Dream Job No. 1 slipped out of his grasp in 2010, when Maryland hired Kevin Anderson as its athletic director.
In February 2009, Franklin was Maryland’s offensive coordinator and one of the country’s fastest-rising young assistants. He was one of the nation’s top recruiters and locked in to become the program’s next head coach. Franklin was named Maryland’s head-coach-in-waiting, patiently working alongside former coach Ralph Friedgen as offensive coordinator and waiting for his turn as the CEO of the struggling program.
New Penn State coach James Franklin, shown in 2010 as Maryland's offensive coordinator, was once Maryland's head-coach-in-waiting.
“I always dreamed of this opportunity,” Franklin, a two-time assistant with the Terps, said at that time. “I think I have a pretty unique perspective on the university and what it’s going to take to be successful here. Really, our plan and our discussion was about continuing to build off the foundation Ralph has laid here and continue to build this program into one of the elite programs in the country.”
As Maryland heads into the Big Ten next season, James Franklin is going to be the Terps’ worst nightmare. (Well, him and Ohio State ...)
He’s already established as a recruiter in Maryland’s backyard, working the high schools of the District of Columbia and the surrounding counties of Maryland. He’s well connected with high school coaches, prospects and their families throughout the Baltimore-Washington-Pennsylvania territories -- all areas that the Nittany Lions have successfully recruited in the past. (Franklin, a native of Langhorne, Pa., versus Mike Locksley in recruiting will be as good as any rivalry in the ACC – or the Big Ten, for that matter.) Franklin is an energetic, passionate young coach who will take over a program that – despite all its lingering issues – still has more resources and support than Maryland.
And yet there was a time when Maryland was the only place he wanted to be.
Franklin used to spend his Thanksgivings at the University of Maryland, where his aunt used to work in admissions. Franklin, a graduate of East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania, had plenty of connections to the area, much as he does to Penn State. When Anderson was hired in 2010, though, he made it very clear that while Franklin could be a candidate to replace Friedgen, there was no guarantee Anderson would honor the coach-in-waiting plan.
In retrospect, it was a smart move by Anderson. Had Franklin stuck around and not been named head coach by January 2012, Maryland would have owed him $1 million. By letting Franklin know there were no promises, it not only opened the door for him to leave on his own, it encouraged the move before Friedgen was even fired. Had Franklin still been on staff when Friedgen was fired, many would have expected Franklin to take over.
So when Vanderbilt called, Franklin had little choice but to answer.
Vandy’s win was Maryland’s loss, as it was impossible not to compare the direction of the programs during Anderson’s tenure.
The Commodores' 24-15 record under Franklin matched the legendary Dan McGugin for the most victories in school history by a coach in his first three seasons. For the first time in the program’s 124-year history, Vandy was ranked in the AP Top 25 in back-to-back seasons. Vanderbilt's 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl gave the Commodores back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in program history.
Meanwhile, Maryland was thrilled just to get to a bowl game for the first time under Randy Edsall – a bowl game they lost Dec. 27 to Marshall in nearby Annapolis.
While the decision made sense to many at the time and eliminated a sticky situation on Maryland’s coaching staff, Maryland will now continue to be haunted by the one who got away.
The timing of the hire is certainly uncanny.
Once seemingly inseparable, Maryland and James Franklin are heading to the Big Ten together -- and yet they couldn’t be further apart.