Update, 1/9: It's happening, folks.
Bill O'Brien has officially accepted the job as the Houston Texans head coach, completing what many thought was the inevitable when he took the Penn State job two years ago.
O'Brien helped revamp a program that fell into the depths of despair following the scandal involving former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, which brought sanctions to the program that made life on the recruiting trail difficult. O'Brien made the best of the situation, managing to go 15-9 while coaching future NFL player Allen Robinson, and bringing on quarterback Christian Hackenburg, who guided the team to an 7-5 season as a true freshman.
There are no doubts that O'Brien left the team better off than when he became coach of the program, but he's longed to be an NFL coach and got that opportunity and ran with it. So the question becomes, who takes over for him at Penn State?
Some names have surfaced as potential candidates, including Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. But the name that will interest Terrapin fans the most is former Maryland offensive coordinator, James Franklin, who is rumored to be Penn State's top target to replace O'Brien.
For those who may not remember Franklin, he served on the Terrapins staff under former coach Ralph Friedgen. Franklin served two stints with the Terps, serving as the wide receivers coach from 2000-2004 and as the offensive coordinator from 2008-2010, before eventually accepting the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. Franklin was the presumptive "coach-in-waiting" once Friedgen decided to retire, but things didn't turn out as expected. Franklin left to take the Vanderbilt job, and Friedgen was soon let go by the Terps, opening the door for Randy Edsall to come to Maryland.
Franklin has done wonders at Vanderbilt, a school long considered the doormat of the SEC, compiling a 23-15 record in his first three seasons (Vandy plays Houston tomorrow in the BBVA Compass Bowl). Prior to his arrival, the Commodores had just two winning seasons over the previous 28 years. Since his arrival in 2011, Vanderbilt has gone to a bowl each year under Franklin. No other Vanderbilt coach has taken the Commodores to a bowl game for three consecutive years and their three bowls under Franklin are the most by any head coach in the history of the program.
If James Franklin were to get the job at Penn State, this would pose problems for Maryland in a couple of ways, most notably, recruiting. Franklin was the major recruiter at Maryland, and knows how to recruit the Maryland-Washington area extremely well. Since Edsall took over and hired Mike Locksley and Brian Stewart, the local area has been a focal point in recruiting, with hopes of luring recruits away from other local powers like West Virginia, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Penn St.
While Franklin has only one player on the Vanderbilt roster from the area surrounding Maryland, this area was not as much of a focal point for that school, so this should not deter anyone from believing Franklin can recruit the area equally as well as he did in the past. Penn State is already in the minds of local prospects with the reemergence of the program under O'Brien, so Franklin ‘s job of selling the school to local recruits would become that much easier.
The potential problem is doubled with the fact that Maryland will be making its move to the Big Ten this upcoming season, where the Terps will need to find a way to recruit outside of the area as well.
If Franklin can lure recruits away from the Maryland area, as well as the Pennsylvania and mid-western state region, the problem becomes much bigger for Maryland. The schedule they will face on a yearly basis is tough enough, and if they can't get the recruits to hang with the big-time programs, the move to the Big Ten will be questioned more than it already is.
While it is pure speculation at this point as to whether or not James Franklin gets the job at Penn State, Vanderbilt's athletic director recently acknowledged that several teams have contacted him about speaking to Franklin, but declined to elaborate if those were college or NFL teams seeking permission. It's probably safe to assume Penn State was one of the ones who made a phone call.
Some have speculated as to whether or not Franklin would want the Penn State job, given all of the extra baggage associated with that position in Happy Valley. Franklin could hold out for a higher profile job, such as Texas or Florida, but because Franklin born and raised in Pennsylvania, the job could still be an attractive position to him, regardless. And if he were to end up at Penn State, the consequences could be catastrophic to a Maryland program still looking to build up its brand.
The good news in the short term for Maryland is they still have Stefon Diggs, Deon Long, and CJ Brown. Long-term, this could be a disaster waiting to happen.