October 3, 2013
Why Penn State's deal with James Franklin is taking so long and how Vandy could conceivably sabotage it
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on January 09, 2014 at 7:38 PM, updated January 10, 2014 at 12:32 AM
Why is it taking so long for James Franklin to be signed up and sealed by Penn State?
I’m told there are several reasons. And in the interim, I suppose it’s possible Vanderbilt could try to retain its football coach. If, at this point, that seems like a long shot, just remember anything is possible in the Monopoly-money age of major-college coaching.
I believe Franklin and Penn State have come to a basic handshake agreement for him to become PSU’s new coach, though no formal offer has yet been extended. When Franklin’s close friend Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams told the Associated Press at about 3:30 EST today that Franklin remained the Vandy football coach, that was technically true but also a matter of semantics.
Tennessee sources reported tonight that Franklin was returning from his vacation home in Destin, Fla., to Nashville with the ostensible purpose of telling Williams face-to-face that he’s leaving.
For its part, I am told Penn State cannot make a formal offer until several technicalities are addressed. A legal advertisement must be run for the position on Friday. And the compensation committee, a small subset of the PSU board of trustees, must review the contract on Saturday morning. My best guess is that a formal introduction of Franklin could not be made until sometime Saturday at the earliest and possibly not until later. An announcement could be made before then, however.
Now, is it conceivable that, in the interim, Williams could make an 11th-hour bid to hold onto Franklin? A little thumbnail of the Vanderbilt hierarchy is in order here:
Williams isn’t just an AD, he’s a lawyer, an expert in tax and sports law who’s been on the faculty at several schools including Ohio State. While there and later at Vanderbilt, he was a close associate of the former OSU president and Vandy chancellor Gordon Gee. Those are a pair of guys accustomed to getting their way.
Williams and Franklin are both African-American. Considering how tough it has historically been for even accomplished black men to get AD and head coaching jobs at major universities, it’s understandable how tight their bond could be. I'm told the two met with Franklin’s agent Trace Armstrong (the former NFL defensive end) on Tuesday night at the Vanderbilt’s McGugin Center athletic facility. I don’t know if all three have met since.
The chancellor Nicholas Zeppos is also a lawyer, bred in Wisconsin with experience in Washington, D.C. Zeppos has been at Vanderbilt since 1987 holding several positions including chancellor since Gee left in 2007 to return to OSU. His relationship is said to have been very good with Franklin until the recent rape case unfolded in which four of Franklin’s players were charged in August, tossed off the team and banned from campus. Since then, Zeppos’ verbal support for the coach has been tepid. So, there is some question whether he would resist Franklin’s departure.
Should any thrust evolve to keep Franklin, Vanderbilt athletics does have a major donor in John Ingram who conceivably could pitch in. His family’s Ingram Industries, valued by Forbes at $2.1 billion, is a sprawling private company based in Nashville that made its early money running a fleet of barges loaded with oil, coal and gravel up and down every major waterway in North America. The company still has a major marine division but has since diversified into publications, communication and technology.
Vanderbilt is a private university and contracts need not be made public. Still, it seems unlikely that Vanderbilt could see fit to get into a bidding war with Penn State over Franklin, even if Armstrong would love to witness one. Franklin clearly sees his future at PSU. It might take an offer in the neighborhood of $4.5 million annually from Vandy to shift that focus. And even that might not get it done.
October 3, 2013
Alabama adds to its recruiting arsenal with addition of Lane Kiffin
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on January 10, 2014 at 5:19 PM, updated January 10, 2014 at 5:34 PM
Lane Kiffin hired at Alabama
- At Alabama, Lane Kiffin's focus can exclusively return to the offense (analysis)
- What fans are saying about Alabama's hiring of Lane Kiffin (social)
- Alabama players, prospects react to Lane Kiffin hiring
- Lane Kiffin through the years: See Alabama's new offensive coordinator (photos)
- Alabama adds to its recruiting arsenal with addition of Lane Kiffin
In new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, Alabama is bringing on board one of the most successful recruiters college football has seen in the past decade.
Kiffin's recruiting prowess dates back to his days as an assistant coach under Pete Carroll at Southern Cal, where he was first hired as a tight ends coach at the age of 26. Kiffin quickly moved his way up the ladder at USC to wide receivers coach, then passing game coordinator and eventually offensive coordinator with the young assistant's skill and energy on the recruiting trail playing a huge role in his advancement on Carroll's staff.
The Trojans saw progress offensively under coordinator Norm Chow but both the USC offense and the Trojans' recruiting appeared to take big steps forward once Chow moved on and Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were given command of the offense beginning with the 2005 season. Thanks to the on-field success of superstar recruits from the 2003 signing class, including Reggie Bush, Lendale White and Steve Smith, Kiffin and his fellow USC staffers embarked on a run that was not equaled by any program until Alabama's recent string of top-ranked recruiting classes.
USC landed the No. 1 recruiting class in the Rivals.com rankings for three consecutive seasons from 2004 until 2006, signing 16 prospects with five-star ratings from the service in that three-year span. Kiffin was instrumental in helping the Trojans through this unprecedented run of success, during which USC placed a premium on dominating their talent-rich home state.
After returning from the NFL, Kiffin returned to the college ranks in 2009 taking on the head coaching position at Tennessee. Kiffin's impact on the recruiting trail was immediate for what had become a stale and talent-starved program, with the Volunteers landing back-to-back top ten recruiting classes under Kiffin in 2009 and 2010. Those two classes included 24 prospects rated four stars or better by Rivals.com, including several players who served key roles for the Volunteers last season such as running back Rajion Neal and offensive linemen James Stone and Jawuan James.
After returning to USC to serve as head coach, Kiffin once again found immediate success recruiting on the West Coast, landing the No. 4 class in the nation in 2011. Once scholarship limitations were imposed due to NCAA sanctions against the Trojans, Kiffin's subsequent classes were significantly smaller but no less talent-rich. With just 15 total signees in his 2012 signing class, Kiffin managed to land the No. 8 class in the nation. With just 12 total signees in 2013, Kiffin still landed the No. 13 class in the nation, with five of USC's 12 signees rated as five-star prospects.
Kiffin gives the Crimson Tide another dangerous weapon on the recruiting trail with three crucial weeks to go before National Signing Day. Could the addition of Kiffin give Alabama an edge in landing some key offensive recruits in the final weeks of the 2014 cycle? Stay tuned to AL.com/recruiting for the latest developments.
October 3, 2013
It almost goes without saying that Penn State is making a big-time hire in reportedly luring James Franklin away from Vanderbilt. Penn State has set a press conference Saturday afternoon to officially announce the hiring.
He replaces Bill O'Brien, who left on New Year's Eve for the NFL's Houston Texans, and the move ends a stretch of concern among fans about the future of the program still trying to dig out from the Jerry Sandusky sexual molestation scandal and ensuing NCAA sanctions.
Franklin, 41, is bright, energetic, passionate and a proven winner – 24-15, including consecutive nine-win seasons at historically bad Vandy. He's also a dynamic recruiter and salesman, a Langhorne, Pa. native who can try to sweep up interest in the program that has seen attendance dwindle the past two seasons.
Maybe best of all, he is proof positive of what's really occurring at Penn State. Here's one of the hottest coaching prospects in the country, making more than $3 million per year in the SEC, and he chose to come to State College. Not soldier on through sanctions. Not ride out the wake of the ugly days. Not stick with it out of old loyalty.
He wanted to be there, not just for the powerful future, but even the present where a world-class university remains no matter how many criminal and civil trials continue as the endless infighting over Joe Paterno's legacy rolls on.
This, truly, is a sign of a bright new day for the school. And it might be the start of a strong new era for the football program, even if depleted depth will hamper things a little while longer.
Beyond Happy Valley though, it might even signify something bigger, a flexing of some too-often ignored muscles – or at least an opening of the wallet – by the Big Ten Conference.
Franklin's hiring is, for sure, the biggest coaching news in the league this season. Yet a lower-profile move this week might signify the same trend.
Doug Nussmeier instructs players during an Alabama practice. (AP)
Michigan announced Thursday the hiring of 43-year-old Doug Nussmeier as its new offensive coordinator, a transaction that made headlines because of where he came from – Nick Saban's University of Alabama juggernaut where he held the same job.
Why would a promising young coordinator leave a perennial national contender and the top coach in America for the Wolverines, where head coach Brady Hoke is on the hot seat heading into the 2014 season?
Money is certainly one factor, as the school is expected to pay Nussmeier more than $850,000 per year, about $200,000 more than he made last year at Alabama. Likewise, you can expect Penn State to pay Franklin about $4.5 million per year, a school source said. That's about $750,000 more than what O'Brien was making and nearly what Ohio State is paying Urban Meyer ($4.6 million). It made money a non-factor even though Vanderbilt was willing to go to the wall to keep him. And Michigan State made Mark Dantonio one of the country's best-paid coaches ($4 million-plus) before the Spartans won the Rose Bowl ,and he could even hit the open market.
Cash wasn't the only reason for these decisions, of course. That's especially true for Franklin and the Nittany Lions, where there are matters of tradition and possible success and additional resources. Likewise, Dantonio wasn't looking to leave a place he clearly loves.
Still, they had options and this is a league that hasn't always paid top dollar for top coaching talent. Now they appear to be taking money concerns off the table.
Just a year ago the Big Ten was stinging from the fact Bret Bielema, who reached three consecutive Rose Bowls at Wisconsin, left for Arkansas because it promised to pay not just the head coach better, but his assistants too. When he was in Madison, he complained, too many staffers had to leave for raises.
The Big Ten's seeming inability – outside of Ohio State, of course – to attract and retain the best and the brightest was maddening for fans. If there is one thing that shouldn't be a factor, its financial commitment.
Mark Dantonio coached MSU to the Rose Bowl championship. (AP)
At least, that's what they were told in 2007 with the launch of the Big Ten Network. It used a few big basketball and football contests – watch the phone lines light up in Indianapolis when you can't watch the Indiana-Purdue game – to shoe horn its way onto Tier 1 cable bills across the Midwest.
It was, essentially, a Big Ten tax, about a buck a month for every cable television subscribing home in a state with a conference school, whether they care about college sports or not. (And judging by ratings, the vast majority don't.) That's the kind of revenue inflow you could never get voters to approve.
The league gets about half of each month – good enough for a projected $270 million in 2013.
That's a financial burden even on fans of the teams. Then, in addition, the league decided to expand again, only not with new powerful programs. Instead unexciting programs from Maryland and Rutgers arrive next fall.
The move will dilute schedules, lessen traditions and do little for on-field success. Almost no one is excited. It was done for money though – or the potential of getting a buck a month out of every school in those two states.
If that's the case, well, at least now, perhaps, this is a sign that league schools are beginning to spend the windfall on the kind of coaches that can make a difference. The BTN impact hasn't previously been much – the league's football fortunes are actually worse now than 2006.
Maybe that's changing with an energetic new coach in State College, a program builder staying to finish the job in East Lansing and a highly regarded assistant straight out of Tuscaloosa and headed to Michigan.
Money isn't the only reason, but these kinds of transactions make cable bills and home games against the Terrapins a lot more palpable.
And it may be the sign of something big – or at least bigger – to come.
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