We really have no idea how hot James Franklin's seat is entering 2016
Get ready, because you’re guaranteed to see it. Maybe you already saw it.
There will be preseason articles written about coaches on the dreaded “hot seat.” A virtual lock to wind up on that list is James Franklin. It’s a forgone conclusion by some that the Penn State coach is entering a make-or-break year.
But really, we don’t know what will break Franklin’s time in State College. Nobody knows if Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour has a measuring stick in mind. Sure, she said in January that “improvement is a must” and that conference and national titles are the goal at Penn State.
Barbour can’t be crazy enough to think that Franklin is going to turn his 0-6 record against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State into a division crown. Don’t forget that the last time Barbour handpicked a coach, he went 1-11 and she was subsequently fired.
Yes, expectations at Penn State are obviously different than they are at Cal, but Barbour made another point when talking about the future of the football program. She pointed out the fact that Penn State isn’t used to being in this position. Franklin is only the fourth coach at Penn State since 1950, and he’s the only one of them to be associated with any sort of “hot seat.”
By comparison, here’s how many full-time coaches each B1G team had since 1950:
- Maryland: 14
- Illinois: 13
- Indiana: 13
- Wisconsin: 12
- Minnesota: 12
- Northwestern: 11
- Purdue: 11
- Rutgers: 10
- Michigan State: 10
- Nebraska: 9
- Iowa: 8
- Michigan: 8
- Ohio State: 7
- Penn State: 4
You could probably point to every single program in the country and find at least one coach who has been on the hot seat since 1990. Even the two longest tenured coaches in the country, Kirk Ferentz and Bob Stoops have been on the hot seat at one point or another since they took over their respective programs in 1999.
Because of the Joe Paterno era and fallout, there really is no other program for Barbour or PSU fans to use as a barometer. This situation is one of a kind in the TV-contract era, and frankly, still a mystery.
Every coach has heightened pressure entering his third year to win. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his job is on the line if he doesn’t win a certain amount of games. This was the year that patient Penn State fans pointed to that would truly bring the Lions all the way back from the NCAA sanctions. After all, Franklin won nine games in his third season at Vanderbilt. Surely he should be able to get to that mark in his third season at Penn State, right?
Still, it’s more complicated than that. What happens if Penn State goes 9-3 with more blowout losses to Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State? That would be the Lions’ best season since the Paterno era. Can Barbour realistically pull the plug on Franklin after a year like that?
Here’s another scenario.
What if Franklin goes 8-4, but his losses to Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State are all by single digits? That would be a great improvement over the 26 points per game the Lions lost to them by in 2015. Would Franklin still be gone ?
How about if Penn State goes 8-4, but picks up home wins against Michigan State and Ohio State? Are we still to assume that Franklin will be axed?
Don’t forget that Franklin is coming off back-to-back top 20 recruiting classes, too. By the end of the 2016 season, he could be set up to make it three straight.
There’s no black-and-white way for Barbour to examine this situation. It’s more complicated than automatically assuming Franklin is on the hot seat. There’s never been a hot seat in State College.
If Franklin loses his job because he doesn’t deliver a Paterno-like season, that will set an awfully high bar in State College, much like Nebraska did by firing Bo Pelini. Nobody is saying that the Lions should accept mediocrity. If Franklin and the Lions are still at seven wins at season’s end, we won’t need a press release to tell us the inevitable. If Franklin and the Lions get to the lofty level Barbour talked about in 2016, we can expect an extension.
But there’s a murky middle ground that Franklin could very easily find himself in. All we know is that three straight seven-win seasons won’t fly at Penn State.
Let’s not act like we know any more than that.