Today, at a 4:15 p.m. press conference, James Franklin will be introduced as the sixteenth head coach in Penn State football history. By any definition, this is a historic and significant day as one of the more storied programs of all time turns over the keys to one of the hottest names in the coaching profession. It is also a homecoming of sorts being that Franklin hails from the Langhorne area of Pennsylvania and played quarterback for East Stroudsburg University. All in all, many analysts are calling this a “home run” hire because of Franklin’s youth, recruiting ability, and winning attitude. He turned long time doormat Vanderbilt into a winner in the nation’s toughest conference, going 15-4 over his last nineteen games there. Only Alabama has a better SEC record over that same stretch. So yes, Franklin has the skills, the resume, the attitude, and the Pennsylvania background to be an obvious and well deserving choice to take the program into the future. Everyone associated with Penn State should be thrilled. But, as is often the case, they aren’t.
It all started to go downhill on Thursday when the rumors of Franklins hiring became rampant. All of the sudden, notorious Penn State haters like Christine Brennan of USA Today and Dennis Dodd of CBS began destroying Penn State and its choice of Franklin. Keith Olbermann and the talking heads from PTI threw further fuel on the fire on ESPN throughout the day Thursday and Friday. Why? Because some of Franklin’s players had allegedly committed a sexual assault while he was the coach at Vanderbilt. Some websites like buzzfeed and Deadspin had run with the story and implied there was evidence that James Franklin had participated in a cover-up by telling his players to delete text messages. It should be noted that the District Attorney involved with the case cleared Franklin and the coach removed the players involved from his team before letting the legal process play out. One would imagine Penn State officials quizzed Franklin about this incident during the interview process and came away with a sense that he is telling the truth. If they are satisfied, why shouldn’t the fan base be comfortable?
The fan base is not entirely comfortable, however. Ever since the Sandusky scandal, Penn State has become one of the most fractured and polarized fan bases in the country. People read the smut articles written by Brennan and Dodd and actually believed them. They proclaimed, “We’ve had enough scandals. We don’t need this coach”, and many fans have convicted Franklin or a rape cover-up before he has ever set foot on campus. There is a petition started by a Penn State professor begging the school not to go through with the hiring. Board of Trustees member Anthony Lubrano wrote an op-ed piece, in which, he openly wonders whether James Franklin has too much baggage to coach at Penn State. People are literally looking for reasons to dislike and discount the new football coach. I have news for James Franklin. He shouldn’t worry about what any of these people think because he will never win them over. Fact is, these people would never accept him unless his last name was Paterno or he played for/coached under Joe Paterno.
Last week, Penn State beat writer Dave Jones wrote an article citing “Joebots” and Paterno people as one of the reasons Bill O’Brien left Penn State. I will not use the term Joebots because I feel it is offensive and people who hear it get insulted. This limits the ability to have a constructive conversation. However, there are most definitely Paterno people around the Penn State program. They believe in the Paterno ideals of the “grand experiment” and “success with honor.” To them, James Franklin signifies a change from the Paterno way of doing things to a win at all costs mentality. In reality, James Franklin comes from a very tough academic school in Vanderbilt and his players there were help to a similar high academic standard that is seen at Penn State. There is no reason to believe that “success with honor” can’t continue to succeed. Actually, there will probably be a lot more success.
Since the mid 90’s, Paterno’s program provided more mediocrity with honor than success. Fans were willing to accept 8-4, 7-5 finishes because Joe was doing it the “right” way. They mocked schools like Alabama for taking junior college players and over signing recruiting classes. Penn State people arrogantly looked down their noses at schools like Colorado and Miami that were rocked by scandals. “That wouldn’t happen here, not under Joe’s watch.” Guess what, something happened under Joe’s watch. One of the worst and most disgusting scandals of all time happened under Joe’s watch. And where did doing it the right way and the squeaky clean program of Penn State end up? Slapped with unprecedented sanctions for promoting a football first culture. Now the very programs Penn State fans laughed at were looking down their noses at laughing at Penn State. Under Joe’s watch, Penn State became the laughing stock and punching bag for the nation. Yet Paterno people continued to fight for the legacy of the man they so adored.
This is where the arguments against Franklin by Paterno people get completely discredited. These people will scream from the mountaintops that the media shouldn’t rush to judgment and they should wait for the truth to come out. They cite evidence that the district attorney cleared Paterno of wrongdoing. They want people to simply accept that Joe did nothing wrong. In the next breath, they convict Franklin of being a dirty coach with bad ethics who will further throw Penn State into scandal. The hypocrisy of these statements is nearly unfathomable. You want everyone to look the other way on Paterno while you refuse to give Franklin the same benefit of the doubt? You cannot have it both ways.
Accept it. No one named Paterno will ever coach at Penn State again and that statue may never be put back up. The program and the school have moved on into the future. They are paying 4.5 million dollars to a coach they believe can take them back to the top of the college football landscape. It was time. 8-4 and 7-5 isn’t good enough anymore. Penn State is re-entering the realm of big time college football. If fans aren’t comfortable with it, there are plenty of other options out there. If they truly care about Penn State and the football program they should realize that their constant complaining and insistence on doing things the way Joe Paterno did is only hurting the program and preventing it from attaining the bright future it deserves.