STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (WHTM) — The success of Penn State Football always starts with the top office and head coach James Franklin. As he heads into his 10th season as the Nittany Lions head coach, his faith in Penn State University will define 2023.
When Franklin took the Penn State job in 2014, the program was still reeling from the NCAA sanctions, and there wasn’t a University President or Athletic Director firmly in place.
“There’s been really two times now, I took the job with an interim AD and an interim university president and then signed a ten-year contract [in 2021], not knowing kind of the future there as well,” Franklin said. “So it’s worked out well.”
Franklin was hired on January 11, 2014, then-Athletic Director Sandy Barbour’s first day at Penn State was August 18, 2014. University President Rodney Erickson (2011-2014) was on his way out, to be replaced by Eric Barron in May 2014.
Franklin committed to Penn State amid administrative upheaval, and he committed a second time during more transition in 2021.
Barbour announced her retirement in March 2022, beginning the search for Dr. Pat Kraft, who took over July 1, 2022. Current University President Neeli Bendapudi was named successor for Barron in December 2021.
“The decision that the University made in hiring Neeli Bendapudi has been huge,” Franklin said. “And being able to go out and hire Dr. Pat Kraft [was huge]. He’s obviously an established athletic director, whether it’s Temple or Boston College. Even more so than that, he’s a Big Ten guy. He played football in the Big Ten. I think all those things help. My relationship with Pat, really since he’s arrived on campus, has been good.”
Deciding to commit decades of his life to a University despite knowing who will be around him in the administration shows a clear faith in Penn State from Franklin. That faith in the school, clearly translating into success on the field.
Coming off the heels of the school’s first Rose Bowl win since the 1994 season, and an 11-2 overall record, the expectations for the program are sky high.
Fans are clamoring for Penn State’s first appearance in the College Football Playoff, and many expect that to come in 2023 despite a new starting quarterback.
While presumed starter Drew Allar will have a huge role in Penn State’s success this season, success starts at the top.
Franklin has a 78-36 record as head coach of Penn State, with four 11-win seasons, a Big Ten Championship in 2016 and is 3-1 in New Year’s Six bowl games.
The Nittany Lions have finished in the top 12 in end of season College Football Playoff rankings in five of the last seven seasons.
And yet, Franklin has been often criticized for not “winning the big games” against Michigan or Ohio State; and his name is tied to seemingly every coaching vacancy across the country.
As recently as the 2021 season, Franklin was linked heavily to the opening at USC (eventually filled by Lincoln Riley). Rumors swirled for months about his interest in the job, until he finally put those to bed on November 23, 2021 by signing a new 10-year contract through 2031 worth over $70 million.
“It’s kind of the same thing I’ve said before this is home,” Franklin said on Nov. 24, 2021 of why he loves being at Penn State. “I’ve coached all over the country, in every major conference. I had an opportunity to come back home which is unusual, but I’ll be honest with you for me it’s about people. I’m committed to these kids, the staff and the people that I’ve gotten to know in the community. I’m very fortunate and blessed, I’m one of the few guys in this profession that my children have the chance to go to the same school from the time they’re in elementary school all the way through high school and possibly college. That’s very unusual in our profession. I’m more than just a football coach, I want to be a good dad too. So all those things.”
In 2021, Franklin was fighting for significant upgrades to facilities and more resources for his program.
“We wanted to make sure when we first got here that we took care of all the things that impacted the players: the locker room, the weight room, the meeting room,” Franklin said. “So we had the best environment possible to teach and coach and help them grow, so those things were really important.”
He used the 2021 contract negotiation to solidify some of the commitments to football, like the Lasch Building renovations and staffing.
“When you talk about facilities, that was a fight when I first got here,” Franklin said. “There was some resistance to that, very similar to what we’re going through now with the change in NIL rules and transfer portal and things like that. So the quicker we can embrace these things, then the quicker we can get to competing at the very, very highest level on a consistent basis.”
As Penn State opens up the 2023 season in less than three months, Franklin told abc27 it is realistic to expect this team to contend for the College Football Playoff.
For more from abc27’s interview with Coach Franklin, you can watch the full video here.
Penn State Football opens its season on Saturday, September 2 against West Virginia inside Beaver Stadium.