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Commentary: Franklin is just like O'Brien

by on January 12, 2014 1:59 AM

Here we go again.

By the time you read this, chances are very good that James Franklin will be the head football coach at Penn State. Franklin did wonders at Vanderbilt where nobody has ever been able to win and you’ll be hearing lots of comments about how he shouldn’t be blamed for leaving for Penn State.

But, like former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien, Franklin had to have made commitments and promises to recruits who may have turned down other offers and chosen Vanderbilt only because of him. The question, again, is when did Franklin make his last promise to stay to a recruit or a current player? Franklin is on record as a big fan of commitment.

Two years ago, he created a stir when, after a kid, who had given him a verbal commitment, flipped and signed to play for the University of Georgia. He said that players who de-commit “are not men of honor” and are “not men of integrity.”

Forget the fact that it’s a pretty safe bet that he had kids playing for him who had de-committed from another program.

When Franklin signed a contract extension last year at Vanderbilt he said, “This is really about our kids and our players. I made a promise to them, and we made a promise to them as a staff, that they could come to Vanderbilt and chase all their dreams, their wildest dreams, at the highest level.”

Same old story. Penn State players have a coach taken out from under them, and Penn State goes out and takes a coach out from under a bunch of kids at Vanderbilt.

But make no mistake. It’s always all about the kids.

Rape is not a word that you want to come up at a Penn State press conference to introduce a new coach, but it’s a word that has the potential to blow the Penn State program up again.

Back in June, several of Vanderbilt’s players were arrested and charged with raping an unconscious female student. And, of course, this being the social media age, it was recorded on a cellphone and spread around campus. The players were kicked off the team and law enforcement in Nashville said there is absolutely no evidence that Franklin took part in any cover up.

But a story in SB Nation quoted an anonymous source close to the defendants as saying he/she is “99.9 percent sure” that Franklin saw the video and told the players to delete it.

For now, we have to take Franklin at his word when he says that he never saw the video, but there will be a trial and the defendants will be speaking under oath. Penn State becomes a circus again if any of them say that Franklin did, in fact, see the video.

Isn’t college football wonderful?

• Meanwhile the University of North Carolina needs to find out why academic counselor Mary Willingham is making up terrible stories about UNC athletes. While she was a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro, Willingham researched the reading levels of 183 UNC-Chapel Hill football and basketball players from 2004 to 2012. She found that 60 percent read between fourth- and eighth-grade level and that between 8 percent and 10 percent read at the third-grade level.

The NCAA released a statement saying that Willingham’s report was inaccurate and incomplete and spewed a lot of numbers, including a claim that, of the more than 29,000 student-athletes who entered institutions for the first time in 2012, only 16 had test scores below 600. Willingham has been receiving death threats.

When CNN asked the University of North Carolina to comment on Willingham’s study, officials denied knowing about it. After emails showed that not to be true, officials admitted that they had seen Willingham’s study.

Aren’t college sports wonderful?

• Thousands of running backs have gained millions of yards in the many years that the NFL has existed. Five gained more than Jerome Bettis did and there is still a debate about whether he belongs in the Football Hall of Fame.

There shouldn’t be. One knock against him is his 3.9 yards per carry. The magic number is 4.0, but you had to see Bettis play to realize how many times the Steelers called on him to get only one yard, either for a first down or a touchdown. And he was rarely stopped. But all those one-yard gains are enough to keep his average under four yards a carry.

Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all time leading rusher and I don’t think he was a better runner than Bettis. Smith ran through huge holes opened up by what may have been the best offensive line in NFL history.

All the players at the top of the NFL’s all time rushing list did something that current backs are not doing. They played against defensive players who, you know, knew how to tackle. And they were allowed to hurl themselves at runners like guided missiles.

With the feeble attempts at tackling that are on display weekly in the NFL now, Bettis, in his prime, might average six yards a carry.

It’s been eight years since Bettis carried the ball for the Steelers. Do yourself a favor and check out his highlights on YouTube and refresh your memory. You’ll remember why they called him The Bus.



John Steigerwald's blog can be found at www.justwatchthegame.com, and he is the author of "Just Watch The Game." His column appears each Saturday.
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