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Why Penn State Is Betting on James Franklin

Penn State says Franklin's new contract represents a 'sustained commitment' to winning.

Four days before coaching his 100th game at Penn State, and three weeks before Signing Day, James Franklin reinforced his roots.

Franklin signed a 10-year contract worth a guaranteed $70 million (with another $15 million in contract-language cash) that includes buyout terms quite favorable to the coach. The contract entwines both parties for the long haul.

Penn State and James Franklin have announced their commitment to winning. Now it's time to win.

"This renewed commitment to our student-athletes, community and fans reinforces all the reasons I've been proud to serve as your head football coach for the last eight years and why my commitment to Penn State remains steadfast," Franklin said in a statement.

Franklin's new contract is a statement that the coach and university believe their goals, paths and strategies are aligned. It does not include incremental salary increases or backloaded terms. Franklin will make a guaranteed $7 million annually for the life of the contract.

Further, the buyout terms lean decidedly toward Franklin. If Franklin leaves for another job in 2024, he owes the university $2 million. If Penn State fires him that same year, it owes Franklin $56 million.

This is Penn State saying, "James Franklin is our coach." And this is Franklin saying, "Penn State is committed to winning."

"With this contract, we are signaling our sustained commitment to being one of the premiere programs in the history of college football," Penn State Athletics Director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. "Our goals and aspirations relating to football have never wavered and our investments today and in the future of our program will allow us to compete at the highest level."

That Penn State gave Franklin a $1.1 million annual raise just two years after his last contract isn't the prime takeaway of this announcement. Barbour's statement, and Franklin's years of breadcrumb hints, are.

Penn State announced the new contract now, in part, to help solidify the program's highly ranked recruiting class. Quarterback Drew Allar, among the 2022 class' cornerstone players, spoke on behalf of the incoming recruits.

But Franklin has pounded the table for years about getting more staff, facilities and resources to recruit and develop those prospects. Penn State opened the Lasch Football Building as the program's state-of-the-art home in 2000. Though it received occasional upgrades, and is undergoing further renovation, the facility no longer stands out among college football complexes. In particular, it's cramped for Penn State's expanding football staff.

Franklin further mentioned an expansive "roadmap" of projects Penn State must address, including player housing, technology upgrades, staff salaries, training facilities, NIL resources and much more. These are the broad-based programmatic issues that Franklin believes will make Penn State competitive with the nation's top programs.

And that doesn't merely mean competitive on Saturdays. This contract isn't about being unable to score on five consecutive 2-point conversions against Illinois or calling a fake field goal against Michigan, though some fans might want it to be. It's about elevating the program's conditions, drawing and developing more talent and thus minimizing those situations.

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To underscore his point, Franklin invited everyone to visit other teams' facilities (even virtually) to understand the hill Penn State has to climb. Facilities such as those at Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State or Texas A&M or Oklahoma or Clemson.

"I've said it really since I got here: We have to compete 365 days a year with everything," Franklin said Tuesday before the contract announcement. "Everything matters."

Earlier this year, Penn State's Board of Trustees debated approving a $48.3 million renovation plan of the Lasch Football Building, the first phase of a $69 million project. The board overwhelmingly approved the funding, but not without some vocal debate among trustees.

But trustee Brandon Short, a former Penn State all-American linebacker, asked, "Why aren't we spending even more?"

"There’s a large part of our fan base, and I’m one of them, that has an old-school mentality. But that has to evolve," Short said in an interview. "I love Joe Paterno. He saved my life, and I love him for what he did for this university and for what he’s done me personally. But we cannot make decisions today based upon what we did 30 years ago. The world is different.

"... There's no question that there’s an arms race going on [in college athletics]. And there are two choices: We either compete and win or we choose not to be as good as we could be. And I for one am a competitor, and our fan base wants to compete and win. In order to do that, we need to invest."

That's the basis of Penn State's 10-year commitment to Franklin. It's a unique position for a university that will have a new president in 2022 and possibly a new athletic director within a year after that. But it's one Penn State felt compelled to make.

Franklin will be 59 in 2031, the last year of this contract, his fourth (and likely final) at Penn State. He has said repeatedly that he has no interest in coaching into his 80s. This contract represents his best chance to win a national championship at Penn State.

Penn State and Franklin have made the commitment to winning. Now it's time to win.

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