In many ways, it seems like yesterday that James Franklin was hired as head coach of a Penn State program that was still in turmoil following the Sandusky scandal. He landed the job on Jan. 11, 2014, at a time when the Nittany Lions were feeling the brunt of NCAA sanctions stemming from the scandal and had just lost Bill O’Brien to the Houston Texans after only two years at the helm.
Less than five years later, Franklin is about to become the fourth-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten. Tuesday, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, who currently sits at No. 4 on the list, announced that he will retire from coaching (again) following the Buckeyes’ Jan. 1 Rose Bowl matchup with Washington.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz will remain the dean of Big Ten coaches — by a long stretch — having taken over the Hawkeyes in December of 1998. He is followed by Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald (July 2006) and Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio (November 2006).
Ferentz and Dantonio are both in their 60s. So provided Franklin stays at Penn State, he appears to be a lock to move up into the second spot at some point in the next decade. But the odds of outlasting Fitzgerald — who at 44 is two years young that Franklin and has settled into a niche at his alma mater with no apparent aspirations to move on to a bigger program or the NFL — are much longer.
Along those lines, despite being among the top four in terms of tenure, Fitzgerald and Franklin are still relatively young when it comes to their Big Ten coaching peers. Depending on who Maryland hires to replace D.J. Durkin, once Meyer steps down, there will be at least seven coaches in the Big Ten older than 46.
Last year, Franklin signed a six-year contract extension that runs through the 2022 season. He has said he has no aspirations to coach in the NFL. Meanwhile, while rumors surfaced last month that he was interested in the USC job (that ultimately did not come open), Franklin eventually addressed them.
“Obviously (I) have all the plans in the world to be here, and be here for a long time,” Franklin said.
Under Franklin, Penn State is on the brink of winning 10 games in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1980-82. The Lions have been to four straight bowls coming out of the “sanctions era,” including back-to-back New Year’s Six games prior to this season’s upcoming trip to Orlando to face Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. PSU is one of only six teams — and the only B1G team other than Ohio State — to be in the top 15 of the last three College Football Playoff rankings.
Here is what the Big Ten coaching tenure list will look like once Meyer steps down, provided there are no other changes in the meantime. Coaches’ names are followed by the dates they were officially hired and their current ages:
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz (Dec. 2, 1998 – 63)
Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald (July 7, 2006 – 44)
Michigan State: Mark Dantonio (Nov. 27, 2006 – 62)
Penn State: James Franklin (Jan. 11, 2014 – 46)
Michigan: Jim Harbaugh (Dec. 16, 2014 – 54)
Wisconsin: Paul Chryst (Dec. 18, 2014 – 53)
Rutgers: Chris Ash (Dec. 7, 2015 – 44)
Illinois: Lovie Smith (March 7, 2016 – 60)
Indiana: Tom Allen (Dec. 1, 2016 – 48)
Purdue: Jeff Brohm (Dec. 5, 2016 – 47)
Minnesota: P.J. Fleck (Jan. 6, 2017 – 38)
Nebraska: Scott Frost (Dec. 1, 2017 – 43)
Ohio State: Ryan Day (Jan. 2, 2019 – 38)