Penn State has found its coach of the future in James Franklin. As is the case with any hire, the decision means that the Penn State administration believes that James Franklin is the right man for the Nittany Lions on the field, in the locker room, in the community and on the recruiting trail.
James Franklin attracted to players to Vanderbilt that would have never considered the program otherwise.
As is also the case with any hire, there will be doubters and detractors. But as far as recruiting is concerned, let there be no doubt, Franklin is a five-star hire.
We’ll start with what he’s done. Vanderbilt has traditionally been one of the toughest places to recruit to in the nation. Prior to the James Franklin era, it wasn’t uncommon to see Vanderbilt compete with the likes of Furman, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky for its top prospects rather than Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
In his first recruiting class at Vanderbilt, on a short timeline, he landed the nation’s No. 56 class according to 247Sports. The following year in 2012, he landed the No. 47 class. Last year the class finished No. 26 and Franklin was positioned nicely to finish with a Top 25 class in 2014.
He’s filling these classes with players Vandy never had a chance with before.
- Vanderbilt has a starting right tackle in Andrew Jelks whose house at home is full of Volunteer orange and had a Tennessee offer coming out of high school but chose the Commodores.
- Four-stars Emmanuel Smith and Michael Sawyers in the class of 2014 chose Vandy over Tennessee and several other major offers as well. Vanderbilt currently has three four-stars committed where it would be rare to have one before Franklin.
- Freshman Jordan Cunningham chose Vandy over Miami, FSU and Stanford.
- Quarterback Patton Robinette was on campus at North Carolina as an early enrollee but backed out at the last possible second to enroll at Vanderbilt because of Franklin.
- In the same recruiting class as Robinette, four-star Memphis native Brian Kimbrow chose Vanderbilt over a who’s who offer list.
Those are sidenotes for some programs, standard recruiting victories in an SEC climate. For Vanderbilt, they’re monumental.
As impressive as what he’d done is how he’s done it. Instead of apologizing for what people thought Vanderbilt was, Franklin redefined the program as a dream school: great city, great conference, great academics.
At Penn State, he won’t have to repackage anything. Happy Valley, Linebacker U, Beaver Stadium, it all sells itself and Franklin is the perfect pitchman.
Franklin is a son of Pennsylvania. He was born and raised North of Philadelphia, played college football at East Stroudsburg in Eastern Pennsylvania. His background and outgoing but blue-collar personality is custom built to lock down the borders of the Coal State.
But the current landscape of college football doesn’t allow for Penn State to find success by simply recruiting Pennsylvania. Look at what Urban Meyer has done at Ohio State. Vonn Bell and Raekwonn McMillan out of Georgia, Johnnie Dixon and Joey Bosa out of Florida, a national approach is necessary.
Franklin was an ace recruiter at Maryland, has strong ties to top programs in Washington D.C., including Friendship Academy, the home of four-star CB Jalen Tabor in 2014 and five-star DT Eddie Goldman in 2012.
Franklin has also built strong relationships in the southeast while at Vandy. The Commodores have become regular players at Stephenson High School out of Atlanta, Plant out of Tampa, both among the nation’s top talent producers year in and year out. He’s developed a strong presence at the state of Tennessee’s most talent heavy program of Ensworth. Those relationships will go to State College with Franklin. So too will much of Franklin’s staff.
Had Franklin landed the job at Texas, you could have expected wholesale changes to the staff he brought with him. At Penn State, expect Franklin to try to maintain as much continuity as he can.
Vanderbilt offensive coordinator John Donovan has strong ties to New Jersey and has recruited the area for Vanderbilt. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop is a Pennsylvania native. Quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne has made Vanderbilt a major contender in the Midwest as a rising star recruiter. George Barlow is a strong recruiter with ties into Virginia and the Atlantic coast. Others on the staff are becoming recruiting heavyweights in the southeast, led by defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
It’s a staff ready made for Penn State’s recruiting footprint but it all starts with Franklin, a man who was only going to leave Vanderbilt for a program that he could make a regular national title contender.