Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

The skys brighten after the rain moves out.Photo by Mark Selders

Snapshot of James Franklin”: the New Nittany Lion King

Just when things seemed to be in place for former coach Bill O’Brien to lead the Penn State Nittany Lions into the era of their next dynasty, he pulled up anchor hastily and quickly set sail for the NFL. This left a void atop one of the most esteemed and well-known college football programs in the nation. It was quickly filled by the worthy and capable James Franklin, a 42-year-old native of the state who is already poised to ultimately make this job the defining role of his coaching career.

Franklin was born in the tiny town of Langhorne in the early 1970s before he attended the local high school and starred as a four-year starting quarterback at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania. They played in a tiny division where evenly matched teams would do battle against one another for a full 60 minutes – the kind of games that help one carve out a deep competitive spirit and establish a familiarity with what it takes to win.

Like almost every head coach in major college football, he slowly climbed the ranks throughout the past decades, putting in work at small universities and gradually climbing the ladder of respect and recognition. His first paid coaching gig came in 1995 as the wide receivers coach for Kutztown University of Pennsylvania, a Division II team. He was only there one year before returning to his alma mater to coach defensive backs. His break in the Division I ranks came in the late 1990s when he was hired as the tight ends coach at Washington State University. In the following years Franklin coached wide receivers at Idaho State and eventually Maryland, a job he held onto for five years until he got the attention of the NFL and was tapped to fulfill the same role for the Green Bay Packers throughout the 2005 season.

After stints at Kansas State and big role with Maryland as offensive coordinator, it was becoming clear to the entire college football world that Franklin had the mettle to someday be a head coach. That day came at the perfect time when the Vanderbilt Commodores came looking for head coach in 2011. He went on to rack up the highest winning percentage of any coach in last half-century at Vandy, leading the school to a bowl appearance in each of the three years he was at the helm.

Throughout the 2013 season and especially throughout the last five games, Franklin showed an ability to win a football game in a variety of ways. A 52-point output in a win over the University of Alabama Birmingham demonstrated that the team could light up the scoreboard, and a 14 – 10 victory over the Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee showed that they could win a slugfest in hostile territory.

Franklin will likely move quickly to connect himself with the local community and a large and passionate fan base. Winning fans over is all about winning football games, and the Nittany Lions will have plenty of opportunities to do so throughout a 2014 regular season schedule in which they will likely be Las Vegas favorites in at least nine of their 12 scheduled games.

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