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Trying to eliminate distractions, James Franklin says he’ll be Penn State’s head coach beyond this season

Franklin, whose name has come up for two high-profile college coaching jobs, confirmed a published report that he had changed agents, but said he made the move during the summer.

Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the first half against the Auburn Tigers at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images/TNS)
Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions looks on during the first half against the Auburn Tigers at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, September 18, 2021 in State College, Pennsylvania. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images/TNS)Read moreScott Taetsch / MCT

As much as Penn State football coach James Franklin wants to eliminate distractions, especially in the wake of back-to-back defeats by the Nittany Lions, he is finding that they continue to pop up.

The latest came Monday night. A report on FootballScoop revealed that Franklin had switched agents, moving to Creative Arts Agency and Jimmy Sexton, the agent for such college coaching heavyweights as Alabama’s Nick Saban, Georgia’s Kirby Smart, and Mississippi’s Lane Kiffin.

When Franklin, who admitted Tuesday that the report was true, but added that he had switched months ago, later answered a question about Penn State’s search for a new president, saying he had faith that university officials would make the right decision, a reporter followed up by asking, “Are you committed to being the head coach here beyond this season?”

“Yeah,” the coach responded at his weekly news conference. “Obviously I’ve been asked this question multiple times. My focus is completely on Illinois and this team and this program. I think I’ve shown over my eight years my commitment to this university and this community. That’s kind of my statement.”

Well, the fact that Franklin said Illinois, the opponent that defeated the Lions 20-18 last Saturday in nine overtimes, instead of Ohio State, his team’s opponent this Saturday night, indicates that he might be a little distracted himself.

Franklin has been mentioned prominently in connection with two high-profile programs that are looking for a new coach. The first is at Southern California, which fired Clay Helton on Sept. 13. Nearly five weeks later, Louisiana State said it would terminate the contract of Ed Orgeron at the end of the season.

Asked whether all the outside noise about his coach takes his attention off the next opponent, senior wide receiver Jahan Dotson said Franklin’s message stays consistent.

“It’s fairly simple,” Dotson said Tuesday. “Ever since I’ve gotten here, coach Franklin has really drilled in our heads about going 1-0. Me being in the program for four years now, that’s just something that’s engraved in my mind. That’s all I’m focused on right now, just going 1-0, taking it day-by-day, step-by-step.”

But Penn State’s 2021 downward spiral continues. After five consecutive victories at the start, it has lost to Iowa and Illinois by a combined five points. The loss to the Fighting Illini – at home – was especially frustrating considering the Nittany Lions had two weeks to prepare.

The Lions were shut out for the final 41 minutes of regulation and then converted just one two-point conversion in seven attempts in the overtime. The running game gained only 62 yards and quarterback Sean Clifford, who was injured against Iowa, was considered healthy enough to play, but in reality was nowhere near 100%.

Franklin said Clifford continued to improve and that he expected “to have a 100% Sean Clifford this weekend.”

To Franklin, the change in agents was old news.

“I’m not going to get into the details,” he said, “but what I will tell you is that this is being reported now, but this is something that happened over the summer. Obviously, I didn’t make the announcements. I don’t know anybody that ever does when that happens.”

As for reports about other jobs, Franklin said he keeps the team’s Leadership Council — made up of players from all four classes — informed, and that the matter has “not been a discussion or an issue that I’ve heard from the staff or I’ve heard from the players.

“Obviously, there’s things that we’ve had discussions in great detail in our building with our families and the players and the staff,” he said. “So we try to do that the best we possibly can. I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that over my eight years here, and we’ll continue to try to do that.

“There’s things that we can control and there are things that we can’t from the outside, but this has been kind of a story that’s happened on numerous occasions, and we just try to keep it as focused as we possibly can.”