It’s always about winning.
Other responsibilities come with being the head coach of a major college football program: recruiting, fundraising, mentoring young adults, lobbying the boss for facility upgrades and assistant coach raises ― and so much more.
Still, winning matters the most.
A little more than eight months ago, James Franklin wasn’t winning enough to satisfy his constituents ― the Penn State football community. It didn’t matter that Franklin had faced incredible challenges during his first two years and four games as Penn State’s coach. There was no rationalizing 16 wins and 14 losses for some fans.
A little more than two months later, Franklin’s hiring had been validated. He went from not winning enough to winning as much as any overzealous, irrational fan could have hoped for.
The winning has validated Franklin as one of the great younger coaches in America. He went from coach on the hot seat to coach of the Big Ten champions during a magical nine-game run.
Now that we’ve established the importance of winning, it is time to say this: It’s not just the winning for Franklin when it comes to the matter of his contract status at Penn State.
Sandy Barbour, the athletic director, has told members of the media on multiple occasions that an extension was in the works for Franklin. Penn State has announced a press conference for Thursday afternoon.
It seems plausible that a contract extension could be announced then. If not Thursday, a new deal for Franklin should be coming in short order ― certainly before the 2017 season begins.
Winning a bunch of games, such as 11 in one season, is a great way for any college coach to earn a contract extension. That’s how the college football economy works. Coaches, already signed to long, lucrative contracts, win a lot of games and get rewarded with a longer, more lucrative contract.
Franklin is under contract through the 2019 season, scheduled to earn a base salary of $4.3 million in 2017. He made $4.5 million in 2016, including bonuses, according to a USA Today database.
That was good for 10th in the nation in salary, tied with Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz for third in the Big Ten behind Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
A simple reason for giving Franklin an extension is optics. Coaches who don’t have contracts that run for the next four-plus seasons deal with negative recruiting. Another coach competing for a recruit will say, “Is he definitely going to be there?” to a prospective athlete.
If an athletic director wants the coach to be there in 2017, for example, the contract needs to run through at least 2021 in most circumstances. Even coaches with uncertain futures get extensions, just for how it looks to recruits and their families.
A better reason for giving Franklin an extension is he has earned it. Again, this isn’t just about the wins and losses. Winning 11 games and restoring Penn State as a contender in the Big Ten is a huge deal.
What Franklin has done for the program beyond winning 25 games in three years? Another huge deal. Franklin and his staff have brought a level of consistency to recruiting that Penn State has not had this century.
Some schools take for granted three consecutive recruiting classes ranked among the top 20 in the nation. That was a first for Penn State in the 21st century.
The 2018 class currently is ranked fourth in the country, even with two 5-star talents, Micah Parsons and Justin Fields, having backed off their commitments to consider other options. Penn State hasn’t had a class finish higher than 12th in the 247Sports composite rankings since 2006, and that group, which ranked seventh, is the best this century for the Nittany Lions.
Franklin has demonstrated his worth as the program’s CEO. At some programs, the head coach can worry just about recruiting players, developing them and winning games.
Penn State needed more than that in 2014. Still recovering from the worst scandal in the history of college sports, the Nittany Lions needed a leader who would keep the program from any further embarrassment. They needed someone who would be a relentless fundraiser to help pay for massive facility renovation projects.
Franklin has done all of that. He’s won a lot of games as well.
Winning enough games always leads to a contract extension in major college football. What Franklin has done when he’s not winning games is why he’s earned it.