James Franklin last week became probably the highest paid public official in Pennsylvania when he was named the new head football coach at Penn State.
His salary is $4 million – at first glance a figure unbecoming for just a football coach.
But this is about more than coaching football players.
Franklin is the head of a multimillion dollar franchise known as Penn State football, and his salary is commensurate with such responsibility. According to Forbes magazine, the Penn State football program's value is $71 million on annual revenues of $59 million and a profit of $30 million.
Those are big numbers, and Franklin is, in effect, the CEO.
The new coach – who has roots in the Greater Lehigh Valley – seems like a natural CEO. You can see it in the press conference that was held to make the announcement.
Franklin, an East Stroudsburg University athlete and alumnus, used the pulpit to speak to fans, alumni, students, media, players, former players and, yes, even future players. He wants to sell the Penn State football brand and he'll do most anything to do so.
Among other things, Franklin said:
-- He would not turn down any speaking engagement.
-- He said that Penn State's Beaver Stadium would have a sellout of 107,000 people every game this fall.
-- He said he would build the program to where it deserves to be, at the championship level.
Big talk – and possibly not 100 percent likely to happen. Sellouts, for example, are rare these days.
But Franklin is setting big goals and trying to get everyone on board to reach those standards. He is part motivational speaker, part cheerleader, part coach and committed to making sure everyone is aligned with the program's goals. Much like a CEO.
"It's why we're all here, to bring this great university back together and try to unite the former players, the current players, the alumni, all the people," Franklin said at the press conference, according to The Daily Collegian newspaper. "Because I think that is the reality — everybody just takes great pride in this university and they want to see it great in everything, academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, the whole package."
As a Penn State alumnus and someone who remembers Franklin as an athlete at East Stroudsburg University, I am confident he can return Penn State to levels at or near those reached by Joe Paterno. I think that Franklin is committed to Happy Valley for more than just two years – which is what predecessor Bill O'Brien gave to Penn State.
Some, such as Lehigh Valley sports fan and author Rich Plinke, believe that Franklin has a much tougher task than O'Brien had. (O'Brien jumped to an NFL head coaching job and is making more money.)
"Here comes James Franklin to a much less trusting and supportive environment in not-so-Happy Valley," said Plinke, a sales consultant and professional speaker whose wife is a Penn State alumna. "Thanks to O'Brien's manipulative use of the program to make a lot of money, Franklin's job will be much more difficult with both fans and recruits.
"Everything he says and does will be scrutinized and analyzed, and he will be under a great deal of external pressure. His job is going to be a tough one, much tougher than O'Brien's."
See you in September and beyond.