

Imagine how those responsible for Maryland’s past decisions — not to mention a fan base that Saturday surrendered half of its stadium to Penn State followers– felt watching this domination unfold.

Then again, that was three and soon to be four athletic directors ago.

Franklin took no public glee in moving his record to 3-1 against his former employer.

“This was my first big break in the profession,” he said in the phone booth that doubled as the Terps’ visiting media quarters. “(Former head coaches) Ron Vanderlinden was very good to me, Ralph Friedgen was very good. I had a great experience at the University of Maryland. I’m forever indebted.”

Though he spent eight seasons in two separate tours here, Franklin said he wasn’t overly emotional for this game but did enjoy seeing some familiar faces of ushers, workers and boosters.

“It’s nice to come back,” he said. “This place was very good to me.”

If what he’s done at Penn State is any indication, and it sure should be, Maryland’s loss has been the Nittany Lions’ gain.

In Franklin’s first season amid the sanctions, the Lions lost to the Terps 20-19 (one first down away from clinching the game), then beat the Terps 31-30 at M&T Bank (Ravens) Stadium in 2015.

The last two years have produced a pair of blowouts by a combined 104-17 — 38-14 and 66-3.

“I’m pleased with the progress our program is making,” Franklin said. “I think we’re trending upward.”

Maryland not only didn’t execute a smooth transition to Franklin, it wound up firing Friedgen after the 2010 season, hiring and later firing Randy Edsall in 2015 and now is working on D.J. Durkin’s second year.

The Terps finished 4-8 and lost seven of their last eight after a 3-1 start.

Franklin, meanwhile, has built the Lions into a Top-10 program.

Saturday’s victory also came smack in the middle of fertile Penn State recruiting territory as the DMV (D.C./Maryland/Virginia) has sent the Lions many standouts over the years.

“For me to say winning doesn’t factor in wouldn’t be accurate,” Franklin said. “I’ve said many times we have to do well in our footprint.”

Safety Marcus Allen is one of those players the Lions have lured from this “footprint.”

Allen knew the significance of Saturday’s game not only to him but to Franklin and Penn State strength coach Dwight Galt, who spent 22 years on the Maryland staff.

“This was a must,” Allen said. “We had to get a win for Coach Galt and Coach Franklin.”

As was the case for a late-season game last year at Rutgers, Penn State fans nearly outnumbered those supporting the Terps, especially at the end as Maryland fans made a steady exit after the first quarter.

“I don’t know what the percentage (of the attendance) was, but when you’re able to travel on the road and get that type of support, I think it’s special,” Franklin said.

Penn State senior, special teams player and Maryland native Josh McPhearson agreed.

McPhearson’s older brother, Gerrick, played for the Terps when Franklin was an assistant in the early 2000s. Josh was “8 or 9” at the time.

“I remember coming to practice with my siblings, and I would see Coach Franklin jogging around the field,” McPhearson said. “After they beat Florida State in a blackout game at home (2004), me and my brothers wanted to go in the locker room, and Coach Franklin was the one who let us go in.

“Tonight was special for him and special for me.”

And not so special for the University of Maryland, which should have hired James Franklin when it had the chance.

Rudel can be reached at (814) 946-7527 or nrudel@altoonamirror.com.

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