- Penn State University and head football coach James Franklin have agreed to a 10 year contract extension worth a base $75 million USD.
- There are also a variety of incentive bonuses that will be paid for reaching various goals including the National Championship, Big Ten Championship and Big Ten Coach of the Year.
- Franklin has a buyout clause that would allow him to leave for another job that becomes more reasonable year by year. Penn State would owe Franklin the full annual compensation amount of $70 million USD should they fire him.
Every college football season produces a similar dynamic as it relates to coaching. Bad teams fire their head coaches and immediately start to look for a replacement. Rumors heat up that certain head coaches are ‘in play’ and under consideration for a job at a higher profile institution that will pay them more money. The best coaches on the ‘wish list’ for teams looking to fill coaching vacancies are then in a very advantageous position to increase their market value. At this point, they’ll often be approached by the school with a sweetened deal or will broach the topic on their own. For these coaches, it really is a ‘no lose’ situation. They can either stay put, often making more money or test the job market. Done properly, coaches can even play one side off the other to raise their market value even further.
As Americans head into Thanksgiving weekend the process is beginning anew. The first phase is already underway as a number of college coaches have been fired such as the recent dismissals of Florida’s Dan Mullen and Troy University’s Chip Lindsey. One rationale for firing a coach during the regular season as opposed to letting him finish out the year is so athletic directors can get a ‘head start’ on hiring a replacement. We are heading into this phase of the process now with some coaches being linked to multiple jobs. Louisiana coach Billy Napier, for example, has been linked with every SEC coaching vacancy for several years (and has so far turned down a number of offers to remain at his current school). Even high level programs have to deal with this dynamic–particularly in a year where plum gigs at USC and LSU are to be filled.
That’s why you’ve already seen a number of sought after coaches receive contract extensions and raises in the past week. The highest profile of these is likely Penn State head coach James Franklin who had been linked with a variety of openings including USC and LSU. Franklin has repeatedly said that he’s ‘not going anywhere’ and it’s now understandable why. Yesterday, the football program announced that Franklin had signed a 10 year fully guaranteed contract worth a base $75 million USD. Sandy Barbour, Penn State Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, was the point man for negotiating the new deal though he had plenty of support from school president Eric J. Baron and the Board of Trustees.
Although former Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien took care of the immediate mess at Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal it has been Franklin that has methodically rebuilt the football program over the past eight years. Franklin was previously at Vanderbilt University where he did the near impossible–taking the only SEC program with insanely high academic standards to back to back 9-4 seasons and two bowl wins. Penn State was a different kind of challenge with an even more remarkable outcome. The Nittany Lions were expected to struggle for years after the collapse of the Joe Paterno/Jerry Sandusky regime. On the field, they were expected to struggle for wins and off the field they faced the challenge of reviving the school’s once sterling reputation. Instead, the team went 8-4 in the first season of the post-Sandusky era and demonstrated such tenacity in the face of adversity that they quickly regained the respect of the college football world. It’s almost unfathomable that Penn State has had only one losing season since the end of Joe Paterno’s tenure and that came last year when the team finished 4-5. The 2020 season was another unprecedented challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the team once again demonstrated character despite their losing record by winning their last four games after the first 0-5 start in program history.
VP for Intercollegiate Athletics Barbour didn’t mention the Sandusky aftermath in announcing Franklin’s extension but he did underscore how he helped revive the football program at Penn State:
“We are excited to have James Franklin lead our football program for a long time. We will continue our collective efforts to constantly improve in all aspects of our program. We have made, and will need to continue to make, significant investment in our football program because we believe we have a very bright future under James. With this contract, we are signaling our sustained commitment to being one of the premiere programs in the history of college football. Our goals and aspirations relating to football have never wavered and our investments today and in the future of our program will allow us to compete at the highest level.”
“James has been a tremendous leader, providing a Penn State standard of care and attention to all aspects of growth and development for our student-athletes. Our young men have benefited from his guidance academically, socially and athletically. I’m thrilled James has committed to Penn State and to providing that leadership for years to come. I’m looking forward to years of impact for students and community for our football program under his leadership and to the Franklin family remaining valued and prominent members of our community. I know there will be much success ahead for our football program with Coach Franklin at the helm.”
Penn State President Eric J. Barron spoke of ‘a number of exceptional challenges‘ that Franklin has dealt with during his tenure, clearly alluding to the post Sandusky years without specifically referring to them:
“Penn State is very happy to offer this extension to Coach Franklin, who has created an environment in which our student-athletes can be successful on the field, as well as leaders in our community and beyond. As head coach, James continues to build the Nittany Lion football program even while navigating a number of exceptional challenges, including COVID-19 and a shift in amateurism rules in college sports. We look forward to his sustained success, his pursuit of excellence, and his remaining an integral part of Penn State football and our University.”
The contract is insanely one sided in favor of Franklin but Penn State’s priority is now keeping their head coach and maintaining a high level of excellent on a consistent and ongoing basis. Nothing can guarantee that Franklin won’t one day be offered–and possibly accept–a better opportunity elsewhere but should that occur Penn State will know that it wasn’t due to anything they did. It will also demonstrate to future coaching candidates that it is a program that takes care of the leaders that create an environment of success.
In a subsequent article, we’ll look at some of the specifics in the Franklin contract extension.