Penn State hires James Franklin, best available coach, in spite of “crippling” sanctions

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The NCAA slammed the hammer on Penn State two summers ago with a four-year postseason ban, the massive loss of scholarships and tacked on an option for players to get a free transfer and a $60 million fine. At the time it was thought Penn State would never be the same again, and perhaps in a sense that will remain true. On Saturday Penn State proved the program will find a way to survive by hiring James Franklin, one of the best possible coaching candidates to be had in the most recent round of the college football coaching carousel.

The hire that had been reported for days finally became official Saturday morning after a compensation committee at Penn State voted on the contract offered to Franklin. Within the same hour Franklin met with his Vanderbilt football players and program to address them one final time. Franklin accumulated a 24-15 record at Vanderbilt over the last three seasons after leaving Maryland as an assistant coach. Franklin succeeds Bill O'Brien, who left Penn State to coach the Houston Texans.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin, a Pennsylvania native and former quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, stated. “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.”

O’Brien proved to be a solid hire for Penn State in one of the most difficult situations any football program has faced. O’Brien thrived by bringing a new look to the offense and standing up for the program in the face of tremendous adversity for the program. In two years O’Brien made the Penn State job a much more desirable and lucrative position by winning football games despite the sanctions. Two winning seasons kept Penn State’s head above water. It will now be Franklin’s task to lift the life-preserver out of the water.

Penn State still has two seasons left of NCAA sanctions, although he will have scholarships return to his new program ahead of schedule after some reconsideration from the NCAA in light of the most recent George Mitchell review. Penn State currently has two more years on their postseason ban, but there is always a chance the NCAA will scale that back at some point if the program and university continue to prove worthy of the consideration. Franklin will have to assume he inherits a two-year postseason ban but the groundwork is now laid for him to lead Penn State out of the mess left behind by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Details of the contract will be revealed at a later time. Franklin is scheduled to be formally introduced as the next head coach later Saturday afternoon. It is expected details of the contract will be shared at that time. A previous report suggested Franklin will make $4.5 million to become the second highest paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.