Penn State panel to vote on coach; reports point to Franklin

New roar in Happy Valley? Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who grew up in Langhorne, is said to be pondering an offer from Penn State to replace Bill O'Brien as football coach. The Penn State board of trustees will decide on the hire during a special meeting Saturday.
New roar in Happy Valley? Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, who grew up in Langhorne, is said to be pondering an offer from Penn State to replace Bill O'Brien as football coach. The Penn State board of trustees will decide on the hire during a special meeting Saturday. (Getty)
Posted: January 11, 2014

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Despite two reports that said he would become the next head football coach at Penn State, Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin gave no public indication Thursday that he would take the job.

As Nittany Lions fans waited for Franklin to come aboard and replace Bill O'Brien, the Penn State board of trustees announced that it would hold a special meeting Saturday morning of its committee on compensation, and that the "sole purpose of the meeting" was "to consider a personnel matter."

A source told The Inquirer the meeting was to vote on the contract for a new football coach. The source did not identify the coach.

A report on ESPN said the deal with the 41-year-old Franklin, a native of Langhorne, Bucks County, was expected to be finalized "in the next 24 to 48 hours" and that the contract would be approved.

As first reported by the Scranton Times-Tribune, Penn State made an offer Wednesday to Franklin during a meeting at his vacation home in Destin, Fla. University president Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner, chairman of the selection committee, were among the Penn State representatives who were there.

Franklin was expected to give the committee an answer at some point Thursday. Two websites, ESPN.com and CBSSports.com, said he was "expected" to accept the offer.

But silence was the word as the day went on. Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams went on two Nashville radio stations to say that Franklin had not said anything to him about leaving. And the Tennessean reported Thursday night that the coach told Williams in a text that he was "still trying to make a decision."

"He and his family are doing what most people would do, and I think it's a tough decision," the newspaper quoted Williams as saying. "My gut reaction is that he will stay Vanderbilt's football coach."

Earlier, Williams told the Nashville sports-radio station WNSR, "When we open up [Aug. 28] against Temple, I expect James Franklin to be on the sidelines for that game, and not coaching Temple. He's our football coach and we'll treat him like our football coach until we know something different."

Williams also denied a report that Franklin had made any demands of the Vanderbilt athletic department.

Commodores defensive end Caleb Azubike confirmed in a post on Twitter that he had spoken Thursday afternoon to Franklin and wrote, "He hasn't made a decision yet. And he's still pondering."

Franklin just finished his third season as Vanderbilt's head coach and led the team to a second straight bowl win for the first time ever. He has Pennsylvania roots. In addition to growing up in Langhorne, he graduated from Neshaminy High School and East Stroudsburg University, and his first job in coaching came at Kutztown.

Meanwhile, the son of interim head coach Larry Johnson left a message Thursday on Facebook that suggested the longtime Penn State assistant would be leaving the Nittany Lions if he did not get the job.

"It's been a great 18-year run at Penn State," Tony Johnson wrote. "Thank you to everybody for all the support, texts, e-mails and phone calls."

Larry Johnson, the Lions' defensive line coach for the last 14 years and one of the nation's best recruiters, could not be reached for comment by The Inquirer. He told the Associated Press: "I'm still the interim coach until a new coach is named. As of right now, I'm continuing to do my part."

Franklin reportedly also was a candidate for the Washington Redskins' coaching job, but the NFL team hired Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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