UNIVERSITY PARK - James Franklin is thrilled about coming "home." He has his "dream job." And he doesn't plan on leaving any time soon.
"I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart," the personable, charismatic and confident Franklin said Saturday afternoon when he was introduced as the Nittany Lions' new football coach.
The 41-year-old Langhorne, Pa., native comes to Penn State from Vanderbilt, where he turned a perennial loser into a legitimate threat in only three seasons.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
New Penn State football coach James Franklin brings his daughters Shola (left) and Addison along for a brief photo opportunity through the gates that lead to Beaver Stadium’s football field Saturday after a press conference introduced the coach to the media.
A people person at his core, he spoke of family values, the importance of building personal relationships and serving as the stabilizing force Penn State's football program needs following the departure of Bill O'Brien after only two years on the job.
"We plan on being here for a very, very long time," Franklin said. "This is my dream job."
He will be paid handsomely for it, too. The coach received a six-year contract worth $25.5 million, plus significant retention bonuses and performance incentives on top of that.
"To be the head football coach at Penn State, what an unbelievable opportunity," he said.
Franklin called Saturday the "best day of my life." Then he quickly glanced at his wife and two daughters in the front row of the Beaver Stadium media room, smiled and corrected himself.
"Third best day of my life," he said.
Franklin had been the hottest college coaching candidate in the country, with his name mentioned as a possibility for numerous openings. He was in such high demand that he drew interest from some NFL teams.
What's important to the future of Penn State football is that Franklin described himself as "a college guy."
It was never any secret that O'Brien wanted an NFL job, and he landed one less than two weeks ago with the Houston Texans.
In stark contrast, Franklin, who spent a season as an assistant with the Green Bay Packers in 2005, sees himself as better suited for the college game and responsibilities of a college coach.
"It's about the relationships. It's about the kids. It's about the people," he said. "To me, the NFL was more like a job. You've got a bunch of men and they're great guys, but you go home at the end of the day, and you're done.
"In college you're never done. If a kid calls you, he's homesick at 2 o'clock in the morning, you go get him. If a kid is struggling with something, you don't deal with those things [in the NFL]. It's about the relationships, it's about the development of the kids. Don't get me wrong, I like scheming and I like coaching as much as anybody. But it's about putting these young men in a position to be successful in all areas of their life."
Franklin enjoyed more success than any coach ever has at Vanderbilt, leading the team to 9-4 records each of the past two seasons. He said he was very interested in the Penn State job as soon as it came open, and the school's search committee pegged him early on as one of its top candidates.
Athletic Director Dave Joyner led the search committee and said there was "a great pool of candidates." School officials also interviewed Miami (Fla.) coach Al Golden, former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman and PSU interim head coach Larry Johnson.
Joyner personally met with Franklin twice, the first time with the search committee and again Wednesday when he flew to Florida with Penn State President Rodney Erickson.
"I believe we have found the right person to lead our program," Erickson said. "He is an inspiring young leader."
The same kind of things that were said about Franklin on Saturday also were said about O'Brien two years ago. That's why the stability issue has been such a major factor with this hire, since it's not in Penn State's best interest to have to go through a coaching search every few years.
"I think Bill intended to be here for a long time. Bill just had an unbelievable opportunity [with the Texans]," Joyner said.
While there are no guarantees Franklin will stick around any longer than O'Brien did, Joyner believes the circumstances are different and more favorable in that regard this time around.
"[Franklin has] got a lot of deep roots here in Pennsylvania," Joyner said. "He very much likes college football, he wants to coach college football. I have a very strong belief that he wants to be here for a very long time."