Penn State's 10-year contract extension to James Franklin strains belief
On Tuesday, Penn State announced a new 10-year, $85-million contract extension with coach James Franklin that will keep him with the Nittany Lions through 2031.
The proper response to this bombshell: Um. OK. Sure. I guess?
Let’s start with the length.
Ten years is a long time in college football — something on par with geological time. 2011 might as well be in the Pleistocene Epoch. There are 2 active Big Ten coaches who are with the same school they were 10 years ago: Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald. Bret Bielema has found his way back into the league, but not before an unsuccessful jaunt at Arkansas to break up the monotony between Wisconsin and Illinois.
So it is absolutely silly to give any coach that kind of contract length, save Nick Saban when he was younger than 70. It might be excusable when attempting to make a splash, as Texas A&M did when it lured Jimbo Fisher from Florida State. But the Aggies were still mocked for the size of that 10-year, $75-million deal (which recently was extended to $90 million through 2031). And Fisher at least had a national championship to his name.
Franklin has won a Big Ten championship at Penn State, but that was in 2016. Recent returns make it feel like that trophy will collect more dust before gaining a partner in the trophy case.
Penn State is 11-9 in its past 20 games, including an 0-5 start to 2020.
There were high expectations this season, and they have not been met. The Nittany Lions peaked at No. 4 in early October but have lost 4 of 6 since to fall out of the Top 25. The wins were against Maryland and Rutgers, and lowly Illinois was among the losses.
Franklin’s previous contract ran through 2025, so we were approaching the time where a raise or extension might be in order. But you’d also think Penn State would have enough leverage to demand a return to prior form next season before making that commitment.
Instead, Franklin stole the leverage when his name was rumored as a candidate for the LSU and USC openings while the Nittany Lions were riding high earlier this fall.
Even Inspector Clouseau might have figured out those rumors were probably facilitated in part by Franklin’s new agent, Jimmy Sexton. And by now we’ve reached the point where Franklin’s past 2 seasons have been so blasé that neither the Trojans nor Tigers were going to move in his direction. Losing to Illinois has a way of weeding out prospective suitors.
But those suitors, real or imagined, are what got us here. If this wasn’t the year, rumors were likely to swirl around Franklin next year if the Nittany Lions rebound. Ultimately, that’s a strain on recruiting if players presume their careers will end playing for a different head coach.
Now Penn State can point to stability as one of its chief assets. There are, after all, very few programs financially committed to their coach into the 2030s.
But as a quick glance backward shows, it will qualify as a minor miracle if we reach 2031 and James Franklin is still patrolling the sidelines at Beaver Stadium.