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Penn State closing in on Vanderbilt’s James Franklin

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklclaps his players first half an NCAA college football game against South CarolinThursday Aug. 30 2012

Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin claps at his players in the first half of an NCAA college football game against South Carolina, Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Russell)

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Updated: January 10, 2014 10:00PM



STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Penn State’s search for a new football coach might be over.

Penn State said Friday that President Rodney Erickson and athletic director Dave Joyner will make a “major announcement” at Beaver Stadium on Saturday and invited reporters who cover the football team to attend.

The Nittany Lions have been talking with Vanderbilt coach James Franklin about the vacancy left by Bill O’Brien, who left last week for the NFL’s Houston Texans. Several media outlets reported that Franklin is expected to be O’Brien’s replacement, but Vanderbilt officials said Thursday night that Franklin hadn’t made a decision.

The 41-year-old Pennsylvania native is 24-15 in his three seasons as Vanderbilt’s head coach, matching Dan McGugin for the most wins in school history over a coach’s first three seasons. The Commodores are 16-4 over the past 20 games, second in the SEC only to Alabama. Vanderbilt won the final seven games of 2012 and the final five of 2013 in a stretch that also includes back-to-back bowl wins.

O’Brien guided the Nittany Lions through two seasons of severe NCAA sanctions after taking over for the late Joe Paterno and went 17-9. Miami’s Al Golden drew interest from Penn State during this search, though he said he intended to stay with the school.

Former Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak, a former Penn State offensive lineman, and 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman also have reportedly gotten a look from Penn State.

Greg Schiano, former head coach at Rutgers and the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, seemed like a fit because he is also is a former assistant at Penn State and has Eastern recruiting ties. But the interest wasn’t there on either side.

Franklin took over a Vanderbilt program that went 2-10 each of the two seasons before he was hired Dec. 17, 2010. He led Vanderbilt to rankings in the final Associated Press poll each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 in the rankings released Tuesday. Vanderbilt hadn’t finished in the final AP poll before Franklin arrived since 1948 under Red Sanders.

Franklin also has doubled the school’s number of nine-win seasons by going 9-4 each of the past two seasons. Vanderbilt last won nine games in 1915 before Franklin. In 2013, the Commodores also beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in school history.

After a lackluster start — O’Brien lost to Ohio and Virginia to open his career — Penn State rattled off five straight wins, and finished his debut year with a rousing 24-21 win over Wisconsin at home.

This season, the Nittany Lions started off better — wins over Syracuse and Eastern Michigan opened the year — but dealt with inconsistency issues along the way. All that said, like his first season, O’Brien closed with a flurry, defeating the Badgers, this time in Wisconsin, 31-24, to close out the campaign.

Penn State interim coach Larry Johnson said Thursday night he hasn’t been told anything about his future.

“I’m still the interim coach until a new coach is named,” Johnson said. “As of right now, I’m continuing to do my part.”



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