Giger: A toxic job not long ago, closing in on Franklin shows PSU’s luster as top-notch gig

If, as expected, James Franklin is indeed the next head coach …

What a great testament it is to the allure of Penn State University and the remarkable resiliency of the football program that they can attract arguably the best available college coaching candidate in the country.

This is a home run of a hire, or at least appears to be now. We’ll see how Franklin fares, but when you can win at a perennial doormat like Vanderbilt, there’s no reason to believe he won’t be successful with the Nittany Lions.

No one needs to be reminded of how bad things were for the PSU program two years ago, and then even worse when the NCAA sanctions were levied in July of 2012.

Things aren’t nearly as bad now — thanks to Bill O’Brien’s tremendous work — but there are still several legitimate issues that could have scared away top prospective coaches.

The program is still dealing with severe sanctions. The school also has a lame-duck president in Rodney Erickson and lame-duck athletic director in Dave Joyner, so the next coach won’t even know who his bosses are for several months.

O’Brien’s explosive comments about the “Paterno people” while he had one foot out the door also could be construed as an obstacle the next coach will have to deal with.

Despite all of that, if Franklin is hired, Penn State will have landed its top choice and the best fit for the program.

NFL teams were interested in this guy.

He was mentioned as a possibility at Texas, which many people believe is the best college job in the country.

Yet he’s coming to a program that’s still dealing with severe scholarship reductions, that still can’t go to a bowl game for two years (maybe less) and will have big question marks on the field next season because of key personnel losses.


Why would James Franklin, the toast of the college football coaching carousel, come to Penn State?

Only he knows all of the reasons, but obviously the terrific football facilities and tradition play a key role. A stadium that can seat 100,000-plus passionate fans can never be overlooked as a destination job, even with sanctions hanging over the program.

The bottom line has to be that Franklin believes he can have success — a lot of success — at Penn State.

He’s a Pennsylvania native who grew up watching and rooting for Joe Paterno’s teams, and the allure of coming back home and trying to get the program back to national prominence has to be appealing.

So, too, is the fact that he has a franchise quarterback to build around in Christian Hackenberg. When you have a good quarterback, you always have a chance, so Franklin probably figures he can win immediately.

That’s the only concern: What if he wins immediately and performs so well that an NFL or other college team comes calling?

That’s a very real possibility, and you’d think Penn State officials are putting provisions in the deal that protect the school in some way from a stability standpoint. At minimum, a hefty buyout should be in order.

But you know what, if Franklin leaves after two years like O’Brien did, Penn State can cross that bridge then. You can’t go through life worrying about what might happen, and in this case, the benefit of getting the best coach available right now offered too good of a scenario for PSU to pass up.

I’ve felt all along that stability should be the biggest issue in the hire. One thing many sports columnists do is marry one opinion and refuse to consider the benefits of other possibilities, but I have spent the past few days talking to as many people as I could to get their thoughts on the stability versus the two-and-done possibility with Franklin.

The biggest takeaway I’ve heard from others is that, if Franklin has enough success over the next two years to land himself a better job, then Penn State will have been better off for having him around. Because at that point, the Penn State job would be an even better job and could attract possibly even more great candidates.

Two years from now, the sanctions will be in the rearview mirror. There will be a new president in place. There will be a new AD. Removing those factors alone would make it a more appealing job.

Still, the fact that it’s appealing enough right now to land a hot coaching commodity such as James Franklin speaks volumes for how differently Penn State football is perceived nationally compared to two years ago.

A toxic job? Not anymore. Try top notch.

Cory Giger is the host of “Sports Central” from 4 to 6 p.m. daily on ESPN Radio 1430 WVAM. Reach him at 949-7031 or @CoryGiger on Twitter.