There are, as one would expect, conflicting opinions on Penn State hiring James Franklin to be the school's football head coach. I share each of them.
The now former Vanderbilt coach is, by all accounts, a brilliant football mind. He reportedly drew interest from the likes of the University of Texas and the Cleveland Browns. Franklin was likely to land a bigger gig this winter. Penn State swooped in and made sure to get the man deemed worthy of replacing Bill O'Brien, who himself traded up and moved on to the Houston Texans.
Then there's that rape case.
A piece over on The Big Lead did well to summarize the situation. Four of Franklin's players at Vanderbilt were charged with rape. He dismissed them from the team. One of them was “99.9 percent sure” Franklin had a hand in attempting to cover up the case. There is, right now today, “no evidence whatsoever” that Franklin is guilty of any such crime.
Franklin's supposed innocence has not prevented some from publicly stating that Penn State, still reeling from the Jerry Sandusky scandal that tarnished the university, should have avoided making the hire. Dan Wolken of USA Today stated during a Pittsburgh sports radio segment that the case involving the Vanderbilt football players was why USC passed on Franklin. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports took a defiant stance on the issue, writing the following:
“Penn State cannot hire James Franklin. Can't even begin to think about it, actually.”
Not everybody agrees.
Matt Hayes of the Sporting News: “Let me remind you of a young man named Jameis Winston, who despite innocence declared by the state attorney in Florida, still handles with questions about the 'problem' or 'incident' or 'situation' he had to deal with this season.”
“...despite Tom Thurman, deputy district attorney in Nashville, Tenn., publicly stating there is 'clearly no evidence that Franklin is involved in the cover-up' of four Vanderbilt players allegedly raping a woman on campus, Penn State professor Michelle Rodino-Colocino has decided that, 'We at Penn State do not want a football coach who has allegedly covered up his players' gang rape of another student.'
Seriously, have we not learned?"
Hayes is, of course, spot on. Just as Winston has every right to continue playing college and, in the future, professional football, Franklin has every right to make a living on the sideline. Society may go out of its way to bury individuals the minute they are even accused of wrongdoing. That alone does not make them guilty.
Hayes' well-made point does not, however, change that the Franklin hire doesn't pass the so-called “smell test,” at least it doesn't for this Penn State alum. As someone who read the disturbing and downright disgusting details of the crimes perpetrated by Sandusky, the very thought of someone involved with Penn State football being subpoenaed regarding a rape case doesn't sit well in the stomach.
Were there better candidates who do not have any blemishes associated with their names out there? Those running Penn State Athletics obviously didn't think so. The hope now is that the university looked into the matter as much as possible and determined that Franklin's name will ultimately be cleared.
As much as some who still clamor for the Joe Paterno statue because they can't scrape up the resources necessary to build a golden calf may not like to realize it, the football at Penn State must absolutely take a backseat to the mantra found in the PSU Alma Mater: “May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.” Franklin will, as of January 11, be the public face of the Penn State football program.
May he bring no shame with him.