Bob Smizik: Is Franklin right for Penn State?

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By most accounts, Penn State is in the process of hiring James Franklin as its next football coach. Considering Franklin’s coaching resume, that should be a cause for celebration. Franklin, 41 and a Pennsylvania native, revitalized the Vanderbilt football program, which for years was a doormat in the powerful Southeastern Conference. He's young, bright, energetic, well-spoken and deals exceptionally well with players.

But hold the celebration. Franklin comes with baggage. It’s the kind of baggage that prompted Dennis Dodd, a senior college football columnist for CBSSports.com, to write a story that carried this headline:

"Penn State, of all teams, should have avoided James Franklin"

The first sentence of the column was this: ''Penn State cannot hire James Franklin. Can't even begin to think about it, actually."

Not everyone shares Dodd's perspective. Gregg Doyel, the national columnist for the same site, wrote a column that was headlined, "James Franklin the right man -- and perfect coach -- for Penn State."

In his column, Dodd was referencing, in particular, a rape on the Vanderbilt campus in June involving four football players and a 21-year-old female student who was unconscious. The incident resulted in the indictment of four players, none of whom have ever played for Vanderbilt, for rape and another for alleged involvement in a coverup.

Before going any further, the following quote from Nashville deputy district attorney Tom Thurman must be presented. He said:

"We just wanted to state clearly that there’s no evidence whatsoever where Coach Franklin was involved in any way in the cover-up or has done anything inappropriate."

But being legally in the clear, as anyone who has followed Penn State well knows, is meaningless when it comes to public figures like football coaches.

Charges, without substantiation, have been leveled against Franklin.

The following three paragraphs were taken from an excellent accounting of the rape story, written in September, and posted on BuzzFeed.com. The article can be read here.

"A source close to one of the defendants said he believes that Franklin encouraged a player to delete a video of the incident after the player showed it to Franklin.

'I’m 99.9 percent sure that Franklin saw the video,' the source said. 'And I wouldn’t be surprised if the public finds this out soon.'

'Coach Franklin denies that emphatically,' said Hal Hardin, Franklin’s attorney. 'People always speculate and gossip. There is no truth to that accusation whatsoever. It’s inflammatory.' "

There’s more. This from the Patriot-News:

''Defense attorneys for one of the players in the case have explicitly asked for -- and complained about not receiving -- text messages between players and Vanderbilt coaching staff regarding the incident as part of discovery in the case.

''What's more, the defense attorneys also say they are preparing to subpoena Franklin in anticipation of his taking a coaching job elsewhere.

'We want to make sure if he takes a job outside of Nashville we can compel him as a witness if we desire him to be one,' said defense attorney Fletcher Long."

The above could be nothing more than posturing. But suffice to say, Franklin comes with a mountain of baggage. And, sadly, the rape case is not all. During a radio interview in 2012, Franklin said a top qualification for any assistant coach he hires is to have an attractive wife.

Here is a transcript of part of that interview:

"I've been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I've seen his wife. If she looks the part, and she's a D-1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That's part of the deal."

He continued: "There's a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a woman, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him."

Franklin issued the following apology on Twitter

"I enjoy my family, my job, interviews w/ the media, meeting new people, learning & getting better & not taking my self or my job 2 serious!. ...

"Attempt at humor obviously fell a few yds short. Was speaking to the courage it takes 4 men 2 approach the women who become their wives!!!!! ... If a man can convince the women of his dreams 2 marry him,he can probably do just about anything,that type of confidence along w/ coaching ...

"Skills is what I am looking 4.As a husband & father of 2 daughters I regret the way I conveyed my message! ... I clearly used language that doesn't reflect my views on women and I am SORRY!"

On the football field, on the recruiting trail, in media sessions, Franklin looks to be just the right man to succeed Bill O’Brien.

But if Penn State finalizes the reported hiring, Franklin’s abundant baggage will take front and center over his coaching skills.


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