Coach James Franklin named 2019 Renaissance Fund honoree

August 13, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Penn State’s Renaissance Fund celebrates its 43rd year of honoring outstanding community members and helping students in need, the fund’s board of directors has selected James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State football program, as the 2019 honoree. A dinner in Franklin’s honor will be held on Oct. 30.

As Penn State football’s head coach, Franklin has embraced the University’s passionate fan base, become a mentor to student-athletes and continued to foster a football program that is successful both on and off the field. Under Franklin’s leadership, the Nittany Lions have won the Big Ten Championship (2016), achieved two Top 10 teams, attended a bowl game every season and secured a top-five recruiting class. Franklin is widely respected as a speaker and commentator by major media publications.

Franklin’s 24-year coaching career began when he was a student-athlete at East Stroudsburg University, where the Langhorne, Pennsylvania, native was a four-year letterman quarterback and a two-time All-PSAC selection. Franklin graduated East Stroudsburg having broken or tied 23 school records and was inducted into the East Stroudsburg Athletics Hall of Fame in 2016.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Franklin served as a position coach at Kutztown University, East Stroudsburg University, James Madison University, Washington State University (where he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership), Idaho State University, University of Maryland and the Green Bay Packers, before accepting a head coaching position at Vanderbilt University in 2011. Franklin led Vanderbilt to a bowl game each of his three seasons in Nashville, and Franklin’s teams set several Commodore records for winning streaks. 

"James has united Penn Staters around the world,” said George Henning Jr., president of the Renaissance Fund’s board of directors and a 1963 graduate of Penn State. “But his legacy at the University is best reflected in the lives of the student-athletes he teaches, mentors and inspires. James leads by example and is a great choice for this year’s award."

In his first eight years as a head coach, Franklin coached 68 students who went on to play in the NFL, and hundreds of others who have become leaders in their chosen fields. Under Franklin’s watch, Penn State football student-athletes have achieved an 82 percent graduation rate and a program-record number of Academic All-Big Ten selections.

To complement this success in the classroom, Franklin ensures that members of the Penn State football team also give back to the community. Alongside the student-athletes, Franklin has devoted hundreds of hours each semester to community service, both to teach the importance of civic duty and provide lasting benefits to local residents. As a capstone to students’ volunteer experiences, Franklin leads an annual team trip to the Penn State Children’s Hospital at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to spend time with young children battling pediatric cancers.

“Coach Franklin embodies the values and ideals of a true Penn Stater,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “He is as committed to the transformative power of higher education, as he is passionate about Nittany Lion football. Through his hard work on the field, attention to his student-athletes’ academic paths, and his service to the community, James proves that how we win is just as important as the numbers on the scoreboard.”

Each year, the Renaissance Fund honors an individual or couple who has contributed greatly to the Penn State and State College communities. In its selection process, the fund’s board of directors seeks to recognize individuals who have deep roots in the Centre Region, close relationships with civic and University leaders and a commitment to philanthropy. An endowed scholarship fund is created in the name of each honoree, and gifts to the fund can be made by any Penn State supporter or member of the public. Renaissance scholarships are directed to high-achieving students with great financial need. During the 2017-18 academic year, more than 640 undergraduates across the University received more than $993,000 in support from the Renaissance Fund scholarships. The Renaissance Fund has already begun accepting contributions to the Franklin Family Renaissance Fund.

Franklin, who will celebrate this recognition with his wife, Fumi, and their two daughters, Addy and Shola, is no stranger to the impact and importance of philanthropy. The Franklin family has generously supported THON through annual gifts, and Coach Franklin has spoken at every THON since 2014. Even the Franklin’s young daughters have saved money to donate to the student-run philanthropy.

"My family and I are very thankful to be a part of the Penn State community," said Franklin. “I am honored to be recognized in this way, and I look forward to meeting our Renaissance Fund recipients. I’ve always said that Penn State football is just a small part of the University; supporting students and setting them up for success after graduation is the most important work we do. Every day, I strive to put our student-athletes in the best position to compete on the field and in life."

To learn more about making a gift to the Franklin Family Renaissance Fund, visit or contact Kathy Kurtz, associate director of annual giving, at or 814-863-2052.

Gifts to the Franklin Family Renaissance Fund will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit

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Last Updated September 03, 2020