"I would like to thank Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "I had an unbelievable experience there. It was hard saying goodbye today.
"I'd still be at Vanderbilt if it wasn't such an unbelievable opportunity. This is my dream job.
"I'm excited to come home. That's the thing I'm most proud of. I'm a Pennsylvania boy with a Penn State heart. I'm the right guy to come back and unite this state."
Franklin said he was interested in the Penn State job "right from the beginning.
"It's very difficult because you have a job and you have a responsibility. We had a game to play (BBVA Compass Bowl)."
Franklin was asked about last summer's arrest of four Vanderbilt football players on rape charges.
"It couldn't have been a more thorough interview process," Franklin said. "We discussed everything. What I think came out of this is we were honest and up front. We made decisions quickly. We made decisions with the utmost class."
Penn State interim athletics director Dave Joyner added:
"This may be the most thorough vetting process of any search at this university. We used multiple third party services. My belief is that James Franklin is a man of extremely high character. He answered every question forthrightly. I couldn't be more confident in the character of this man."
Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams said 20-25 people have expressed an interest in being the Commodores' next football coach.
Franklin was named Penn State's new football coach this morning.
Williams said he found out around 7 p.m. Friday that Franklin was leaving.
"You always have in place how if something happens, you maintain," Williams said. "You try to have plans that take care of different things."
Williams said he asked Franklin if this was about compensation. Franklin told him no. Williams said you'll have to ask Franklin for the reasons why he left.
Williams said that before Franklin's decision Vanderbilt was not talking to other head coaching candidates.
He said there is no interim coach, and the assistant coaches will have to make their own decisions. He expects Franklin to offer some of them jobs.
Williams said associate athletics director Kevin Colon said none of the assistant coaches had told Vanderbilt they're leaving yet.
On the timetable for the search, Williams said: "If something were to fall out the sky, I could tell you. I don't know. We'll move as quickly as we can."
Asked whether he would go to Indianapolis for the American Football Coaches Association conference, which starts Sunday, Williams said: "Too cold. They'll come meet us where we want to meet."
This morning nearly 1,000 fans gathered at the Star Walk between the McGugin Center athletics complex and Vanderbilt Stadium and applauded players as they arrived for an 8 a.m. meeting where Franklin and Williams addressed the team.
Franklin entered McGugin quickly upon his arrival and left the building without acknowledging the fans or speaking to the media, with someone else driving his black GMC Denali from the coaches' lot to another location.
Defensive lineman Kyle Woestmann said the meeting was difficult and that this situation went on longer than anybody wanted it to.
"The heartache will last a day, and then it's time to go win an SEC championship," Woestmann said.
Patton Robinette, who ended the Commodores' 9-4 season as the starting quarterback, said the meeting was emotional and that some players were hurt but still appreciative. He noted that Franklin didn't explain his reasons for leaving.
"He didn't, and it really doesn't matter what he was thinking," Robinette said. "It's a business. College football is a business. He's going to do what's best for his family.
"This is a big job now. This is a big-time job. Whoever is going to get the chance to come in here and be our head coach is going to walk into a great situation. … The next person we get in here is not going to be coach Franklin. He's a one-in-a-million guy. It doesn't mean he's going to be necessarily worse. He might be better than coach Franklin. Hopefully, he is. We love coach Franklin, but we're always looking to improve."
"(Franklin) is a great man, a great coach and a great father … a great role model as well," running back Brian Kimbrow said. "He did what's best for him and his family and I respect that. It's understandable. It's very emotional for a lot of us. Franklin really cares about us and we really care about him. It's just something we all have to overcome and stick together."
Kimbrow said he wasn't sure if any players would transfer as a result of Franklin's exit but he thought "most" would stick together.
Vanderbilt already was starting to feel some of the effects of Franklin's departure. Two commitments announced on Twitter they were re-opening their recruitment — quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, brother of outgoing quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels, and running back Mikale Wilbon.
Vanderbilt donor John Ingram accompanied Williams to a meeting at Franklin's house on Friday to make one final push to keep him. He said he hopes the coaching search can be concluded "quickly."
"I think the next week or 10 days, realistically," Ingram said. "Signing period is coming up (Feb. 5). We know what time it is. We're looking for the best fit and I'll think we'll have a lot to choose from.
"We're serious about this at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt is on an incredible trajectory here academically and now athletically, and we're showing the world — like Stanford and others — they're not mutually exclusive. That's what we'll be selling to the next guy in the door. And to be honest, we've got some real proof to show it."
Gold shakers were handed out to the crowd at Vanderbilt before the team meeting. Fans said this never would have happened three years ago, not on a Saturday morning.
Micah Parks, a Vanderbilt sophomore civil engineering major from Arlington, Va., showed up Saturday morning with four friends after emailing her sorority chapter of Chi Omega about the impromptu fan gathering.
"We just love the Dores," she said. "We just wanted to show our football team that we support them with or without Franklin, and we know they have the ability to win with or without Franklin. He's definitely built our program a lot, so we have no reason to be angry with him. Obviously he needs to move forward in his career, whatever he thinks that means."
Former Vanderbilt golfer and current PGA Tour star Brandt Snedeker tweeted: "I have faith in David Williams, he found James Franklin and can do it again.. We are infinitely better off than 3 years ago#VandyNation"
Former Montgomery Bell Academy standout Brad Bars, who is a Penn State football player tweeted: "I've know Coach Franklin for many years and he's going to bring the best to Penn State! #winner"
Penn State released a statement naming Franklin the school's 16th football coach.
"I can't tell you how excited I am to come home," Franklin, a native of Langhorne, Pa., said in the statement. "I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It's important to me to be a part of a University that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.
"I'm incredibly excited to get to know the students, alumni, and fans who have demonstrated such loyalty to the University as a whole and to the football program in particular," Franklin added. "I've worked my way through every division of football and no other school boasts a fan base like we do. We Are...Penn State!!"
Franklin, 41, was hired for his first head coaching job in December 2010 and led the Commodores to a 24-15 record and three consecutive bowl games. No other Vanderbilt coach had guided the program to more than one bowl.
Franklin's roots are in Pennsylvania, where he quarterbacked East Stroudsburg in the early 1990s and later served as an assistant coach there. Before taking the Vanderbilt job, he was an offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland and was named the head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland under Ralph Friedgen.
Vanderbilt beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in the program's history this season.
Franklin was 2-1 against the rival Vols and 11-13 in SEC play. His teams saved their best football for November, going 10-2 in that month.
The last Vanderbilt coach to leave for a better job was Gerry DiNardo, who accepted the LSU job after coaching on West End from 1991-94 while compiling a 19-25 record. Prior to that, Steve Sloan left of his own accord after just two seasons (1973-74) to become the head coach at Ole Miss.
Vanderbilt is looking for its fourth head coach since the summer of 2010, when Bobby Johnson retired after eight seasons. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell filled in as head coach for the 2010 season but was let go at the end of the team's second consecutive 2-10 campaign.