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Get to know James Franklin, a good candidate to be PSU's next coach if O'Brien leaves
December 30, 2013 - Cory Giger
Someone who knows Vanderbilt's James Franklin very well shared some good news and bad news about the most popular name to surface so far as Penn State's potential next coach.
"My son works for him, so I have a little bit more insight than a lot of people," said Jim Pry, an Altoona native and offensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman University.
Pry served as offensive coordinator when Franklin was the starting quarterback at East Stroudsburg in the early 1990s. And his son, Brent, is now Franklin's assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt.
While PSU's Bill O'Brien is the hottest college name in NFL circles, and according to reports about to be named head coach of the Houston Texans, Franklin is one of the hottest names for college jobs.
"He'd be a great fit [at Penn State]," Jim Pry said Monday night by phone.
That's the same sentiment being shared by many PSU fans on social media sites.
"He's a great offensive mind," Pry added.
"Probably the biggest character thing that James has working for him right now is he's a players' coach. Players love him. They love to play for him, they get fired up for him. He can fuel that fire better than a lot of people in the country right now."
All of that sounds great, which is why Franklin already appears to be widely considered the fan favorite to come to Happy Valley if O'Brien leaves.
But there's a catch. The bad news, if you will.
"Penn State would be very fortunate to get a shot at him," Pry said. "Unfortunately, I think in my own opinion, in the next two weeks there will be a lot of jobs come open that James Franklin is going to be at the top of their list."
Franklin has done such a good job at Vanderbilt that more than just officials at Penn State will be taking notice. Furthermore, he not only could be a candidate for other top college jobs, he also could be on the radar of NFL teams.
"I think he's more of a college coach in my own opinion, in my own eyes, because of the charisma he has with the players," Pry said. "The younger people, he has a charisma they like and and are attracted to, and they'll play for him. Whether the NFL guys will be able to do that, I don't know that."
Franklin, 41, is a native of Langhorne, Pa., who is in his third season as head coach at Vanderbilt. He went 6-7 in 2011 but has led the Commodores to 9-4 and 8-4 records the past two years, while going 9-7 in the SEC.
For a coach to lead a program like Vanderbilt to a winning record over two seasons in the nation's toughest conference speaks volumes of Franklin's abilities.
So does his salary. Despite being at a school without much football tradition, Franklin's salary is $3 million per year. He could command more at his next stop than the $3.3 million per year PSU currently is paying O'Brien.
Franklin previously served as offensive coordinator at Maryland and Kansas State, plus was the receivers coach for the Green Bay Packers in 2005.
"I've been coaching college football for 33 years, he was probably the most competitive player I've ever been around," Pry said of his days working with Franklin the quarterback at East Stroudsburg. "The only thing he knew was success or making his team win or being a huge factor in helping his team win.
"He turned out to be exactly the adult as he was as a young adult. A competitor, wanted everything done right."
When it comes to offensive philosophy, Franklin isn't the pass-happy coach that O'Brien is but does know how to develop a quarterback. Vanderbilt's Austyn Carta-Samuels has completed 68.7 percent of his passes for 2,268 yards, 11 TDs and nine interceptions, and his QB rating of 143.0 is actually higher than PSU's Christian Hackenberg (134.0).
"The offensive mind he has is from two different perspectives," Pry said. "One from the spread offense. … And the other is from a conservative standpoint in terms of let's run the ball, don't turn it over, play great defense.
"That's how they do it at Vandy. They have a great offensive scheme, they try and control the ball, not turn it over and play good defense."
Pry said he's not surprised Franklin has turned out to be a successful coach.
"I'm not because he had a vision, an outlook of how he knew things were going to turn out for him," Pry said.
"Honestly, a lot of guys in this profession have the same thing. You sort of see the carrot way down the road -- five, six, seven, eight years -- and sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. He got it."
Now Franklin might have to consider whether his next carrot will lead him to Penn State.
If Bill O'Brien leaves for the NFL, these are the coaching names that have been drawing the most early speculation as a successor at Penn State:
* James Franklin, head coach at Vanderbilt
* Al Golden, head coach at Miami, plus a PSU alum and former assistant
* Mike Munchak, head coach of the Tennessee Titans and a PSU alum
* Greg Schiano, fired Monday by the Tampa Bay Bucs and a former PSU assistant