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January 9, 2014
Tracking down No. 16
It likely started with a message board post directing users to FlightAware.com.
The link led to a blueish map of the Eastern Seaboard, a green line dissecting Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, a sliver of Alabama, and finally, the panhandle of Florida.
The first flight left KUNV - Penn State's private airport - at 2:19 p.m. and arrived at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach (KDTS) airport a little more than two and a half hours later. The return, according to FlightAware, was expected to depart the Destin airport at 7:44 p.m. CST and arrive back in State College around 10:30 p.m.
What transpired from there - part detective work, part speculation, part hysteria - put Penn State fans and the media covering the football program essentially on the same playing field.
Even with snow falling lightly in Happy Valley, the opportunity to be among the first to confirm the 16th head coach of the NIttany Lions was simply too good to pass up.
The target, of course, was Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin.
Here's how it all added up.
The first sign was from within an airport, a figure appearing to be Franklin boarding a plane traveling to Panama City, Fla. According to many, Franklin owns a vacation home along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Working in conjunction with the FlightAware details of a plane leaving State College in the afternoon and landing in Destin, Fla., by the afternoon, seemingly anyone with any interest in Penn State's next head coach drew the natural conclusion:
Penn State officials were sending a plane - possibly on it - to pick up Franklin and escort him to State College late Wednesday night, virtually ensuring he would be named Penn State's next head football coach either Thursday or Friday, at the latest.
From calls to meet at Penn State's private airport among fans, to very real plans among reporters to stakeout the joint with cell phones and cameras, time passed quickly as the 10:30 p.m. return landing approached.
Building on the hysteria, a report by the Tennessean on Wednesday night, interviewing Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams, made clear that the futures of both the Commodores and Nitany Lions were very much uncertain as of that hour.
"I don't know about any planes," Williams told the Tennessean, referring to the growing speculation in State College. "We have texted, short texts, so I've been in touch with him (Wednesday). I don't know exactly where he is. They do have a place in Destin. They could be there. It's possible they could be going to visit relatives.
"We haven't talked about anything (regarding interviews). The way I see this, until I know something different or am told something different, James is our football coach. I'm clearly proceeding with that approach."
Meanwhile, ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter revealed that Washington was pursuing Franklin as a possible candidate for its head coaching vacancy, while CBSSports.com reporter Jason La Canfora reported that Franklin had an interview scheduled with the NFL club for Thursday.
With a flurry of activity dominating Twitter from Penn State reporters and fans on the scene at the UNV airport, the moment of truth was soon to be revealed.
Instead of Franklin walking off the Cessna jet and onto the frigid tarmac, though, only Penn State athletic director David Joyner, university president Rodney Erickson, and Penn State vice president for administration Tom Poole made their way down the stairs - according to multiple reports from the scene.
Brushing past the awaiting reporters while holding cell phones to their ears, Joyner and Erickson walked away without comment.
Will there be a resolution today?
Certainly, Penn State fans are anxious to find out.
Penn State NEWS