Is Penn State a Means to an End or a Destination Job for James Franklin?

Tim TolleyContributor IJanuary 11, 2014

Nov 16, 2013; Nashville, TN, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores head coach James Franklin during the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Vanderbilt Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Penn State has found its replacement for Bill O'Brien in former Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin. He will become the 16th head coach in Nittany Lions history, according to a press release from the school.

Franklin was arguably the hottest candidate in the country this offseason, due largely in part to his success at Vanderbilt, a perennial afterthought in the SEC. In the 100+ year history of Vanderbilt football, the Commodores have won nine games in a season just four times. Two of those seasons came during Franklin's time in Nashville.

According to 247Sports, Vanderbilt had the 26th-best recruiting class in 2013. Their current class sits at 34th.

There's no questioning Franklin's coaching and recruiting ability. He has ties to the east coast from his days at Maryland and is a Pennsylvania native. Everything about James Franklin coaching Penn State seems to make sense.

But some fans aren't on the bandwagon.

With Bill O'Brien's recent departure to the NFL, Penn State fans are leery about a coach that may have higher aspirations than Penn State.

Some folks were hoping for Al Golden or Mike Munchak to be named the head coach, in part because they are "Penn State guys" and view State College as a final destination in their coaching careers.

That may or may not be the case with James Franklin.

It was reported that Franklin was being pursued by both the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins. It was also rumored that Franklin interviewed with the Houston Texans before they hired Bill O'Brien.

It's fair to say that Franklin has some level of interest in the NFL.

Yet here he is, signing a contract with Penn State, after being a candidate for both the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans.

It's clear this was a job that Franklin coveted but still, some in the Penn State community are already fearing the worst. Phrases like "stepping-stone job" are being thrown around with fans already assuming that Franklin will depart in the same fashion as O'Brien.

It's possible that Franklin does have dreams of coaching in the NFL. If that's the case, though, what is the point in taking the Penn State job?

It's obvious that his work at Vanderbilt has been enough to earn him consideration for NFL and there's no reason to think that success would stop anytime soon in Nashville. He could just as easily stay at Vanderbilt until the right opportunity presents itself in the NFL.

But instead, he has left the school that gave him his first head coaching opportunity to become the head coach at Penn State.

Unlike Bill O'Brien, who needed a break to get the job he truly coveted, Franklin got that break three years ago. Much like when Penn State hired O'Brien and Louisville hired Charlie Strong, Vanderbilt gave Franklin the chance to prove he could be a head coach, and he succeeded. 

In the same way that O'Brien and Strong parlayed their success into destination jobs, Franklin landed a job at a big-time football program where he believes he can win a championship.

Vanderbilt was his "stepping-stone job."

Of course, there are no guarantees in life and Penn State's new head coach could grow tired of the college grind. He might get an offer that he simply can't resist and become the Giants coach in a few years. 

Or he very well may be the coach at Penn State for the next decade.

James Franklin was a highly sought-after head coach and Penn State landed him. Don't make that into bad news. Rather than fearing the future, Nittany Lion fans should enjoy the present.