The odds of Ole Miss approaching, interviewing, selecting and hiring James Franklin away from Vanderbilt are slim. Very slim. So slim that no one is even mentioning the possibility.
But we believe Archie Manning and crew could do worse than lining up a chat with Vandy’s Mr. Turnaround.
In his first season, Franklin has taken a program coming off back-to-back 2-10 seasons and already won five games with two to play. If his Commodores defeat Tennessee and/or Wake Forest, they’ll be bowl eligible for just the second time since 1982. If he wins both games and then manages a bowl victory, the Commodores would have just their third eight-win season since 1955.
Perhaps more impressive than VU’s 5-5 record at the moment is just how competitive the Dores have been inside the SEC:
Beat Ole Miss 30-7 (think the Archies remember that one?)
Lost to South Carolina 21-3
Lost to Alabama 34-0
Lost to Georgia 33-28 (had a chance to win the game in the final
Lost to Arkansas 31-28 (should have beaten the Hogs)
Lost to Florida 26-21 (showed incredible fight to bounce back from previous heartbreaker)
Beat Kentucky 38-8 (destroyed their long-time cellar-mate)
This summer — with nothing to sell but his message and hope — the first-year coach began putting together an eye-popping recruiting class. Now with the ability to tell recruits, “think of what we can do with you on our team,” Franklin could possibly land a Top 20 signing class. Mull that one over for a second or two.
He’s also changed the culture inside the Vanderbilt locker room. After a particularly snippy game with Georgia, Franklin summed up this program’s attitude thusly:
“We’re also gonna fight. I want to make sure everybody understands that. We are not gonna sit back and take stuff from anybody. Anybody. No one. Those days are long gone. And they are never coming back. Ever.”
To Vandy fans, that’s equivalent of Mel Gibson’s “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom” speech from “Braveheart.”
Frankin would also help the oft-mentioned race issue facing Ole Miss’ recruiters. While some Rebel fans refuse to acknowledge the obvious obstacle that the school’s Civil War-related nickname and imagery creates for coaches, Manning and the UM administration are certainly aware of it. Having a black head coach might help to silence the initial “Mississippi Burning” fears of some recruits and their parents.
Would it be wise for Ole Miss to make a run at someone with such a short track record? Well, if the Rebels are going to wind up with an assistant coach from elsewhere as their new head coach, Franklin would actually bring more experience to the table.
Neither options would be a safe bet, but Franklin’s certainly shown that he has the moxie to lead and the know-how to recruit.
Franklin has also made numerous comments in his first season at Vanderbilt suggesting that he’d like to see better fan support for his players. He’s gone out of his way to praise other schools’ fans for “arriving early” and “staying late,” something VU fans haven’t often done this season. So there might be at least some reason to believe he’d bail on Vandy after a year.
More money, less stringent academics, better fan support (if he could lure Rebel fans out of The Grove and into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium) might all cause Vandy’s coach to consider a cross-conference move. It’s certainly been done a time or two in the past couple of decades (Houston Nutt, Tommy Tuberville, Gerry DiNardo, and while Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban detoured to the NFL, they too have coached a pair of SEC programs).
In the end, I don’t believe Ole Miss will give Franklin serious consideration. I also don’t think he would make the move from Nashville to Oxford just one year into his current tenure. He might not see Ole Miss as a step-up, to be perfectly blunt.
But that doesn’t mean UM’s search committee shouldn’t consider him. He’s proven more as a head coach than frequently mentioned candidates Kirby Smart, Gus Malzahn and Manny Diaz.