(CNN) — For the second time in as many years — after going 46 years with the same coach, Joe Paterno — Penn State has named a new man to helm its storied football program.
James Franklin, 41, was announced Saturday as the Nittany Lions’ next football coach, replacing Bill O’Brien, who was hired in January 2012 and recently left to become head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans.
“I’m excited to come home,” said Franklin, who had led Vanderbilt University’s football team the last three years but originally hails from Langhorne, Pennsylvania. “I’m a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart.”
A former assistant coach at the University of Maryland and Kansas State University, Franklin took over a Vanderbilt team that went 2-10 in 2010 and led them to a 24-15 record and three straight bowl appearances.
Franklin joins a program that is still rocked, in many ways, by fallout from the child sex abuse scandal involving former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
In addition to leading to Sandusky’s conviction on 45 counts involving 10 young victims, the ordeal led to cover-up allegations and criminal charges involving three former Penn State administrators, including one-time President Graham Spanier.
And as the scandal was first unfolding, Paterno was ousted as the football team’s coach. He died a short time later.
The NCAA imposed harsh sanctions on Penn State in the wake of what happened, including scholarship reductions, a post-season ban, a $60-million fine and 13 years of vacated wins.
The Nittany Lions’ team nonetheless surprised many with its performance under O’Brien, finishing 8-4 in 2012 and 7-5 this season. But there remained a perception that Paterno supporters weren’t fully supportive of the new coach, with reports that sentiment played some part in O’Brien’s exit.
Paterno’s widow, Sue, released a statement Saturday welcoming Franklin — who described the late coach as the “great Joe Paterno” during Saturday’s press conference.
“His deep ties to Pennsylvania and his exceptional coaching record have prepared him well for his new position,” Sue Paterno said. “We wish Coach Franklin great success and we know he will find broad support and encouragement from Penn Staters everywhere.”
The university’s outgoing president, Rodney Erickson, said Franklin’s hire followed what he called “a careful and deliberate search process.”
“Our program requires a very special kind of leader,” Erickson said of the dual commitment for excellence on the field, the classroom and in the community. “…I believe we have found the right person.”