For the past month we’ve had to write about James Franklin the job candidate on numerous occasions. And in each of those posts we’ve said that the recent rape scandal at Vanderbilt could become a drawback for him on this year’s job carousel. Southern Cal was supposed to be interested. Then we in the media said Washington would come calling. Then it was going to be Texas. But no, no and no. There were no stories of back-alley meetings or planes flying to and from Nashville.
The Houston Texans did reportedly meet with Franklin, but an NFL team has less to fear when it comes to reputation than universities.
So when Franklin’s name popped up in connection with Penn State, we at MrSEC.com scoffed. If there was one school that simply couldn’t hire a guy who might have to take the witness stand in a rape trial it was Penn State.
Only Penn State has apparently offered Franklin their job anyway. Currently, the coach is expected to accept the invitation, though Vanderbilt is working behind the scenes to give the coach everything he wants (likely even more cash for his assistants and a guaranteed start date on stadium renovations). This delay has given national writers a chance to go exactly where we expected them to go. Before Franklin has even signed his name to a contract, PSU is being questioned for the hire it’s apparently in the process of making.
The latest column from Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com is titled: “Penn State, of all teams, should have avoided James Franklin.” Some samples:
“Penn State cannot hire James Franklin. Can’t even begin to think about it, actually.
The fact there is ‘baggage’ in the background of Vanderbilt’s talented, affable, accomplished coach is enough. All you need to know is that Franklin was Vanderbilt’s coach last June 23 when police say four of his players raped an unconscious 21-year-old student in a dorm room…
Franklin has not been tied to the case, at all. But he was the coach when it happened and that should be enough — especially at Penn State.
Do you know why?
Penn State doesn’t need a winning football coach that bad to risk its moral comeback from NCAA hell…
Penn State has to have a higher standard than any school at this point. The institution is still digging its moral reputation out of the mud.”
Christine Brennan of USA Today posted a similar take this morning titled: “For Penn State right now, James Franklin is wrong choice.” A few snippets:
“What Jerry Sandusky did under the auspices of Penn State football was so horrible that one would think the mere thought of his despicable acts would guide every move by every person in a position of leadership at Penn State from now until, well, forever. For instance, because Sandusky raped young boys, you would think Penn State definitely would steer clear of anyone involved with that awful, terrible word: rape. That would seem to be a wise guiding principle for the search committee.
So, Penn State, who are you thinking about hiring?
A man whose tenure at Vanderbilt was marked by a rape scandal…
James Franklin is a coveted 41-years-old head coach who probably would make a fine hire for any of his other suitors. Just not Penn State. Not at this time…
Whatever happens in that (Vanderbilt rape) case, by hiring Franklin, Penn State will have attached itself to it. If there’s a trial and Franklin’s a part of it, Penn State would be a part of it, too.”
Bingo. That’s the problem with Penn State hiring Franklin. If/when he’s forced to testify in the trials of his four ex-players, it will be Penn State’s coach testifying in a rape case. If something ugly and unexpected comes out during that trial, it will be Penn State’s coach dealing with the fallout.
Franklin is a tremendous coach and he should not be punished for a case in which the Nashville DA’s office has cleared him of any wrongdoing in any kind of coverup. But Penn State is not the right school to make this run at this moment due to the PR ramifications that we saw coming a month ago. And if we saw this coming a month ago, how the heck could Penn State not have seen it coming this week — or not cared that it would come?
Any school hiring Franklin would be importing the VU sexual assault case to its campus. One school’s recent history makes that importation almost impossible. But that very school — Penn State — is trying to do just that, right now.
PSU officials who wanted to bury the Sandusky story and move forward from it are bringing the story back into the headlines. And if/when Franklin testifies, the words “rape,” “Sandusky,” and “Penn State” will once again be kicked around from local media outlets to national ones. It’s truly hard to believe that the administration at any major college or university could be so utterly and fantastically tone deaf.