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January 11, 2014

Franklin passes thorough vetting

James Franklin was vetted not only by the firm that does all of Penn State's background checks, but another firm, athletic director Dave Joyner said, that is "very, very thorough." Franklin met not only with the search committee, but with a group of university officials that included the president, a lawyer and the athletic integrity officer.

Joyner said he and the search committee spoke with various contacts throughout college athletics and beyond, and he took calls from others who wanted to give their impressions and experiences with Franklin.

Also important to the vetting process: Franklin's body language. Everyone who spoke about the process Saturday mentioned how even when answering tough questions, Franklin made eye contact.

"He was very open, very honest," president Rod Erickson said, explaining that he could tell because Franklin's answers were "very consistent, very straightforward." Erickson added: "He looks you in the eye. And it corresponded to everything we had heard from all of the external sources."

And it made Penn State confident that neither Franklin's talk-radio show crack about the attractiveness of assistant coaches' wives nor the ongoing investigation into an alleged gang rape by Vanderbilt football players would be a problem for the university as it continues to recover from the Sandusky scandal.

"You can tell if people are honest with you," Joyner said. "You can tell if they're willing to look you in the eye and own up to something. The radio thing, that was not the best thing to do at all. He certainly understands that. That's not the person he is inside. It may have come out the wrong way, but it's not the person he is inside.

"When you look someone in the eye and have conversations with them, then with multiple people you talk to-not just athletic directors, but other people-every time you get a reaffirmation that your instinct was correct, that makes the odds on everything being accurate very high."

Joyner said that he began background interviews on potential candidates before the interview process; permission isn't needed for all background checks. (He refused to give names of other candidates or even the number of candidates interviewed.) The pace was grueling, he said: "We did probably a month's worth of work in nine days." And the stakes were high.

"In a typical interview process, if you interview somebody, you ask questions, they tell you answers, and that's pretty much it-you either believe them or don't believe them," said Frank Guadagnino, an outside attorney with Reed Smith who assists in the office of Penn State's general counsel.

This interview process, however, was not quite typical.

That was obvious from the makeup of the Penn State group that traveled to Nashville last week to meet with Franklin; it included Guadagnino, who has worked for the university primarily on governance reform issues, and Julie Del Giorno, the university's athletics integrity officer, a position that doesn't exist at other universities.

Joyner said he was especially appreciative when North Carolina State athletic director Debbie Yow, who was AD at Maryland from 1994 to 2010, called him unsolicited. Not just because she had worked with Franklin, but because she's a woman.

"I'm interested in what men have to say, too, but I think it was very significant for everybody, what Deb Yow had to say and her respect for James," Joyner said. "I'm very appreciative to her for her forthrightness in reaching out to me. That was very, very helpful. It confirmed our feelings about him as well."

Erickson said that he was also impressed that Franklin had asked smart questions, among them about the upcoming change in leadership, and the intricacies of the NCAA sanctions. In turn, Erickson said, he asked Franklin about the radio interview, the rape case and his views on academics and success in life.

And, of course, the public perception of the hire was discussed as well.

"PR's part of every conversation now, right?" Guadagnino said. "But you never know what you don't know. So there's always some risk-when you do anything. So you ask as many questions as you think are appropriate. He's terrific. I think he's very honest and open and answered all of our questions in ways that we liked."

There were no pre-set answers the officials wanted, Guadagnino said. Everyone just wanted to get a sense of who Franklin is through those answers.

Said Guadagnino: "My own view-I only met him for a short period of time-is he's open, he's direct, he looks you in the eye. He doesn't look away. … He didn't flinch, he didn't hesitate and stammer. He's open and direct and forthcoming, and there's a good feeling you get from that."


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