STATE COLLEGE, Pa. - Penn State coach James Franklin acknowledged Thursday that while he is trying to be "as open and transparent as I possibly can" on what he has told authorities about an alleged rape that resulted in the arrest of five of his former football players at Vanderbilt, he cannot say much because it's a legal matter.
Appearing at a news conference at Pegula Ice Arena kicking off the 17-stop Penn State Coaches Caravan, Franklin took only three questions about his role in the investigation of the reported rape and sexual battery of a 21-year-old female Vanderbilt student last June 23 and was short on specifics.
An attorney for one of the defendants in the case charged in a motion that Franklin had contacted the alleged victim just days after the attack. Tom Thurman, Nashville deputy district attorney, confirmed Wednesday that Franklin had talked to the woman but said the tenor of the conversation was that the coach and his wife were thinking of her and praying for her.
Franklin did not discuss Thursday any connection he had with the woman.
"I addressed this matter Tuesday and during my initial press conference on Jan. 11," said Franklin, who was introduced as the new head coach of the Nittany Lions on the latter date after three years in the same job at Vanderbilt.
"I've cooperated fully with the authorities. This matter was thoroughly investigated by the authorities and also Vanderbilt's internal counsel and external counsel. This is a legal matter, though, and that's really about all I can say. I want to be as open and transparent as I possibly can and have been all along. But with this being a legal matter, that's about all I can say."
Four Vanderbilt football players were charged in August with rape and sexual battery, and a fifth pleaded guilty to trying to cover up the alleged rape. All five were thrown off the team. Two defendants in the case face an Aug. 11 trial date.
Some in the Penn State community had questioned the hiring of Franklin because of the alleged rape incident and any connection he might have had with his players afterward. Nittany Nation already had gone through a traumatic period beginning in November 2011 with the arrest of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky on child sexual- abuse charges and his subsequent conviction.
Asked about whether he was sensitive to the feelings of the community in the case, Franklin replied, "Completely understand and very sensitive."
"I'm very sensitive to the situation that I went through, and that we went through and the former institution [Vanderbilt]. I'm very, very sensitive to what happened here and I'm very, very sensitive to it for society in general. As the father of two daughters, I take this stuff real serious, like everybody else does."
Franklin said he has been "as open and honest with my team as I possibly can be. We had a team meeting on Wednesday to go over a lot of these things that we just talked about. . . . We put a power-point presentation up every single day, every time we have a team meeting, and it shows examples of things that are going on in this country and for them to hopefully learn from, and that was one of them. I shared with them what I could just like I'm sharing with you guys today what I can."
When a fourth question was asked of Franklin about the case, Franklin politely asked reporters that the conversation turn to Penn State football.
"I pretty much said what I can," he said. "I know you guys have got to do your job and you're going to ask a bunch of questions but I've said really what I can, and we're going to have to move on. I respect the job that you have to do and I respect the questions but I would ask you guys to respect the legal process and what's going on."