Penn State has the stage set, the cameras ready and lights warming up for a press conference today at Beaver Stadium.
A “major announcement,” according to the university — certainly the unveiling of the Nittany Lions’ new head coach.
They, uh, just aren’t allowed to actually use his name yet.
Barring something truly bizarre — and after these last 26 months in State College, that’s saying something — that man will be James Franklin.
CBS Sports first reported Thursday that the Vanderbilt coach had reached an agreement with Penn State, noting that it could take up to 48 hours to finalize a deal.
Indeed, Franklin’s proposed contract must first be approved by the recently created compensation committee of the school’s board of trustees this morning. The school was required to first post written notice of the meeting, which said there will be an executive session at 8:30 a.m. followed by a public session at 9 a.m.
Both Penn State and Franklin have had their lips sealed these past few days with the situation in limbo. As such, the school has not yet announced Franklin as the new coach, though that should come soon after the meeting ends.
As it so happens, Franklin is expected to address Vanderbilt players and coaches at 9 a.m. (8 a.m. CST), according to The Tennessean.
The press conference is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. at Beaver Stadium with Penn State president Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner front and center.
Franklin’s contract, according to an ESPN report, is expected to be worth up to $4.5 million a year after incentives, which would put him in the top 10 in the country and second in the Big Ten, behind only Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
That type of commitment indicates the Lions are hoping to keep Franklin around longer than the two years Bill O’Brien lasted before taking a job with the Houston Texans.
Penn State announced the formation of a search committee to replace O’Brien on Jan. 2. Early reports focused on Lions alums Al Golden and Mike Munchak before zeroing in on Franklin, a fiery 41-year-old who grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Plenty of other teams were interested as well.
Texas reportedly had Franklin on its short list to replace Mack Brown. NFL teams such as the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns had touched base to gauge interest.
That’s the kind of attention that comes with a coach who went 24-15 in three seasons at Vanderbilt, a historical doormat in the dominant SEC.
In Franklin, Penn State will be getting a charismatic and energetic young coach, one who had success recruiting as well as on the field.
Franklin’s background is on offense, working as an offensive coordinator at Maryland and Kansas State before landing the job at Vanderbilt. That’s something that should please Lions quarterback Christian Hackenberg and a score of recruits who had been sold on O’Brien’s resume.
What Penn State isn’t getting in its new coach is a guarantee of long-term stability.
One of the main reasons Golden and Munchak were attractive candidates is because both had strong ties to the university and would have been unlikely to bolt for another job as O’Brien did.
For his part, Franklin has Pennsylvania roots as a native of Langhorne who attended Neshaminy High School. He played quarterback in college at East Stroudsburg, and his early coaching stops included his alma mater and Kutztown.
But if there’s a twinge of concern in hiring one of the most sought-after coaches in the country, it’s that other places will likely continue checking in on him in years to come.
Franklin’s three-year stint with the Commodores was one of his longer stops in a coaching career that has seen him hold 10 jobs with nine teams before the age of 40.
If Franklin takes the baton from O’Brien and lifts the Lions fully out of the quicksand of NCAA sanctions, Penn State could have some more negotiation-filled offseasons in its future.
But for now, Franklin has to put together a coaching staff and work to keep the 2014 team as intact as possible. Players are just beginning to return to campus now as classes resume Monday.
On top of that, Franklin will be subject to more media attention than he has ever received before. That will include references to an incident at Vanderbilt where four of his players allegedly raped an unconscious woman last June. A fifth player had been charged with trying to cover it up and pled guilty to a misdemeanor in exchange for testimony against the others.
Franklin himself faces no charges, with the presiding district attorney stating “there was no evidence whatsoever” of wrongdoing by Franklin, who dismissed the players from the team. He could, however, be subpoenaed to testify if the case goes to trial, and defense attorneys have publicly mentioned the possibility.
The situation has vaulted back into the spotlight this week because, of course, Franklin’s employer-to-be is two years removed from one of the most infamous sexual abuse scandals on record.
Perception is particularly important to Penn State, not just from a public relations perspective but because the status of the sanctions remains subject to review by independent monitor George Mitchell, the former senator.
The university’s reform efforts have made enough progress in the eyes of Mitchell and the NCAA that the sanctions have already been reduced.
Franklin and his new staff will be able to sign close to a full recruiting class next month, with the program gradually returning to the normal scholarship limits of 25 per year and 85 total.
In addition, the NCAA has hinted that the remaining two years of Penn State’s postseason ban may be lifted as soon as this offseason, meaning Franklin could have a shot to lead the Lions to a bowl game next winter.
As to who will help him in that quest, Franklin will likely bring along some number of assistants from Vanderbilt. The status of Lions interim coach Larry Johnson will no doubt be a main topic today as it’s unknown if the veteran assistant would return in that role if offered by Franklin.
But no matter what twists come next, the next era for Penn State figures to be anything but dull.