In a rapid change of events, James Franklin, the head coach of the Penn State football team, has now become the second-longest tenured coach in the Big Ten conference. This shift in the coaching landscape comes hot on the heels of Monday’s firing of Northwestern’s longtime coach, Pat Fitzgerald.
Franklin’s time at Penn State has been marked by success and consistent competitiveness in one of the most demanding conferences in college football. As the head coach, Franklin has worked diligently to elevate Penn State’s football program, steering them to competitive seasons and notable achievements, doubling both the school’s appearances and victories in the Rose Bowl, winning a Cotton Bowl, and posting four double-digit win seasons.
Kirk Ferentz- Iowa
Taking a chronological look at the Big Ten coaching landscape, Kirk Ferentz of Iowa stands tall as the longest-tenured coach overall, having spent an incredible 24 years leading the Hawkeyes. Ferentz’s longevity is a testament to his ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of college football and maintain a high level of success over an extended period. Penn State’s record versus Iowa since Franklin has been here is 4-2, with those two losses being the last two games played against the Hawkeyes.
Jim Harbaugh- Michigan
Jim Harbaugh, who has spent eight years at the helm of the Michigan Wolverines, follows closely behind Franklin as the third-longest coach in the conference. Harbaugh’s reign has seen its fair share of ups and downs, but the Wolverines have remained a competitive force and in the last few years reclaimed their status as a national powerhouse. Harbaugh’s Michigan squads have a record of 5-3 against the Nittany Lions.
Tom Allen- Indiana
Tom Allen has quietly been at Indiana for six full seasons now. Prior to his arrival, their last season above .500 was a 7-6 year in 2007. Allen led them to an 8-5 record in 2019 and a “stellar” 6-2 mark during the Covid-19 campaign, which the Nittany Lion faithful remember very well as Penn State opened up against the Hoosiers and got screwed out of a win. That 2020 year was their first top-10 ranking since 1967. The Lions have a 5-1 mark against Allen’s squads, the 2020 season being the sole loss.
P.J. Fleck- Minnesota
P.J. Fleck is tied with the Hoosiers Allen for fourth-most senior coach, at his current school, in the Big Ten with six seasons at Minnesota. The Golden Gophers have always been a solid, but not spectacular squad but Fleck has elevated their stature slightly. In 2019, he had them ranked as high as #7 in the AP polls with a finish at #10. Prior to that season, you would have to go back to 1962 to see a Minny team in the Top Ten. That 2019 team was the one who handed Penn State its first loss of the season 31-26. His squads are 2-4 against the Lions.
Ryan Day- Ohio State
Ryan Day has been at the helm of the Ohio State Buckeyes for five seasons now. Day succeeded the legendary Urban Meyer and has effectively maintained Ohio State’s dominant position in the conference as a force to be reckoned with. Bolstered by strong recruiting efforts and a proven track record, Day’s tenure promises continued competitiveness for the Buckeyes, although, with two consecutive losses to Michigan, there are many that think the temperature of his seat may be increasing greatly. One of the biggest blemishes on Franklin’s resume, as Day is a perfect 5-0 against Penn State football.
Mike Locksley- Maryland
Mike Locksley is going into his fifth season as the leader of the Maryland football program. He entered an incredibly difficult situation, coming back to where he once coached, with James Franklin, one year removed from DT Jordan McNair dying from heat stroke during an off-season workout. They had one season above .500 in the Big Ten before he arrived and have posted back-to-back winning campaigns. Penn State holds a 3-1 advantage over the Locksley-led Terrapins.
Greg Schiano- Rutgers
Greg Schiano at Rutgers is the only coach that could be considered to be a longer-serving head coach at his school, but his 14 total years have been split up by various other coaching gigs. He spent 10 years from 2001-2011 before returning in the Covid season of 2020, so his current stay is only going into year four. Rutgers continues to be overmatched in the Big Ten, posting one winning season since it joined in 2014. The last time Rutgers defeated the Nittany Lions was 1988 and Schiano is 0-3 against PSU.
Mel Tucker- Michigan State
Michigan State’s Mel Tucker had the same unenviable position as Schiano, as he took over the control in East Lansing during Covid. Sparty has struggled a bit in recent years, with Tucker only recording one winning season. Michigan State is 1-2 against PSU during that span.
Brett Bielema- Illinois
No stranger to the Big Ten after his seven highly successful seasons at Wisconsin, Illinois’ Brett Bielema seemingly has Illinois headed in the right direction, posing the Illini’s first winning year in 2022 since 2011. Penn State football has split the pair of games against Illinois, the loss being the 9-OT heartbreak.
Ryan Walters-Purdue, Luke Fickell-Wisconsin, Matt Rhule-Nebraska
Three coaches, Ryan Walters of Purdue, Luke Fickell of Wisconsin, and Matt Rhule of Nebraska have yet to face the Blue and White, as they have all been in their perspective universities for less than a year.
In the ever-changing and sometimes tumultuous head coaching landscape of college football, James Franklin has emerged as a stabilizing force for Penn State football. Regardless of personal opinions, Franklin’s nine-year tenure has provided the Nittany Lions with the stability required to position themselves among the nation’s elite programs. Through his unwavering commitment and leadership, Franklin has guided Penn State through both triumphs and challenges, ensuring the program’s continued growth and pursuit of excellence. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the positive impact Franklin has had on Penn State.