There are still many questions left unanswered for the Penn State program as it heads into its first fall without football since its inception.
But one thing remains clear — James Franklin is the right coach to lead his team through the coronavirus pandemic.
After a successful three-year stint at Vanderbilt in which he became the first Commodores head coach to lead the program to consecutive bowl games, Franklin took the reins of the Nittany Lions in 2014 and has created an upward trajectory for the team ever since.
Penn State was set to potentially have one of its best teams in decades, with junior Micah Parsons leading the defense and a more experienced Sean Clifford facilitating a potent offense with plenty of weapons.
Parsons, along with junior tight end Pat Freiermuth were both named preseason All-Americans by USA Today after seasons in which both improved their NFL Draft stock in 2019.
If Franklin were to ever make the College Football Playoff, it likely would’ve been this year with the players he had on roster.
But then the Big Ten canceled all fall competition due to the coronavirus pandemic and left the status of the Nittany Lion program in purgatory.
Franklin could have thrown in the towel and let the situation get the best of him and his squad, but he’s done quite the opposite so far.
Directly after the Big Ten’s decision was released, Franklin began a dialogue with Penn State players and their parents to help them better understand the situation at hand and the opportunities afforded to them to get through the canceled season.
With those conversations taking place privately, Franklin has also voiced his concerns with the decision to cancel fall sports publicly as well.
In a conference call with media members, Franklin cited his displeasure with the decision-making process — ultimately noting the decision was made far too in advance and a temporary pause on the season would have been more beneficial for the conference and its 14 member programs.
“I don't necessarily have an issue with the decision, but I have an issue with the process and I got an issue with the timing,” Franklin said in the call with the media.
It would have been easy for Franklin to sit back and fully accept the Big Ten’s decision without expressing his converse opinions on the issue — but Franklin has never taken the easy way out.
He also conceded that the Big Ten’s decision was difficult and there were likely no right answers, demonstrating his willingness to stand with the conference even if he doesn’t completely agree with the final decision.
“While I appreciate the complexities and difficulties of this decision for the leaders of our conference, I'm extremely frustrated because we still have very few answers to communicate to our young men and their families about their futures,” Franklin said.
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Franklin is proving he is a players’ coach, and he will continue to go to bat for his players, his parents and his program in the face of adversity and in this instance unknown.
When Franklin became the 16th head coach in Penn State’s history, he took over a program that had seen massive adversity from NCAA sanctions that were handed down just two years prior.
Since then, though, Franklin’s teams have gone on to have three 10-plus win seasons and have produced notable NFL players such as Saquon Barkley and Chris Godwin.
So, if Franklin can right the ship of a program sanctioned into oblivion, he can certainly lead the team in a time rife with uncertainty and struggle.
The Nittany Lions may not have a fall football season, but Franklin is the right man for the job of continuing the progression of his players and staff.