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James Franklin, a Pennsylvania native who is one of the nation’s most successful and dynamic coaches, is in his second season as the Penn State head football coach. Franklin was named the 16th head football coach in the storied history of the Nittany Lion program on January 11, 2014.
From Langhorne, Pa., Franklin vowed to “Dominate The State” and raise the bar in the team’s academic achievement and community service during his introductory news conference. During his short tenure in Happy Valley, he has electrified Nittany Nation with his passion and vision for the program and ability to recruit premier student-athletes from across the nation. Franklin has assembled a coaching staff that features a record of success and tremendous chemistry and familiarity with each other, Penn State and the region.
From Day 1, Franklin has reinforced the four core values for the Penn State program to return to national championship contention – a positive attitude, great work ethic, competing on and off the field and the ability to sacrifice.
The passionate, positive and driven Franklin is in his fifth year as a collegiate head coach, leading his first four squads to a bowl game, with post-season victories the past three years. He owns a 31-21 career record, with three consecutive winning seasons.
His first season as the Nittany Lions’ head coach began with a final play, 26-24 victory over UCF in Dublin, Ireland in Penn State’s first-ever international game. The 2014 campaign ended with an equally dramatic comeback, a 31-30 overtime win over Boston College in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl in Yankee Stadium. Penn State overcame a 21-7 deficit late in the third quarter vs. the Eagles, with the 14-point margin tied for the largest deficit the Nittany Lions have overcome in their 45 bowl games all-time.
With the Pinstripe Bowl win, Franklin became just the third Penn State coach to lead the team to at least seven wins in his first season, joining Dick Harlow (1915) and Bill O’Brien (2012). In leading the Nittany Lions to a 4-0 start, Franklin joined Harlow as the only first-year Penn State coaches to win their initial four games.
In February 2015, the Nittany Lions’ highly-regarded class of 25 signees was ranked in the Top 15 nationally by the four major recruiting services.
During Franklin’s first fall semester on campus, the Nittany Lions delivered a record-setting academic performance. The football student-athletes set program records with 25 student-athletes earning Dean's List recognition (3.5 GPA), 57 players owning a cumulative 3.0 grade-point average or higher after the 2014 fall semester and 21 true freshmen posting a 3.0 GPA or better. Additionally, 51 squad members earned at least a 3.0 GPA, the second-highest semester total in program history.
Penn State's 87 percent football graduation figure was second-highest in the Big Ten Conference and No. 5 among all public FBS institutions, according to NCAA data in October 2014. The Nittany Lions' 87 percent graduation rate was 16 points higher than the 71 percent FBS average.
"We take a great deal of pride in our academic performance and we are committed to a high level of success and achievement in the classroom and on the field," says Franklin, who is in his 21st year in coaching. "I have been so impressed by the dedication, work ethic and pride our players have demonstrated with all their academic and team responsibilities. We want our players to have the complete student-athlete experience at Penn State!"
The engaging and enthusiastic Franklin is a popular speaker and media interview subject. For the second consecutive year, he was a guest analyst on ESPN’s coverage from the site of college football’s national championship game, spending a day appearing on various ESPN platforms from Fort Worth, Texas, near the inaugural College Football Playoff title game.
This past February, Franklin was the lone college head coach among the speakers and panelists at the prestigious MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston. He was a panelist for the session, “The Formula to Win: College Football Analytics,” which was moderated by CNN anchor/reporter Rachel Nichols.
Franklin led Vanderbilt University to unprecedented success as head coach from 2011-13, winning nine games in each of his last two years, finishing in the Top 25 and winning bowl games in consecutive seasons, all for the first time in school history.
“Coach Franklin is a great relationship builder and has a tremendous connection with his student-athletes, the Penn State student body and our community,” stated Sandy Barbour, Director of Athletics. “James aptly applies his football expertise and use his high energy, passionate approach, and ability to listen and learn, to motivate the student-athletes in the program. You can see it in their effort, preparation and “never give up” mentality. Penn State football has outstanding tradition, a really proud past and a very bright future under Coach Franklin’s leadership and I’m excited to see our progress.”
Franklin’s tireless efforts and enthusiasm resulted in taking Vanderbilt to new heights from 2011-13, posting a 24-15 record, including marks of 9-4 during each of the final two seasons, capped by bowl victories. The Commodores finished the 2013 season with five consecutive victories, with wins over Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky in Southeastern Conference play, along with a win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Franklin’s 2012 squad finished the season with seven consecutive victories and posted Vanderbilt’s first nine-win season since 1915.
A two-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, Franklin has demonstrated the ability to recruit, teach and motivate talented student-athletes throughout his coaching tenure. He was named Vanderbilt’s head coach on December 17, 2010 after three years as the assistant head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Maryland, his second stint with the Terps. Franklin was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas State in 2006-07 and the wide receivers coach of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers (2005) prior to arriving in Nashville.
“I can't tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin stated at his introductory press conference. “I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It's important to me to be a part of a University that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.
“I'm incredibly excited to get to know the students, alumni, and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the University as a whole and to the football program in particular,” Franklin added. “I've worked my way through every division of football and no other school boasts a fan base like we do. We Are...Penn State!!”
“Our primary focus was to identify someone who shared our commitment to integrity, academics and winning championships,” then-Director of Athletics Dave Joyner said at Franklin’s introductory news conference. “Coach Franklin is a highly regarded coach and tremendous leader, but more importantly, he shares the same vision for Penn State Football that we, and our fans, have for the program. His record shows that he takes great pride in the academic and athletic success of his student-athletes."
Following spring practice and individual meetings with every player in 2014, Franklin spent a good portion of the month of May criss crossing the Commonwealth and Mid-Atlantic region on the Penn State Coaches Caravan. Attending all 17 Caravan events, Franklin met and spoke with more than 6,000 Penn State alumni, students, fans and former players in Maryland, New Jersey and New York and Washington, D.C. He did more than 50 interviews with local and national media over the three weeks to assist in introducing himself to Penn Staters and potential recruits and spreading his core values and vision of Penn State football.
Franklin directed Vanderbilt to consecutive Top 25 finishes for the first time in the 124-year history of the program. The Commodores finished the 2013 season No. 24 in the Associated Press poll and No. 23 in the USA Today Coaches survey. The 2012 Vanderbilt squad finished No. 23 and 20, respectively, marking its first AP final ranking since 1948. Franklin’s 24 wins tied Dan McGugin for the most by a Vanderbilt coach in his first three seasons.
Franklin led Vanderbilt to a bowl game in each of his three seasons in Nashville, with the last two years resulting in wins over North Carolina State (Music City Bowl) and Houston (BBVA Compass Bowl). The Commodores had played in four bowl games all-time in the 121 seasons prior to his arrival, none in consecutive years.
Vanderbilt has posted four nine-win seasons in program history, with Franklin’s last two teams comprising half of the total. Over the last 20 games during the 2012-13 seasons, the Commodores’ 16-4 record was second-best in the SEC to Alabama’s 17-3 mark.
Franklin inherited a Vanderbilt team that finished 2-10 in both 2009 and 2010, including a 1-15 SEC mark. From 1983-2010, the Commodores had just one winning season (2008) prior to his arrival. His drive, coaching acumen and enthusiasm drove a quick turnaround in Vanderbilt’s fortunes, as the team posted a 6-6 regular season record and earned a berth in the Liberty Bowl during his first season. The 2011 bowl berth was Vanderbilt’s second since 1983 and running back Zac Stacy broke the Commodores’ season record with 1,193 rushing yards.
The Commodores had a breakthrough campaign in 2012 under Franklin, finishing on a seven-game winning streak (longest since 1948) to post a 9-4 mark, Vanderbilt’s most wins in 97 years. A victory at Missouri sparked an 8-1 finish, which included three consecutive SEC road wins for the first time in program history. The Commodores were 5-3 in SEC play, winning five SEC games for the first time since 1935, and posted two shutouts for the first time since 1968. Vanderbilt defeated NC State, 38-24, in the Music City Bowl and Franklin was among five finalists for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year. Stacy became the first player in Vanderbilt history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons, gaining 1,141 yards to finish with a school record 3,143 yards and 30 rushing touchdowns. Stacy started 12 games and ran for 973 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2013. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews broke the Vanderbilt season receiving record with 1,363 yards on 94 catches.
Vanderbilt continued its historic rise under Franklin during the 2013 season, capping a school record second consecutive 9-4 campaign with a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Commodores defeated Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in program history, winning in Gainesville and Knoxville, and finished 4-4 in the SEC. Franklin helped Matthews develop into an two-time All-American and SEC’s career leader in receptions and receiving yardage , having compiled 262 career receptions for 3,759 yards and 24 touchdowns. Matthews broke the SEC season record with 112 receptions for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns in 2013, becoming the first SEC receiver to make 100 catches in a season. Tackle Wesley Johnson also earned first-team All-SEC honors from the coaches and the Associated Press.
Franklin began his coaching career as the wide receivers coach at Kutztown (Pa.) University (1995) and was a graduate assistant coach at his alma mater, East Stroudsburg (Pa.) in 1996, working with the secondary. He then was the wide receivers coach at James Madison (1997), a graduate assistant (tight ends) at Washington State in 1998 and the wide receivers coach at Idaho State (1999).
In 2000, Franklin was named the wide receivers coach at Maryland under head coach Ron Vanderlinden, who would go on to coach the Penn State linebackers from 2001-13. Franklin continued in that role under new head coach Ralph Friedgen in 2002 and ’03 and helped the Terps to three consecutive 10-win seasons, including an appearance in the 2002 FedEx Orange Bowl. In 2003, Franklin added duties as recruiting coordinator and directed back-to-back recruiting classes ranked in the Top 25 nationally. Franklin and former Nittany Lion head coach Bill O’Brien (running backs) were Maryland assistant coaches in 2003 and ’04 under Friedgen.
After five successful years at Maryland, Franklin was named wide receivers coach on Mike Sherman’s Green Bay Packers staff in 2005. During that season, Green Bay ranked third in the NFL in receptions (383) and seventh in receiving yards (3,766). Donald Driver was among the top receivers in the NFL, ranking second in receptions and eighth in receiving yards, with a then-career-high 86 catches for 1,221 yards.
Franklin served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas State during the 2006-07 seasons under head coach Ron Prince. In 2006, he helped the Wildcats to their first winning season in four years. Franklin coached quarterback Josh Freeman and oversaw an offense that produced a 3,000-yard passer (Freeman), 1,500-yard receiver (All-American wide receiver Jordy Nelson) and 1,000-yard rusher (James Johnson) during the 2007 season, a first in school history. Freeman would go on become the Wildcats’ highest NFL offensive draft pick since 1954 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him 17th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Franklin returned to Maryland in 2008 as the Terps’ assistant head coach and offensive coordinator. He helped the Terrapins to victories in the 2008 Humanitarian Bowl and the 2010 Military Bowl. The 2010 squad was among the national leaders in scoring offense at 32.2 points per game and was led by ACC Rookie of the Year quarterback Danny O’Brien. He threw for 2,438 yards, 22 touchdowns and only eight interceptions in 2010, with All-ACC receiver Torrey Smith making 67 catches for 1,055 yards and 12 scores.
In 1998, Franklin began his participation in the NFL’s Minority Coaching Fellowship Program, starting with a stint with the Miami Dolphins and working with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino. Franklin also worked with Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles (1999) and Minnesota Vikings (2008) in the NFL program.
Franklin was a four-year letterman at quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection at East Stroudsburg. He set seven school records as a senior to earn team MVP honors and was a Harlon Hill Trophy nominee as the NCAA Division II Player of the Year. Among the season records he set were for total offense (3,128 yards), passing yards (2,586) and touchdown passes (19). Franklin graduated having broken or tied 23 school records.
Franklin graduated from East Stroudsburg in 1995 with a degree in psychology and earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Washington State University. Franklin graduated from Neshaminy High School in Langhorne.
Franklin and his wife, Fumi, have two daughters, Shola and Addison.
James Franklin Coaching Timeline
2014-current - Penn State (head coach)
The James Franklin Record
Year School Record Bowl
What They're Saying...
"James is a tremendous worker and a tremendous recruiter. He is just a great person. He will represent the University with all kinds of pride and respect. What an addition he will be to a great University in Penn State."
"He was an outstanding player, has been an outstanding coach and I think he will do an outstanding job at Penn State. It will be exciting to watch him take on this new challenge and meet it with the enthusiasm and passion that he always does. James is the type of individual who has a great passion for the game of football. He has goals and aspirations. He is enthusiastic and has an outstanding work ethic. He applied those attributes as a player and has applied them to his coaching and that is why he has been able to have so much success everywhere he has been. He is an outstanding communicator and that parlays into being a great recruiter. He was one of the nation's top recruiters when he was at Maryland, continued that at Vanderbilt and will surely bring that to Penn State. He will bring as much enthusiasm and passion for Penn State as the fan base does."
"Over a period of 17 years, I have admired the ability of Coach Franklin to connect respectfully with his players, their families and university stakeholders. Congratulations to Penn State for hiring a terrific football coach and man of excellent character, who will also be an effective ambassador for the entire University."
"First, let me take this time to congratulate my good friend, James Franklin, on becoming the new head coach at Penn State. It was an honor to have him as a coach. He brings out the passion and the love for the game in everyone. He is a leader, he knows how to win, and he brings a relentless work ethic. He is a tremendous motivator on and off the field. I know he'll do an amazing job and be an asset to the Penn State campus, community and football program. Good Luck coach Franklin."
"Coach Franklin has a lot of energy, a lot of passion for the game, and obviously knew what he was doing. He cared about his players and was a great family guy. He was intense, but yet had fun and like I said, he had his passion for the game, his love for the game and a love for his players, and he cares about his players like family."
"Coach has meant so much to me, both on and off the field. One of the best things that ever happened to me was getting to work with Coach Franklin. I was very raw, and needed development in really every area. Coach taught me proper footwork, how to better understand pass routes and schemes, just how to play the position. Truly, to this day, my fundamental foundation as a quarterback came from the time with him."
"James Franklin is a proven commodity as a head coach with all his accomplishments at Vanderbilt. His leadership, integrity and competitive spirit make him a perfect fit for Penn State."
"I am pleased with the selection of James Franklin as Penn State's next head football coach and I appreciate the committee's rapid response to filling the coaching position. He was obviously thoroughly vetted and researched, and I know the committee determined he was a good fit for our football program and for our University. Understanding the excitement of our student athletes and student body, we look forward to Penn State's bright future."
"I've had the chance to work closely with Coach Franklin and I can't say enough good things about his approach, his work ethic, his passion for the game and his ability to teach the game. He's a tireless recruiter and one of those coaches who can get the most out of his players and is excellent at making and maintaining relationships."
"Franklin won't be intimidated. He stared down the best in the nation at Vanderbilt, so there's nothing he'll encounter at Penn State that will make him flinch."
"James is a great coach, a great leader and tireless worker. His players play tough, but they are old-school and disciplined. He brings new approaches to the field for the players and offenses, and he is an innovator and a cutting-edge type of coach. You would love to have that type of guy be your son. He is a wonderful person with great character and great integrity. He is a wonderful husband and a wonderful father. He's a great friend, who never forgets where he came from, and his friends. He's just a wonderful human being."
"James Franklin worked for me at the Green Bay Packers. I noticed early on that he always saw the big picture. He didn't just coach his players on the field, but saw the need for them to be accountable off the field as well. He took an interest in every aspect of their lives and coached not just the player, but the person."
"Coach Franklin has earned the opportunity to be a leader at a program like Penn State. I had a greater appreciation for him after I left (Maryland). He wants you to be the best you can be as a student and a player and brought a family environment. He is very passionate about what he does and has all the tools to be successful.
"Coach Franklin and is a great person and a great coach. I am happy that he has the opportunity to take what is probably one of his dream jobs, being from Pennsylvania, and I am happy for his family. He transformed the program and my career during my time at Vanderbilt. He took us from the bottom of the SEC to the upper tier of college football's toughest conference and a national contender. It was amazing to see what he was able to do at Vanderbilt and I am sure he will do the same at Penn State. For him, there is only one goal in mind; a National Championship. I feel like he has the right mindset as a coach, can put the right coaches around him and with the student-athletes, resources and fan base at Penn State, I know he will do a tremendous job."
"I got to know James when he was at Kansas State and I enjoyed being around him a great deal. I think he is a quality person and is a very fine football coach. I liked his integrity and the way he carried himself. He is a coach that does things the right way and treats people with respect. He truly cares about the student-athletes that he coaches and he is a guy that seems to get along with everyone he interacts with."
"From the day he stepped on Vanderbilt's campus, Coach Franklin changed the atmosphere around the football program. He did a tremendous job instilling confidence in the players and the fan base, as a whole. He's a great motivator. He is a young, energetic players' coach. And he is always confident in everything he does."