Penn State better be sure.
Check that. Penn State better be damn sure.
Downright, absolutely sure.
Whatever new Penn State coach James Franklin told the highest brass at the university about the yet-to-go-to-trial rape case that happened under his watch at Vanderbilt, they obviously believed him.
Or, at the very least, they believed in Franklin enough to hire him.
That’s part of the reason, today, he’s the former coach at Vanderbilt and the current coach at Penn State.
And whatever Franklin told them will happen moving forward, whatever Franklin told them were his actions in response to the alleged rape, Penn State better be unequivocally certain he was truthful.
Because if not, this will get really, really messy for Penn State.
Of all places, Penn State is the one place that can’t afford to be in the news (again) for a link between sex crimes and the football staff.
This is a day of celebration, to be sure. But I can’t tell those who have a bit of speculation that they are wrong to feel such a way.
To be sure, I truly think Franklin — as the Board of Trustees confirmed him early Saturday morning — is the right man to lead Penn State into the future. The 16th football coach in school history, who will reportedly make $4.5 million per year for six years in his initial contract and said, “I can’t tell you how excited I am to come home,” appears to be just about the right hire from where I sit.
But can any of us be absolutely, positively certain?
Right now, more than just about anywhere else in the country, doesn’t Penn State have to be absolutely, positively certain? Indeed, it is a fair question to those asking such a question.
We don’t need to go into any detail involving what happened with Jerry Sandusky.
We should, however, look at the incident at Vanderbilt for a baseline here.
Last June, four of Franklin’s players at Vanderbilt allegedly raped an unconscious woman in a dorm. A fifth player has already pleaded guilty to helping cover it up. Franklin promptly kicked all five off the team.
The most important element — as far as Franklin and Penn State go — is that the case has yet to go to trial.
Simply, the link between Franklin and the alleged ugly incident isn’t fully closed.
There’s a chance — albeit more a long shot than a sure bet — that Franklin could be further embroiled in the Vanderbilt football rape case when it goes to trial.
A few things could happen …
1. Tennessee officials could travel to Pennsylvania — or call Franklin on the phone — to interview him if they feel as if he has information prudent to the case.
2. Franklin could willingly go to Tennessee and speak to authorities about the case if summoned.
3. His name could be mentioned during testimony when the case goes to trial. This seems much more likely to happen than the former two points.
No matter in what context, if any of those three things happen, there will be a definitive link between Franklin and a case that involves a sex crime.
Imagine that embarrassment for a moment. It is, clearly, the last thing Penn State wants or needs.
Here’s hoping, for the sake of everyone, it doesn’t come to that.
Again, of all things in the world, that’s the one Penn State can ill-afford at this time.
There are no debating James Franklin’s merits as a football coach. The 41-year-old Pennsylvanian — which definitely helps the cause in leaded the Nittany Lions — is incredibly spirited and known in recruiting circles as someone the other recruiters seldom want to go head-to-head against.
NFL suitors have also coveted him.
In short, pro teams generally don’t come knocking unless they are more-than-confident you can command men off a field through game week and 22 of them on it during gameday.
There isn’t much to dislike about what Franklin can do on a football field or in wooing a recruit as he gives a sales pitch in a living room.
Listen to him talk or watch him coach for all of five minutes and this much becomes exceedingly clear.
For the most part, the thought here is that Franklin is precisely the right hire for Penn State.
They probably got it right today.
Certainly, such a conclusion can’t be fully arrived at until Franklin is at Penn State for a period of time and his body of work is looked at retrospectively.
Again, from where I sit, Penn State probably got it right today; I’d be willing to bet as much. But is “probably” good enough in this case? Some can make a strong claim that it isn’t.
For Penn State’s sake, they better be convinced more than anything they’ve ever been convinced about in the past that the rape case at Vanderbilt, as it pushes forward, won’t paint Franklin in an ugly light.
Because if it does, that’s a mess Penn State can’t afford — especially at this time.
And it’s a mess Penn State could have avoided.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 6 p.m. to 10p.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his bio here.