Posts tagged ‘Rod Erickson’

With Bold Talk and Home-State Pride, James Franklin Takes Over at Penn State

There were a few lines that James Franklin had almost certainly rehearsed.

“I’m a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart.”

“It’s about people. I’m a relationships guy.”

“We now have two daughters and 95 new sons.”

But what might have been the most memorable moment of the press conference announcing Franklin as Penn State’s 16th head football coach on Saturday afternoon appeared entirely unscripted. Wrapping up an answer near the end of the presser, Franklin was emphasizing how much this particular job meant to him. “Best day of my life,” he said.

DSC_0573_Franklin

There was a pause of two or three seconds before Franklin, noticing his two young daughters, Shola and Addy, in front of the podium, added, “I’m sorry. Third best day of my life.”

There was laughter among the overflow crowd in the Beaver Stadium press room. Having spent the better part of an hour convincing the assembled media and a national TV audience that he had accepted his “dream job,” the 41-year-old Franklin had earned a pass. It was easy to believe that, the births of his daughters aside, Franklin had indeed landed what he sees as the job of a lifetime.

Flanked by university president Rod Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner, Franklin met the media Saturday after signing a six-year contract worth up to $4.5 million each year. For Nittany Lion fans, the hiring of one of the nation’s most coveted young coaches confirms Penn State as one of the top coaching jobs in college football. “Our program requires a very special kind of leader,” Erickson said. “We ran a careful and deliberate search process, and I believe we have found the right person to lead our program.”

Franklin is a Langhorne, Pa., native who grew up believing “everybody in this state is a Penn State fan.” He first stepped on campus in junior high, when he attended a summer football camp. “I thought I was good enough to play for Penn State,” he said. “I was not.” But he was good enough to be a record-setting quarterback at East Stroudsburg, a career that set him on the path of a 15-year assistant coach, with stops at seven different schools and a year with the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.

He got a chance to lead a program in 2011, taking over a historically weak Vanderbilt program and quickly making the Commodores competitive in the talent-loaded SEC. Vandy, with its academic prowess and Cinderella appeal, became one of college football’s feel-good stories, but there were some things the job couldn’t offer—namely, a 107,000-seat stadium, and national recruiting appeal, all close to where he grew up.

“I’m excited to be home,” he said.

Franklin inherits a program that, while still facing NCAA sanctions, finds itself on stable ground after the two-year tenure of Bill O’Brien. Franklin and O’Brien coached together at Maryland in the early 2000s (former Penn State linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, then the Terps head coach, actually hired Franklin in College Park), and Franklin said he expects O’Brien would be a “great resource” as he settles into the job his former colleague just left.

Among the noteworthy ground Franklin covered Saturday:

* When asked how long he planned to be at Penn State, Franklin made no promises but said all the right things. “I’d still be at Vanderbilt right now if this wasn’t such an amazing opportunity. We plan on being here a very long time. This is my dream job. This is where I want to be.” He also called himself a “college guy,” consciously or not signaling a key difference between himself and O’Brien, whose NFL ambitions were never a secret.

* Franklin, renowned for his recruiting prowess, was blunt in describing his philosophy for drawing talent: “We are going to dominate the state.” He promised a strong regional and even national recruiting approach, but emphasized that the wealth of in-state talent meant his priority would be keeping Pennsylvania’s best players in Pennsylvania.

* Franklin was asked about the ongoing investigation into a rape case at Vanderbilt involving a number of his former players; while a Nashville DA has cleared Franklin of any wrongdoing regarding his knowledge of the alleged assaults, some in the media have criticized his hiring in the wake of the Sandusky scandal. “It couldn’t have been a more thorough interview process,” he said. “It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever been through personally—as the father of two daughters—and professionally. What I think came out of all this, through their background checks and all the information they got, was that we were honest and up-front, we made decisions quickly, did everything we possibly could to respect the situation, and also worked hard and supported the young men that we have in our program.”

Added Joyner, “This was maybe the most thorough vetting process of any search of any position at this university. We utilized multiple third-party and independent sources … It couldn’t have been a more thorough vetting process with our committee, and with people that asked hard questions and got honest and true answers. My belief, without a doubt, is that James Franklin is a man of extremely high character.”

* Franklin wasn’t put off by the fact that Erickson is scheduled to retire and be replaced by an as-yet-unknown president within the next six months. “That was a concern,” he said,” but what I was sold on, and what I believe, is that Penn State has a plan and a purpose, and a certain type of individual will be attracted to this institution. That’s what made me very comfortable.”

* The status of his Penn State staff, including the possibility of retaining longtime defensive line coach Larry Johnson, remains up in the air. “I am fiercely loyal as a person, fiercely loyal to the people I’ve worked with,” Franklin said. “But I’m also going to have some discussions with people who are here.”

* Franklin joked—well, we think he was joking—about how far he’d go in embracing the off-field responsibilities of the job. That included a pledge not to turn down any speaking engagements, and even to “blow up balloons at kids’ birthday party.”

* Asked about the transition from Vandy’s 40,000-seat stadium to a home field that holds well over double that, Franklin made a promise that doubled as a challenge to his new fan base: “That stadium will be sold out every… single… game from here on out.”

Ryan Jones, senior editor

January 12, 2014 at 12:09 am 5 comments

A Flurry of News Before the Holidays

The last week before the semester break brought a surprising amount of big news about Penn State:

On Tuesday, the university announced that Karen Bretherick Peetz ’77 would not stand for re-election as the chair of the Board of Trustees; her new position as the president of BNY Mellon, she said Wednesday in a teleconference with reporters, didn’t allow enough time to serve as the chair.

In that same Wednesday teleconference, Peetz threw her support for chair to the vice chair, Keith Masser ’73, who runs Sterman Masser, a potato farm in Schuykill County; James Broadhust ’65, chair of the trustees’ governance and long-range planning committee, did the same. Perhaps the bigger surprise, though, was that Anthony Lubrano ’82, who has been an outspoken critic of the board even after being elected to an alumni seat in May, also expressed support for Masser in Thursday’s Centre Daily Times:  “It’s a logical progression for Keith Masser to be chair,” he told the newspaper.

There was no indication as to the whether there will be an additional candidate for chair or who would be running for vice chair; trustees have until Dec. 28 to decide. A more complete description of the process for the election, which will take place during the January meeting, can be found in this story from The Daily Collegian.

On Wednesday, the university announced that Board of Trustees had approved a salary increase for President Rod Erickson—from $515,000 a year to $600,000 a year, retroactive to Nov. 1. A news release from Penn State Live indicates that the raise was based on a performance review and cites study data that places Erickson’s new salary at “about the 50th percentile” of comparable university presidents and chancellors.

And on Thursday, a judge ruled that the lawsuit against Penn State filed by Mike McQueary ’97 could go forward without a resolution to the legal case against top university administrators; the university had asked for a stay. And the university also announced that it had made its first $12 million payment on the $60 million fine imposed by the NCAA. The money is being held in a money market account until a decision is reached on how the money will be distributed. At least one person, Pennsylvania Congressman Charlie Dent, is unhappy with the NCAA’s response to a request that all of the $60 million be distributed in Pennsylvania.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

December 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm 1 comment

Trustees Meet To Discuss NCAA Sanctions

Another day, another unexpected development on campus.

This time, it was an impromptu Board of Trustees meeting. A portion of the board gathered at The Penn Stater Conference Center at 5 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the unprecedented NCAA sanctions handed down Monday and the consent decree that President Rodney Erickson had signed, signaling Penn State’s intention to abide by the sanctions. Reports had surfaced indicating that some trustees were unhappy with the decision and didn’t think they had been adequately informed.

About the time that the meeting started, Don Van Natta Jr. of ESPN’s Outside the Lines settled some of the controversy in this story, in which Erickson said he was told July 17 that a majority of NCAA officials favored a four-year death penalty. NCAA president Mark Emmert confirmed that to Van Natta. Penn State lobbied for the death penalty to be taken off the table, and the reason Erickson signed the consent decree was suddenly more clear.

Reporters, of course, showed up at The Penn Stater this evening ready to ask questions. Turned out, no one answered any. Police were stationed outside the room where the trustees met, and eventually a barricade was installed, preventing anyone from walking down the hall to the room. Erickson left the meeting at a little after 7 p.m. and waved to a couple of reporters who followed him to the parking lot, but he didn’t comment. About an hour later, trustees began leaving one by one, through various doors. (The Penn Stater hotel has some maze-like properties.) Reporters encountered only a few of them, and everyone declined comment.

They did release a statement, which you can find here. It says, in part, “The Board finds the punitive sanctions difficult and the process with the NCAA unfortunate. But as we understand it, the alternatives were worse … The University and board resolve to move forward together to recognize the historical excellence in Penn State’s academic and athletic programs. We anticipate and look forward to demonstrating our outstanding performance in complying with the sanctions.”

No vote was needed, the statement said, and none was taken.

Lori Shontz, senior editor

July 25, 2012 at 9:42 pm 3 comments

Intense and Confident, O’Brien Says He’s Ready for “Unbelievable” Chance at Penn State

First impressions won’t help Bill O’Brien win a single football game — not directly, anyway — but Penn State’s 15th head football coach knew there was much more at stake Saturday morning. In his introduction as the Nittany Lions’ new coach, O’Brien looked and sounded like a man who understood those stakes. He also didn’t look the least bit intimidated.

Greeting a packed Nittany Lion Inn ballroom with the words “This is unbelievable,” O’Brien came off intense, confident, and fully aware of what he’s gotten himself into. With his wife, Colleen, and the younger of his two sons sitting in the front row and roughly 100 media members crammed in behind them, O’Brien offered a statement and took questions. He covered a lot of ground. Among the highlights:

—He acknowledged the unrest regarding the coaching search among fans and former players, reading from a letter he’d written in which he asked for the chance to earn Penn Staters’ respect: “There is so much pride in Penn State, and we will never take that for granted, ever.” (It’s worth noting that LaVar Arrington and Brandon Short, former players who were most critical of the search that led to O’Brien’s hiring, have begun walking back their comments, and the Football Letterman’s Club on Saturday released a letter welcoming O’Brien and pledging support.)

—He spoke of growing up admiring Penn State’s program and image, and Joe Paterno in particular. Of his fellow Brown alum, O’Brien said, “I can’t wait to meet him at some point.”

—He said he planned to complete his coaching staff in the next “two or three days,” and while not ruling out any other members of the current staff, announced that Nittany Lion defensive line coach and ace recruiter Larry Johnson Sr. will be retained. (Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley released a statement Saturday all but confirming his time at the program has come to an end.)

—He spoke briefly of his football philosophy, promising a “game-plan offense” — a phrase that immediately had the message boards buzzing, and which seems to imply innovation and adaptability to what opposing defenses present — and a continuation of Penn State’s reputation for dominant defenses.

There’s much, much more, and if you missed it, you can watch O’Brien’s press conference — including introductory remarks from University president Rod Erickson and acting athletic director Dave Joyner — in its entirety on BTN.com. I imagine we’ll be writing about Coach O’Brien once or twice in the coming days and weeks as well.

Ryan Jones, senior editor

January 7, 2012 at 5:32 pm 5 comments


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