Penn State selects James Franklin to lead football program

Nittany Lions’ 16th head coach led Vanderbilt to unprecedented success in past three years

James Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, has been selected as the 16th head football coach in Penn State history. Franklin, formerly head coach at Vanderbilt, addressed a packed media room at Beaver Stadium on Jan. 11. Credit: Patrick Mansell / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State has selected James Franklin, a Pennsylvania native who is one of the nation’s most successful and dynamic coaches, as the 16th head football coach in its storied 127-year history.

Penn State President Rodney Erickson and Director of Athletics Dave Joyner announced Franklin’s appointment today. The enthusiastic and passionate Franklin led Vanderbilt University to unprecedented success in his three years as head coach, winning nine games in each of the past two years, and finishing in the Top 25 in consecutive seasons, both for the first time in school history.

Franklin succeeds Bill O’Brien, who was named head coach of the National Football League’s Houston Texans earlier this month.

James Franklin financial terms.

From Langhorne, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, Franklin’s enthusiasm and tireless efforts resulted in taking Vanderbilt to new heights over the past three years, posting a 24-15 record, including marks of 9-4 during each of the past two seasons, capped by bowl victories. The Commodores finished the 2013 season with five consecutive victories, with wins over Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky in Southeastern Conference play, along with a win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Franklin’s 2012 squad finished the season with seven consecutive victories and posted VU’s first nine-win season since 1915.

“Dr. Joyner and I have stressed that our No. 1 priority in hiring a new coach was to hire an outstanding leader for our football program, one who will continue our long tradition of student-athlete success on the field and in the classroom,” Erickson said. “We have achieved that goal. On behalf of the University and the entire Nittany Lion Nation, I am proud to welcome James Franklin as Penn State's 16th head football coach.

"Coach Franklin's record of success is extraordinary, but even more impressive is his passion for not only the game of football, but also creating an atmosphere in which student-athletes can succeed. His character, work ethic, values and knowledge of the game make him an outstanding fit for our program and to lead our student-athletes."

Penn State and Vanderbilt annually rank among the nation’s top institutions in the graduation of its football student-athletes. In the NCAA Graduation Success Rate data from October 2013, the Nittany Lions and Commodores both ranked among the leaders in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Penn State’s 85 percent Graduation Success Rate was tied for 12th among the nation’s 124 FBS programs and Vanderbilt’s 82 percent GSR was tied for the best in the Southeastern Conference. Both programs were well above the 70 percent FBS graduation rate average.

“We launched this search with several priorities, but our primary focus was to identify someone who shared our commitment to integrity, academics and winning championships,” Joyner said. “We have found that person in James Franklin. Coach Franklin is a highly regarded coach and tremendous leader, but more importantly, he shares the same vision for Penn State Football that we, and our fans, have for the program. His record shows that he takes great pride in the academic and athletic success of his student-athletes. We're thrilled to welcome Coach Franklin to Penn State."

A two-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, Franklin has demonstrated the ability to recruit, teach and motivate talented student-athletes throughout his coaching tenure. He was named Vanderbilt’s head coach on Dec. 17, 2010, after three years as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Maryland, his second stint with the Terps. Franklin was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas State in 2006-07 and the wide receivers coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (2005) prior to arriving in Nashville.

“I can't tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin said. “I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It's important to me to be a part of a University that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.

“I'm incredibly excited to get to know the students, alumni, and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the University as a whole and to the football program in particular,” Franklin added. “I've worked my way through every division of football and no other school boasts a fan base like we do. We Are...Penn State!!”

The engaging Franklin spent this past Monday in Pasadena, appearing on multiple ESPN platforms throughout the day during the network’s coverage of the BCS National Championship Game.

Entering his 20th year in coaching, Franklin directed Vanderbilt to consecutive Top 25 finishes for the first time in the 124-year history of the program. The Commodores finished this past season No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches survey. The 2012 Vanderbilt squad finished No. 23 and 20, respectively, marking its first AP final ranking since 1948. Franklin’s 24 wins tied Dan McGugin for the most by a Vanderbilt coach in his first three seasons.

Franklin led Vanderbilt to a bowl game in each of his three seasons in Nashville, with the last two years resulting in wins over North Carolina State (Music City Bowl) and Houston (BBVA Compass Bowl). The Commodores had played in four bowl games all-time in the 121 seasons prior to his arrival, none in consecutive years.

Vanderbilt has posted four nine-win seasons in program history, with Franklin’s last two teams comprising half of the total. Over the past 20 games, the Commodores’ 16-4 record is second-best in the SEC to Alabama’s 17-3 mark.

Franklin inherited a Vanderbilt team that finished 2-10 in both 2009 and 2010, including a 1-15 SEC mark. From 1983-2010, the Commodores had just one winning season (2008) prior to his arrival. His enthusiasm and coaching acumen drove a quick turnaround in VU’s fortunes, as the team posted a 6-6 regular season record and earned a berth in the Liberty Bowl during his first season. The 2011 bowl berth was Vanderbilt’s second since 1983 and running back Zac Stacy broke the Vanderbilt season record with 1,193 rushing yards.

The Commodores had a breakthrough campaign in 2012 under Franklin, finishing on a seven-game winning streak (longest since 1948) to post a 9-4 mark, VU’s most wins in 97 years. A victory at Missouri sparked an 8-1 finish, which included three consecutive SEC road wins for the first time in program history. The Commodores were 5-3 in SEC play, winning five SEC games for the first time since 1935, and posted two shutouts for the first time since 1968. Vanderbilt defeated NC State, 38-24, in the Liberty Bowl and Franklin was among five finalists for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year. Stacy became the first player in Vanderbilt history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, gaining 1,141 yards to finish with a school record 3,143 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns. Stacy started 12 games and ran for 973 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2013. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews broke the VU season receiving record with 1,363 yards on 94 catches.

Vanderbilt continued its historic rise under Franklin during the 2013 season, capping a school record second consecutive 9-4 campaign with a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Commodores defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in program history, winning in Gainesville and Knoxville, and finished 4-4 in the SEC. Franklin helped Matthews develop into an two-time All-American and first-team All-SEC honoree, having compiled 262 career receptions for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns. He broke the SEC season record with 112 receptions for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns this past season, becoming the first SEC receiver to make 100 catches in a season. Tackle Wesley Johnson also earned first-team All-SEC honors from the coaches and the Associated Press.

Franklin began his coaching career as the wide receivers coach at Kutztown University (1995) and was a graduate assistant coach at East Stroudsburg in 1996, working with the secondary. He then was the wide receivers coach at James Madison (1997), a graduate assistant (tight ends) at Washington State in 1998 and the wide receivers coach at Idaho State (1999).

In 2000, Franklin was named the wide receivers coach at Maryland under head coach Ron Vanderlinden. He continued in that role under new head coach Ralph Friedgen in 2002 and ’03 and helped the Terps to three consecutive 10-win seasons, including an appearance in the 2002 FedEx Orange Bowl. In 2003, Franklin added duties as recruiting coordinator and directed back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the Top 25 nationally. Franklin and O’Brien (running backs) were Maryland assistant coaches in 2003 and ’04 under Friedgen.

After five successful years at Maryland, Franklin was named wide receivers coach on Mike Sherman’s Green Bay Packers staff in 2005. During that season, Green Bay ranked third in the NFL in receptions (383) and seventh in receiving yards (3,766). Donald Driver was among the top receivers in the NFL, ranking second in receptions and eighth in receiving yards, with a then-career-high 86 catches for 1,221 yards.

Franklin served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas State during the 2006-07 seasons under head coach Ron Prince. In 2006, he helped the Wildcats to their first winning season in four years. Franklin coached quarterback Josh Freeman and oversaw an offense that produced a 3,000-yard passer (Freeman), 1,500-yard receiver (All-American wide receiver Jordy Nelson) and 1,000-yard rusher (James Johnson) during the 2007 season, a first in school history. Freeman would go on become the Wildcats’ highest NFL offensive draft pick since 1954 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him 17th overall in the 2009 NFL draft.

Franklin returned to Maryland in 2008 as the Terps’ assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. He helped the Terrapins to victories in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl and the 2010 Military Bowl. The 2010 squad was among the national leaders in scoring offense at 32.2 points per game and was led by ACC Rookie of the Year quarterback Danny O’Brien. He threw for 2,438 yards, 22 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2010, with All-ACC receiver Torrey Smith making 67 catches for 1,055 yards and 12 scores.

In 1998, Franklin began his participation in the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, starting with a stint with the Miami Dolphins and working with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Franklin also worked with Donovan McNabb with the Philadelphia Eagles (1999) and Minnesota Vikings (2008) in the NFL program.

Franklin was a four-year letterman at quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection at East Stroudsburg. He set seven school records as a senior to earn team MVP honors and was a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee for the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Among the records he set were for total offense (3,128 yards), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19).

Franklin graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1995 with a psychology degree. He also earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Washington State University. Franklin graduated from Neshaminy High School in Langhorne.

Franklin and his wife, Fumi, have two daughters, Ava and Addison.

Penn State is among the nation’s premier programs in success on the gridiron and in the classroom. The Nittany Lions’ 730 all-time victories rank No. 12 in the nation and their 27 on-field bowl victories are fourth-highest. A total of 98 Penn Staters have earned first team All-America honors, with 28 first-team All-America selections since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten Conference in 1993. Penn State has had at least one first-team All-American every year since 2005 (12 overall).

Penn State won national championships in 1982 and 1986 under Coach Joe Paterno. Beaver Stadium is the nation’s second-largest facility with a capacity of 106,572 and Penn State has ranked among the top five nationally in NCAA home attendance every year since 1991.

Penn State is consistently among the nation’s most successful programs in the graduation of its football student-athletes. The 2013 NCAA Graduation Rates Report revealed that Penn State earned a football Graduation Success Rate of 85 percent to rank among the top 10 percent of the nation’s 124 Football Bowl Subdivision institutions. The Nittany Lions’ football graduation figure was tied for No. 2 among all public FBS schools, was 15 points higher than the 70 percent FBS average and second to Northwestern among Big Ten institutions, according to the NCAA.

Penn State Football student-athletes have earned a nation’s best 18 Capital One/CoSIDA Academic All-Americans (16 first-team) over the past eight seasons. The Penn State football team has had a least one first-team Academic All-American in 10 of the past 12 seasons (19 overall first-team selections since 2002). The Nittany Lions’ 63 Academic All-America selections all-time rank No. 2 among all Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) institutions.

The Nittany Lions return 15 starters for the 2014 season (seven offense, seven defense, one specialist), which begins Aug. 30 vs. 2014 Fiesta Bowl champion UCF in the Croke Park Classic in Dublin, Ireland. Rose Bowl champion Michigan State, Ohio State, Northwestern and Maryland are the Big Ten opponents who will visit Beaver Stadium during the 2014 season.

For information on joining the Nittany Lion Club and purchasing 2014 season tickets, as well as club seating in Beaver Stadium, fans can visit or call 1-800-NITTANY weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Last Updated December 17, 2014