With the Penn State Nittany Lions transitioning from now-NFL coach Bill O’Brien to former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, the expectations obviously change. O’Brien was in charge of rebooting a program lost in the devastation of the Jerry Sandusky sanctions and firing/death of Joe Paterno. The weight of the world was on his shoulders. But Franklin can walk into his tenure at Penn State with a different mindset knowing he has the support of the university and fans. That’s why he does not need to be a big winner right away in Happy Valley.
At age 42, James Franklin is a relatively young coach who has built his reputation on energizing programs and recruiting very well. He’ll have a little more leeway than most other coaches stepping into a job at a large program like Penn State because of the fact that he’s younger and relies heavily upon recruiting.
I don’t think it’s very likely, but if the Nittany Lions should finish something like 4-8 in Franklin’s first season his image would obviously take a hit; but fans and boosters would have much patience with him. They’ve heard nothing but great things about their new coach, and he’s going to be an exciting member of the program. There will be no reason to turn on him if the first season doesn’t match expectations.
Helping support this is a great incoming recruiting class, especially when you consider how little time Franklin had to assemble this class. Franklin was able to flip some of his commitments from Vanderbilt over to Penn State when he was hired, and he was able to land one of the best wide receivers in the country in Saeed Blacknall, who didn’t commit to the Nittany Lions until late January.
As long as he continues this upward trend of recruiting, his results this season — and probably even next season, to an extent — will not be weighed as heavily as most other head coaches stepping into a position like this. Of course, there would be all kinds of talk that the pressure is too much for Franklin and that he can’t be a winner at this level. That’s bogus. This man will be one of the best coaches in the Big 10 very soon.
It is not imperative that he wins immediately, though. He is going to build the program he wants, recruit at a very high level and become a positive, active member of this program. His presence will be enjoyed for years to come.