The inevitable finally happened on Monday as USC decided to move on from head coach Clay Helton. Naturally, this spurned every college football pundit far and wide to start compiling their lists of ideal candidates to fill the coveted position, with most including a very familiar name – James Franklin.
It's not the first time Franklin's name has been thrown around for another high-profile job, and not the first time he's been connected to the USC job in particular. To be fair, it would be a great fit. Franklin, with the backing of the Southern Cal brand and the talent base in California, would almost surely pull in top-five recruiting classes year in and year out. The Trojans also have a much simpler path to a playoff berth than Penn State, thanks to an Ohio State-sized roadblock in their division.
Naturally, Franklin was asked about the job in his Tuesday press conference.
On the USC speculation, James Franklin said: "I can't stand any form of distraction, so I'll discuss this with the leadership council so that we can make sure that all of our energy is on our preparation Auburn, and that's how we'll handle it."— Greg Pickel (@GregPickel) September 14, 2021
While it wasn't the denial of interest that many fans were surely hoping for, Franklin is a smart and savvy public speaker. No matter what he is thinking, the first people he will talk to in either case are his recruits and his team. And most importantly, even if he is eyeing the job, nothing will happen on that front until the conclusion of Penn State's season, and going 1-0 each week (particularly with Auburn on the horizon) is paramount.
Since arriving in Happy Valley, James Franklin has transformed a program into a national power once again. Bill O'Brien started that work, but Franklin has accelerated it to a new level. Since taking over in 2014, Penn State has gone 62-28, including 48-16 since 2016. The team also has Fiesta Bowl and Cotton Bowl wins under its belt, as well as a hard-fought loss in the best Rose Bowl since the Vince Young national title game. Not to mention the incredible job his staff has done with sending talent to the NFL, as former Nittany Lions comprise some of the brightest young talents the league has to offer.
The future for Penn State also looks incredibly bright, with the Lions currently boasting the No. 1-rated recruiting class for 2022, including two top-flight quarterback prospects. Drew Allar, in particular, looks like he may be one of the best signal-callers the school has ever recruited.
Will Franklin want to leave the situation he's built, especially given the proximity to his home? That's a question for another day. For now, he has his team focused on Auburn, which is exactly where the focus needs to be.