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VU’s Franklin In “Spin Mode” Already? He Shouldn’t Be

According to the Associated Press, James Franklin has already gone into “spin mode” following Vanderbilt’s 0-2 start to this season.  The Commodores have suffered a pair of come-from-ahead defeats to South Carolina (17-13 in Nashville) and to Northwestern (23-13 on the road).  Fans and some in the media expected more from the Dores.  Now Franklin’s trying to prevent those folks from jumping ship:

 

“We learned valuable lessons, and we are getting better.  I know there’s a frustration with our fans from years, and then the light started shining and there was hope.  All that is still there.  You know one game, one moment is not going to define who and what we’re going to be as a program.”

 

Franklin just happens to be right, of course.  You can’t turn around a football program like a skateboard, it’s more like moving a cruise ship.  Franklin inherited a team of redshirt juniors and seniors last season from Bobby Johnson (the previous coach didn’t get nearly enough credit for his part in VU’s 2011 bowl-bound season).  He fired up that veteran squad, fired up recruits and, in doing so, fired up fans as well.

Quickly, many, many media members fell right in line over-inflating the coach’s reputation.  Matt Hayes of The Sporting News, for one, wrote this offseason that Franklin — who has a single 6-7 season under his belt as a head coach — is already the 25th best football coach in the country.

Whoa, pardner.  Let’s just slow all this stuff down a bit.

Vandy’s team is faster this season thanks to a bevy of three-star recruits Franklin has brought onto his West End campus.  For years, the Dores had been dealing mostly with two-star guys.  But getting speed on his team is just Step One.

There’s still an issue of depth.  In the SEC, you can’t just be one-deep, you better be two- or even three-deep at most positions.  It will take Franklin more than two recruiting classes and 15 games to reach that point.

Also, as the coach himself has admitted, he still needs to win a tight game to get his team over the mental barrier of being the “same ol’ Vanderbilt.”  Trust me, if you hear something long enough, you start to believe it.  As Northwestern roared from behind to tie and then win last Saturday night’s game, it was if VU players knew the script, hung their heads, and sadly agreed to play their parts.  That mentality — which has been part of the program for nearly a century — will have to be changed.  It will take a late-game win over a good program to get that done.  Maybe more.

So what’s the verdict on Franklin?  There isn’t one and that’s the point.  It’s too soon to be judging him.  He did a nice job on the field last season and in living rooms this offseason.  That doesn’t mean he’s going to be the next Knute Rockne.

He’s now off to an 0-2 start and that will anger a lot of folks in the media who had already crowned him as the Prince of Football.  In reality, his squad faced a Top 10 Carolina team in its opener and then traveled to play a program whose success VU would like to eventually emulate.  The Commodores opened with two very losable games.  For that reason, no one should be saying, “I told ya Franklin wasn’t special” just yet.

The jury is still out on Franklin.  How ’bout we see where things stand at the end of this season?  And even if Vandy suffers through a losing season, the young coach can still prove that he indeed is the man for the job if his recruiting holds.  To this writer, he still looks like a good hire.  Not a great one, not a terrible one, but a good one.  Now he needs time to prove how good.

Franklin shouldn’t be going into spin mode now.  He shouldn’t have to.  Fixing Vanderbilt’s football fortunes won’t be done over the span of just 15 contests.

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Vandy Working On Extension For Franklin

James Franklin — perhaps the least-heralded hire of all the coaching moves in America last offseason — has Vanderbilt going bowling in his first year.  His fiery demeanor has also brought attention to VU (and himself) from across the SEC.  The Commodores might not be world-beaters at 6-6, but they sure aren’t a laughing stock any longer.

As a reward for Franklin’s success, Vanderbilt is working on an extension for its new coach.  Some Nashville outlets quote vice chancellor of athletics David Williams as saying a deal is already in place.  Other Nashville sites quote Williams as saying “We’re trying to work on something.”

While the school is planning to make a bigger commitment to its coach in terms of salary and security, Vandy is not yet ready to fork over cash for an indoor practice facility that Franklin has campaigned for.

“We hope to have something and keep working and see what we can do,” Williams said.  “Right now we’re not in a position to move anything on that.  But we’re going to be working real hard to do all of the things we can do and need to do.”

Franklin has also made it pretty clear throughout the season that attendance at Vanderbilt Stadium has disappointed him.  Williams told The Tennessean yesterday that VU fans will need to help the school hang on to its successful, young coach.


“We’re fighting now in a situation of bowl picking… trying to get different bowl people to understand the value of having Vanderbilt in their bowl.  And one of the questions is, ‘Well, will a lot of people come?’

Those are all sort of things that need to be part of this equation.  I can do a lot and Vanderbilt can do a lot, but I can’t come over to your house and pick you up and make you sit in the stands or make you go to one of the bowl sites.

I think Coach has proved himself.  He’s a good football coach.  He’s a good person.  He’s a good part of this community.  Vanderbilt is prepared to step up and support that.

I just think we all have to stand up and support it and basically show the rest of the world, and more importantly show all of our coaches, we’re going to support you and fill up the place and travel with you.”


While Franklin deserves much of the credit for the Commodores’ success this year, the work of Bobby Johnson should not be forgotten.  Johnson made VU competitive during his reign and actually took the Dores to their first bowl since 1982 in 2008.  (The current VU senior class is the first in school history to reach two bowl games during a career.)

Johnson’s team slipped to 2-10 in his final season and Robbie Caldwell matched that record last year.  But Johnson had been stockpiling players for the future.  Franklin inherited a team with 28 redshirt juniors and seniors.  Think about that.  That’s a lot of guys that Johnson put on the shelf to age while he battled with a thinner roster.  Toss in nine more true juniors and true seniors and it’s clear Franklin has been working with a roster of men, not boys.  Johnson deserves some credit for that.

Vanderbilt will spend New Year’s Eve either in Nashville at the Music City Bowl or in Memphis at the Liberty Bowl.  We suspect the Music City will select MSU in hopes of bringing more fans to town.  That would leave the Liberty to deal with what would likely be a small Vandy turnout in Memphis.  On the flipside, VU players would at least get to go to a bowl outside of town.  In ’08, Vandy played in the Music City Bowl.

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Malzahn Gets Money, Vandy Begins Again, And The Commodores Need An Athletic Director

It’s not a great day to be a Vanderbilt fan.  In addition to losing out on the one assistant coach who might excite its fanbase, now VU officials get to spend a day hearing everyone say Gus Malzahn was wise to turn down their lucrative offer.

That’s doubly rough.  (Especially considering how angry some Vandy fans got what when someone just tried to warn them that the job was a tough sell.)

While Malzahn walked away from — reportedly — $2.5 to $3 million in Nashville, he did get his current salary at Auburn doubled.  At $1.3 million per year, Malzahn is now believed to be the nation’s highest-paid assistant coach.

The Birmingham News also points out that Malzahn’s new salary makes him higher paid than about half the FBS head coaches in America.  For now, he’s even higher paid than Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.  Not bad a payoff for simply flirting with Vandy.

The new pact is believed to be longer than the three-year deal he has been working under.

“Gus Malzahn has played a large role in the success of our football program the last two year and we’re very pleased to be able to give him a raise and extend his contract,” Gene Chizik said via press release.  “In my opinion we have the best staff in the country, and while we want our coaches to strive to become head coaches, retaining them as long as we can is important.”

Mike Szvetitz of The Opelika-Auburn News says Malzahn made the right call:


“Money is not what (Malzahn’s) about.  He’s about his faith and his family.  Oh and, of course, football and winning.  And he’s been doing a lot of that lately.  Especially this season.

Could he do the same in Nashville?  I think we all know the answer to that one: Not on the level he’s doing it on the Plains.  Not even close.”


Kevin Scarbinsky of The Birmingham News agrees that Malzahn was wise to pass on Vandy:


“With the right staff and schedule, you can win at Vandy, though not big or often.  After all, two years ago, Vanderbilt beat Auburn.  The Commodores went to a bowl that season.  The Tigers did not.

And still, despite the possibilities, and his faith in his own abilities, Malzahn turned down the opportunity.  It’s another genius move.”


No doubt, some Vandy fans will accuse Malzahn of being “scared.”  When someone passes on a rebuilding job, jilted fans usually say the candidate is chicken.

More likely, Malzahn — like all football coaches — simply hates to lose.  And everyone knows that Vanderbilt has been a place where coaches lose.  Big.  And a lot. 

Someone can change that.  With the right hire and the right money spent on the program, Vandy might someday reach a Northwestern-level of success.  (Stanford’s BCS-level success is a product of the Pac-10.)  But finding the right guy — someone willing to drink a lot of Mylanta during the building process — will be the hard part.

We at MrSEC have not taken the obligatory shots at Vanderbilt over the years for the school’s decision to drop the athletic director position from its program.  The Commodores have done quite well in just about every other sport and the football team even went to a bowl game under Bobby Johnson.

But this latest search suggests that a serious, big-time, A-1 winner of an AD is needed for one thing — bagging a serious, big-time, A-1 coaching candidate for football.

Vanderbilt is a tough, tough sell.  That requires a top-flight salesman.  The old “sell Popsicles to an Eskimo” kind of guy.  Vice Chancellor of University Affairs and Athletics David Williams is apparently not that guy.  And that’s not his fault.  He wasn’t hire to be the world’s slickest AD.

But now he’s the man who’s forced to go back to the drawing board.

“This process is very, very, very much a moving-target thing, and you’re trying to figure out how to play it,” Williams told The Tennessean.

“I can’t tell you that (James Franklin) will be my next call because I don’t know.  I really don’t know.  Certainly I would suggest I would probably be talking to him.  But I had a list of people this (Monday) morning I planned to talk to.  He was on that list, but there are other people on that list.”

Well, that must sound great to Maryland’s offensive coordinator. 

Williams says he wants to hire a coach by week’s end.  And Vandy Board of Trust member John Ingram tells VU fans not to fear.

“A lot of people are really wound up about one guy.  But we have several good guys.”

Perhaps.  But none of those guys believed to be on Vandy’s list have any name value with fans.  They’re just assistants.  Assistants no one in the SEC had paid much attention to until they popped up on VU’s list. 

Now, one of those coaches might be great.  But Commodore fans wanted a name hire.  They thought they had one in Malzahn.  And now they’re going to have to get charged up over a fallback choice.  They will, of course, because that’s what fans do.  But the excitement level Malzahn (or a proven head coach) might have brought is likely unattainable.

To land Malzahn or a proven head coach, it appears Vandy needed an ace athletic director with some snake oil salesman in him.  And that they don’t have.

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Golden Reportedly Has A Hefty Buyout

In case you were wondering, matching Al Golden’s salary at Temple shouldn’t be a problem for Vanderbilt… but his buyout might be.

The Owls reportedly pay Golden about $575,000 per year.  The Commodores paid Bobby Johnson about $1 million and — reportedly — are willing to double that figure for the right man this time around.  As both schools are private, we are not sure of their exact spending.  That said, it’s likely that Vandy could double, triple or quadruple Golden’s pay if need be.

Golden’s buyout is another matter.  The Temple coach reportedly — there’s that word again — has a $2 million escape clause in his contract.

As we said earlier today, if Vandy lands Golden, it will be clear that VU has decided to open up its coffers and invest a bit more in its football program.

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A Proper Send Off for Coach Caldwell

Vanderbilt
Content provided by Vanderbilt Sports Line.

Like many Commodore fans, I was unable to attend Saturday’s game against Wake Forest. Between the disappointing result and the rampant speculation as to who will be the new head coach, something has been overlooked: a proper send off and “thank you” to Coach Caldwell and the rest of his staff. Despite Saturday’s result and the two incredibly frustrating years, this staff is responsible for Vanderbilt’s first bowl win since the Eisenhower administration. Respect should be paid.

Here’s what I suggest. The Vanderbilt men play a game Wednesday night against Western Kentucky, a very good opponent who beat the Commodores when they faced off last season, in Memorial Gym at 8pm. The students will have returned, and the game is likely to be well attended. At some point during the game, preferably halftime, Coach Caldwell should be honored. It doesn’t have to be much (here, less is certainly more), but he is certainly entitled to a small sign of Commodore fans’ gratitude for the work he did. Coach Caldwell inherited an incredibly difficult situation when he took over for Bobby Johnson 7 weeks before the season began. Despite these difficult circumstances, Coach Caldwell never made excuses and comported himself with class and dignity. That this season was disappointing is, at this point, besides the point. Coach Caldwell deserves one final opportunity to appear before the Vanderbilt community and he thanked. I really don’t think that’s asking too much.

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Caldwell Knows Saturday Could Be His Last Game At Vandy

Robbie Caldwell might’ve put on a corn pone act at SEC Media Days in July, but the Furman grad is no dummy.  You can bet he knows that his days at Vanderbilt are probably numbered.

“If (Saturday’s game with Wake Forest) is my last game, well, I’ll be sad because I’ve enjoyed my time here at Vanderbilt,” Caldwell told The Tennessean.  “Hopefully it won’t be.  But if it is, I understand.  It’s the life of a football coach, unfortunately, this day and time.”

Caldwell isn’t getting a fair shake.  Everyone knows that.  He took over the Vandy program in midsummer when Bobby Johnson unexpectedly resigned.  If not for Johnson’s last-minute step-down, VU might have gone in a different direction when searching for an interim.

The interim tag was taken off of Caldwell’s title before the season began, but that had more to do with recruiting than with job security.  He was also given what many believe to a be a two-year contract.  So if Caldwell goes — and it looks like he will — the VU administration will present him a bit of a “thank you” by way of that buyout.

But Caldwell had no real shot in Nashville this year.  He inherited a weak roster that only grew weaker and weaker as injuries took their toll.

Caldwell was the coaching equivalent of the spectator who’s called down onto the field at halftime to try one of those 40-yard field goals for a half-million bucks.  Sure sometimes a fan hits one, but it’s a miracle when it occurs. 

And it would have taken a miracle for Caldwell to show anything at all with these 2010 Commodores.

The coach and his staff will likely be packing up their things next week.  Vanderbilt will then set out to find yet another coach desperate enough to accept the 12th best job in a 12-team league.

Whoever that coach turns out to be, he’ll learn quickly — just as Caldwell did — that life is seldom fair when you coach at Vanderbilt.

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