Why Not James Franklin?

Posted: January 11, 2014 in Penn State
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Former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was introduced as Penn State’s new coach in a press conference this afternoon. (photo credit / Abby Drey)

Penn State hired Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin as their next head coach on Saturday. Franklin replaced Bill O’Brien, who left Penn State to become the head coach of the Houston Texans.

Franklin, who is a Langhorne, PA native and alumni of East Stroudsburg University (Pa.),  spent the last three years as head coach at Vanderbilt University. He took over a Vanderbilt team that finished 2-10 for the second consecutive year and guided the Commodores to 3 consecutive winning seasons and three bowl games, winning two of them.

However, the decision to hire James Franklin (which was made official today) has been met with some mixed reactions. While many people are happy with the hire, there are some people who do not want Penn State to bring in a coach who has any kind of “baggage” with them.

The “baggage” that people against the hire are referring to is the scandal that took place recently (during Franklin’s tenure as head coach)  involving four Vanderbilt football players who were accused of raping an unconscious student in a dorm. Franklin subsequently dismissed the four accused players from the team shortly after the incident took place.

Although Franklin was cleared of any wrongdoing and not accused of anything, there are people who are strongly against the hiring of Franklin.

One professor at Penn State, Michelle Rodino-Colocino (Associate Professor of Film, Video, and Media Studies; affiliate faculty in Women’s Studies) started an online petition on Change.org a few days ago. The petition asked Penn State not to hire Franklin due to his connections to the scandal and the unnecessary baggage that he could bring to Penn State, a school still recovering from the Jerry Sandusky scandal (which also involved sexual abuse) that left them with heavy sanctions from the NCAA.

Her letter to Penn State’s Board of Trustees (who is in charge of the hiring process) reads:

“Dear Penn State Football Coach Search Committee:

We find it appalling that, if reports are true, you are considering naming Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin as our new head football coach here at Penn State. Are you aware that his players are being investigated for gang raping another Vanderbilt student this past June and that James Franklin is suspected of covering up the attacks? Just google “James Franklin” and “rape” and see for yourselves. When you do that search you will find major news outlets including CBS and USA Today coming out and opposing Franklin because of his alleged involvement in these rape cases. USC passed on Franklin because of these allegations. It hardly needs saying that Penn State does not need a football coach on staff who covers up rape. Nor do we need one who is alleged of a cover up. Right?

Do the right thing. Do not hire James Franklin.”

There were several other sportswriters who echoed what the professor said, saying that the last school that should consider hiring Franklin is Penn State.

In a column on CBSSports.com, Dennis Dodd explained why Penn State should not go anywhere near Franklin because of the scandal.

Personally, I think James Franklin is a fantastic hire for Penn State. He is a fiery presence on the sideline and turned a Vanderbilt team that went a combined 4-20 in two years into a team that finished above .500 and made three consecutive bowl appearances, winning two of them. Many fans are excited to see what the Pennsylvania-born coach can do for arguably Pennsylvania’s biggest college football team.

I’m not going to go on about why Franklin is a good hire because there is an almost unanimous consensus that he is a great football coach.

What I don’t understand is why people are attacking him the way they are. Now in fairness to Rodino-Colocino and Dennis Dodd, they are not the only ones who feel this way, but that doesn’t change anything about their arguments.

The fact is there is not much merit to their arguments. For example, Rodino-Colocino titled her petition “Penn State: Do not hire alleged gang rape cover up coach James Franklin.” For the record, Franklin was cleared of any wrongdoing and no charges were brought about against him. The District Attorney in the case even maintained that there was “clearly no evidence whatsoever that Franklin is involved in the coverup … no evidence at all that Franklin did anything wrong”

It’s understandable that Penn State should stay away from any kind of scandal that could make things worse for the school then they already are after the Jerry Sandusky scandal. However, Franklin himself said at his introductory press conference that there was an extensive interview process in which he was asked about the incident.

“Couldn’t have been a more thorough interview process,” Franklin said at the press conference. “We discussed everything. The most challenging thing that I’ve ever been through personally as a father of two daughters and professionally.”

“But what I think that came out through all of this, through their background checks and all the information that they got, is that we were honest. We were up front.” Franklin added.

In his column, titled “Penn State, of all teams, should have avoided James Franklin”, Dodd suggested that Penn State should distance themselves from Franklin, as he was the head coach when this incident took place and there was an accusation that, upon seeing footage of the incident, Franklin asked for the video to be deleted (which he adamantly denied).

“Franklin has not been tied to the case, at all. But he was the coach when it happened and that should be enough — especially at Penn State.” he wrote. What he did not mention was how Franklin handled the incident. Upon hearing about the incident, Franklin kicked those four players off of the team. And when a fifth player was accused of trying to cover up the incident, he too was kicked off of the team.

Obviously everyone has the right to have their own opinion, that’s not what this is about. I am curious as to why some people are going after Franklin as if he is someone who oversaw this incident, did nothing about it and tried to cover it up when there is no evidence that suggests he did?

Penn State hired Franklin and he was introduced this afternoon at a press conference. I, along with other Penn State fans, are looking forward to the excitement he will bring to Happy Valley.

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