Penn State football coach James Franklin optimistic about program after hiring of new president, AD

ByAdam Rittenberg ESPN logo
Thursday, July 28, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS -- After agreeing to a 10-year contract in November, Penn State coach James Franklin thinks the university is positioned to compete for championships.

Franklin praised the hiring of athletic director Pat Kraft, a former football player at Indiana, and university president Neeli Bendapudi from Louisville. He noted that Penn State had both an interim athletic director and interim president when he took the coaching job in January 2014, when the university was still reeling from the child sexual abuse charges involving former football assistant Jerry Sandusky.

"For the first time, the alignment is the way it should be," Franklin told ESPN. "I mean this in total respect. We're doing things and making decisions to move past. It's not all in response, which is what I've been living with for eight years. We're finally at that point, and that's powerful."

Franklin, who is 67-34 at Penn State, had been mentioned as a candidate for other Power 5 openings. He said his career outlook had less to do with other potential employers and more with Penn State's vision for its future.

"For me, the expectations must match the commitment level," Franklin said. "The majority of the places out there, it's not that way. ... If you can get to a place and build the energy and build the momentum and build the trust and the commitment to understand that, people leave because they don't feel like they're getting that.

"I have a relationship with leaders in position of power on campus, and I feel good about the direction of where we can go."

Franklin said he's not knocking recent university administrators, who were "good to me and good to us." But he noted the value of Kraft's football background and Bendapudi's understanding of the importance of football success to the university.

"Those things are going to be really powerful for us, because the previous regime was hired in reaction to what happened in a very different scenario," Franklin said. "There's things that I'm watching my AD say that I used to have to say before. Now I don't have to. I can focus on coaching ball and not be pounding the table."

Franklin guided Penn State to the Big Ten championship in 2016 and a 42-11 record with three AP top-10 finishes from 2016 to 2019. But the program struggled during a shortened 2020 season, starting 0-5 before a 4-0 finish, and went 7-6 last season. His new agreement will pay him $7.5 million annually.

He came to Penn State from Vanderbilt, where he guided the Commodores to consecutive nine-win seasons and AP Top 25 finishes. Franklin credited much of Vanderbilt's success to how he worked with then-athletic director David Williams and influential Board of Trust member John Ingram. He looks forward to achieving similar congruency at Penn State.

"We could get things done," Franklin said. "What people don't understand is all these places are unique and they're sophisticated. And obviously, when you have a massive state school, it's a very different dynamic. That's the thing I'm excited about, the alignment we have right now."