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Vandy Names Williams As Athletic Director

The days of Gordon Gee are officially over.  Rival fans can stop with the intramural jokes.  Vanderbilt has an athletic director.

David Williams — who we’ve referred to as VU’s “de facto” AD for several years — has finally been given that title officially.  His full job description is “vice chancellor for athletics and university affairs and athletics director.”  Good luck fitting that on a business card.

For all the jokes made when then-chancellor Gee nuked the AD position in 2003, the Commodores have actually been quite competitive without someone carrying that title.  In basketball and baseball they have been nationally ranked.  In football they’ve reached two bowl games and actually managed a winning season — a first since 1982.

Williams’ promotion comes as Vanderbilt tries to show (and make) a new commitment to athletics.  The school has given football coach James Franklin much of the support it promised when Williams plucked him from far off the radar two years ago.  And don’t think the early returns on Franklin didn’t play a role in Williams’ new title.

Current VU chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos said via press release:

 

“By every measure, the game has changed for Vanderbilt athletics over the past nine years.  Our efforts to ensure that Vanderbilt athletes are students first have paid off on the playing field, in recruiting, in the classroom and across our campus.  This success is largely thanks to David Williams.”

 

Williams himself added:

 

“We are proud of what we have accomplished thus far, but we know that we are just at the beginning of what can and will be.  I am honored to lead some of the best coaches and staff in the nation as we support the outstanding efforts of our student athletes, while delivering a world-class fan experience at our athletic facilities.”

 

If for no other reason than PR purposes, this is a good move for Vanderbilt.  As noted, Gee’s decision to do away with the AD position didn’t seem to hurt the school’s actual athletic performance, but it did create a perception among many that Vandy did not take its sports seriously.  Now, VU coaches will no longer have to dance around recruits’ questions about joining an “intramural” program without an AD.  That negative recruiting arrow has been removed from the quiver of rival SEC coaches.

Smart.  And that’s no surprise, coming from Vandy.

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VU’s Franklin Backtracks On Wife Comments; Vandy Bosses, Too

Speaking to Nashville radio station WGFX-FM earlier this week, James Franklin said:

 

“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant until I see his wife.  If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired.  That’s part of the deal.  There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a women, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being articulate and confident, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.” 

 

Obviously, that’s not the brightest thing in the world for Vanderbilt’s football coach to say.  We didn’t blast him because — to be fair — he could have been hamming it up with the guys at the station.  We did, however, point out that he could take some flak for his loose lips.

It didn’t take long for the story to make national headlines.  At that point, Franklin took to Twitter to try and put out the fire he’d started:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Franklin’s boss — Vandy vice chancellor David Williams — then tried to put a little distance between the school and Franklin’s comments:

 

“After being informed of Coach Franklin’s comments, I spoke with him about his remarks. We discussed how inappropriate and offensive his statements were no matter his state of mind or intent. Coach Franklin is clearly aware of his mistake and is sorry for any hurt that resulted from his statements. Clearly his comments do not reflect the values and hiring practices of Vanderbilt University, Vanderbilt Athletics or Vanderbilt Football.”

 

In other words — “Hey, assistants who weren’t hired, please don’t sue us!”

Were Franklin’s words really, really that offensive?  Probably not.

Were they dumb?  Without question.  And the fact that he and the Vanderbilt administration are backpedaling from them like a cornerback at the NFL combine is proof of that.

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Vandy Finishes Probe Into Tampering In O’Brien Case

Earlier this year, when former Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien announced that he would transfer from the school, head coach Randy Edsall told him and two other departing Terrapins that they could not go to Vanderbilt.  The court of public opinion weighed in and the coach backtracked.

But after giving the players the green light to go wherever they liked, Edsall and Maryland filed an official complaint against Vanderbilt and ex-Terp offensive coordinator James Franklin for tampering.  The complaint went to the ACC which then filed it with the SEC.  VU officials were instructed to dig into the matter.

This afternoon, Vandy vice chancellor David Williams released a statement saying that the school had finished its internal investigation:


“We did a thorough review.  We looked closely at months of phone and email records, and Twitter accounts.  We interviewed all of our coaches with University of Maryland backgrounds and we also interviewed the student-athlete (O’Brien).”


And?  And? 

Vandy would not say if the report — which has been forwarded to the SEC office — revealed that tampering had taken place or not.  That said, I think we can all guess what Vanderbilt’s verdict would be.

“Our reputation is our primary concern,” Williams said.  “We have a long and proud history of playing by the letter and the spirit of the rules.  Coach Franklin feels the same way.  He and his staff were most cooperative.”

If Vandy found no tampering and the SEC finds no tampering, then it’s doubtful that the NCAA will dig further to determine if a secondary violation — and that’s what it would be — has taken place.

If/when O’Brien transfers to Vandy, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

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Maryland Complaint Just Shows How Much Franklin Has Changed VU

“… 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.” 

 

Those were the words spoken by James Franklin after Georgia had escaped Nashville with a hard fought win over Vanderbilt last October.  Four months later, they continue to resonate.  From Music City all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.

At the time Franklin was hot over a postgame run-in he’d had with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.  A month later he would again show his fiery side when video taken from inside Tennessee’s locker room after its win over Vandy hit the internet.  Also, there were rumblings from inside more than one SEC program that Vanderbilt’s players had mastered the art of the late hit and the clip.

Add it up and it seems clear that Vanderbilt’s football program is no longer your daddy’s Vandy football program.  And if you need further proof of that, simply take note of the fact that the University of Maryland and the Atlantic Coast Conference have filed a formal complaint with the SEC claiming that Franklin and his staff tampered with players on the Terrapins’ roster.

Franklin defended his program last week on a Nashville radio show but he did not deny speaking with the players in question.  Indeed, the ex-Maryland assistant admitted that he maintains relationships with lots of his former players.

Whether you believe Franklin tried to woo quarterback Danny O’Brien and others to Nashville probably depends on your fan allegiance.  But it really doesn’t matter if the accusations are true or not.  What matters is the fact that someone is making an accusation about Vanderbilt.

Vandy vice chancellor of athletics David Williams told The Tennessean that he could not remember anyone filing such a claim against his school in the past.  ”Everybody around here knows the level of integrity of this university.  I’m going to do the investigation (into the tampering charges) — that’s what I’m supposed to do.  At the end, I’ll be able to say, ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’  These are new allegations that arose to us.”

If Williams finds that tampering did take place — and we’re going to have to really trust “the level of integrity” of his university on that one — it’s possible that VU could be hit with a secondary NCAA violation over the matter.  That’s nothing to be proud of and you can be sure some academicians at Vanderbilt won’t be happy that accusations have been made against their fine institution in the first place.

But for Vandy fans who’ve grown tired of being the SEC’s football punchline, tampering charges and secondary rule violations are of little import.  Dores fans are simply thrilled that Franklin is delivering what he promised back in October — that “old” Vanderbilt is gone.

Now “new” Vanderbilt is getting national media coverage, getting higher-caliber recruits… and getting under the skin of other coaches, programs and conferences.  At this point there should be no doubt that Franklin has changed the culture of the Commodores’ program.

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Vandy Doubles Its Recruiting Budget

Back in December of 2010 when Vanderbilt made the hire of James Franklin official, chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos made the following statement:


“I told James if he needs a rocket to go to the moon to get a player — get the rocket.”


Fourteen months later, it looks like Franklin has talked Vandy officials into getting him the rocket they promised.  And private planes.  And helicopter rides. 

In all, the Commodores claim to have doubled their football recruiting budget in Franklin’s first season.

VU’s de facto AD — vice chancellor of athletics David Williams — recently told Nashville’s The Tennessean that the school put “a lot” more money into the recruiting fund this year:


“I really won’t know the number until we get all the bills.  We increased the budget for recruiting by probably 100%.  Any time James decides to fly on a private plane or a helicopter — in this case a lot — it has to be approved.  I think I got requests almost on a daily basis (the week before signing day).  I would expect when the bill is paid, it will be a lot.  It will be within the budget, but we’ve increased recruiting a lot.”


Good for Vanderbilt.  The school invested in Franklin and Franklin delivered three four-star prospects, a bundle of three-star recruits, and what’s being called VU’s best-ever signing class.

Can Franklin keep the positive momentum rolling after a six-win season that led to a bowl bid?  That remains to be seen.  But credit him for creating some Commodore moment in the first place.  And for convincing Vandy officials to pull out the school’s thick checkbook.

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Vandy Sports Boss Talks Expansion

Vanderbilt vice chancellor of athletics David Williams recently sat down for a lengthy chat on SEC expansion with Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean.  His comments are quite interesting as he discusses the impact of expansion on VU, the (absurd) idea that Vandy might be ousted from the league, and what the league would look for in a 14th school.  (The gist of his answer: there are too many variables to list and he believes the league might spend “a couple of years” with 13 schools.)

He was also asked if the conference shuffle is strictly about getting into new markets for TV purposes.  His response:


“Anytime somebody is going to expand in this day and age, if they can see an upside in TV revenue or TVs being turned on, that will certainly be a consideration of it.  But there are other reasons.  The Big Ten needed a 12th team.  The Pac-10, I think, was a little concerned that they were sort of isolated on that West Coast, and how do we sort of expand and make some noise?  The Big 12 looks like they’re going to try to just throw some times in to stay in business.  Texas A&M comes to us and says, ‘We’d like to come to your conference.  We don’t want to be in the Big 12 anymore.’  And we may see an opportunity to expand or protect our brand.  The ACC obviously gets some television stuff up in the Northeast, but in the same time (they think) this may help us solidify our conference.

Sometimes, if I’m at 10 (schools in a conference) and someone is looking to take me to eight, maybe my best defense is to go on the offense and to go to 12.”


The full interview can be found here.  Good stuff.

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Monday’s SEC Expansion Odds And Ends

As fans and media wait for the inevitable announcement that Texas A&M will be joining the SEC, a number of southern writers have been talking about expansion the past couple of days.  Here are six pieces we thought you might find interesting:

1.  Since last May we’ve been trying to explain that expansion has more to do with business, revenue, television markets and geographic footprints than it does with football success and easy driving distances.  Still, many people refuse to accept those facts.  They still wonder, “Why Texas A&M?”

Jon Solomon of The Birmingham News once more attempts to explain just what A&M offers the SEC and why the league wants to make College Station its foothold in Texas.  If you still haven’t grasped the motivations behind all conferences’ expansion plans, you likely never will.  But we suggest you read the above piece as one last attempt to figure out what’s up in the SEC and why.

2.  Tim Griffin of The Houston Chronicle looks at the likely A&M-SEC pairing from an Aggie point of view.  Laughably, he takes time to discuss whether or not leaving Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech would cripple the Aggies.

First, Arkansas left all those schools and more 20 years ago and the Hogs since then have made millions of dollars, won the SEC West a couple of times, made millions of dollars, reached a BCS bowl, and made millions of dollars.  We think A&M could survive.

Plus, if the Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry can be halted, Baylor-Texas A&M can be nixed rather easily.

3.  Brent Zwerneman of The Houston Chronicle says that, legally speaking, A&M’s move to the SEC is in the fine print stage at this point.  That’s why the process has slowed down since last Monday’s announcement that A&M had empowered it’s president to start looking at realignment options.

Zwerneman also states that everything is a go from A&M to make its move… “no matter the vocal protests of Baylor” or possible Big 12 exit fees.

4.  The Aggies likely departure will leave the Big 12 looking for a replacement and Arkansas is starting to get mentioned as a possible target once again.  No, really.

Some think it’s possible that Arkansas might leave the SEC — and its riches and stability — for a league that’s University of Texas-centric and wobbling.  The people making such claims also ignore the fact that A&M’s move to the SEC will give the Razorbacks their first true rival in 20 years.

Arkansas to the Big 12?  Not.  Gonna.  Happen.

5.  In case you missed it over the weekend, Mike Strange of The Knoxville News Sentinel penned an excellent column showing why A&M should be more than able to hold its own in the SEC in any number of sports.  Go on, snickerers, give it a read.  The Aggie program is better than you think.

Many SEC fans, jilted Big 12′ers, and national media types continue to say that Texas A&M football will be all but crushed if it enters the mighty SEC.  But as we’ve noted on several occasions, teams rise and fall all the time in Mike Slive’s conference.  Doubt us?  Go check the SEC standings prior to Nick Saban’s arrival at, first, LSU and, then, at Alabama.  Check Florida’s record under Ron Zook.  Compare Tennessee in the 1990s to Tennessee in the 2000s.  Now look at the recent rise of Arkansas and South Carolina.  Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined to play in three straight January bowls.  There’s room for upward mobility in the SEC.

The Aggies are projected to be a Top 10 program this year.  Historically, they rank in the Top 20 when it comes to the AP’s all-time football poll.  In other words, they’re likely to enter the SEC with a stronger football team than did Arkansas in 1992.  And they have a much stronger overall football program than South Carolina did when it entered the SEC.

We at MrSEC.com don’t expect A&M to enter the SEC and reach Atlanta in Year One, but we also know that the school ranks among the top programs in the country dating back to the 1930s.  The Aggies shouldn’t be underestimated.

6.  Finally, some folks just don’t seem to realize that the powers-that-be in the SEC do not want to be the first football-first league to hit the 16-school mark.

The SEC wasn’t looking to expand, A&M was looking to escape the Big 12.  Knowing what A&M brings to the table, that sped up the SEC’s expansion clock.  At most — according to our sources in Birmingham — the league will find a 14th member to pair with A&M and then it will wait to see what unfolds elsewhere as a result.

Still, folks like Jerome Boettcher of The Nashville City Paper are talking about a 16-team superconference.  He discussed that possibility with Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor of athletics David Williams.  Judging by Williams’ answer, do you think the SEC is hurriedly rushing to reach to 16 teams?

“Growth for growth’s sake is not always the best thing.  What is the advantage of 16 teams?  Do you now have four conferences of 16 and you got 64 teams and it is those 64 that boo-boo all the rest of the colleges?  I would hate to see that.  No, that is not something I would look forward to.”

Now, will it eventually come to that?  Probably.  But that doesn’t mean Slive and other SEC administrators like Williams want to be the ones to usher in such a day.

The SEC may well announce tomorrow that it’s expanding to 18 or 20 teams — anything’s possible — but we would be shocked if Slive and the SEC’s presidents go further than 14 in this round of expansion.

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VU Update: No Update

Anybody else notice that no one is saying anything new on the James Franklin-to-Vanderbilt front?

I just got off the phone with a source in Nashville who said vice chancellor David Williams and the rest of the Commodore brass have gone stone silent as a result of this weekend’s Gus Malzahn implosion.

For that reason, The Washington Post remains the only outlet to suggest that Franklin is currently working on contract details with Vandy.

A number of Vanderbilt and Maryland backers are saying that The Post has been wrong on this story once before, so why pay attention to them now?  But the paper was only a sorta/kinda wrong on its “Malzahn’s the guy” story from last weekend.

Here’s what we mean by that:  The Post was told by a source close to Franklin — perhaps Franklin himself — that he was no longer in the running for the Vanderbilt job.  And despite what Williams has said, half of Nashville knew full well that Vandy had placed an offer on the table for Malzahn.  Franklin (and/or the source close to him) knew that, too.

So The Post got word that Malzahn was the top candidate and that Franklin was pulling out of the search… it added 2 plus 2… but the numbers didn’t add up to 4 because Malzahn backed away from the negotiating table.  And to be fair, Williams sounded just as surprised by that — “I don’t know where they stand” — as The Post’s reporter must have been.

Maybe Franklin (or a source close to him) has a hard time getting a read on where the coach really stands in Vandy’s search which might explain why he (or a source close to him) continues to give “I’m in” and “I’m out” signals to The Post.

Point: The Post wasn’t completely wrong on its Malzahn’s gonna get the job report.  The Post seems to be sharing info straight from the Franklin camp. 

And at this point it sounds like Franklin (or a source close to him) believes he’s going to get the Vanderbilt job.

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Navy’s Niumatalolo A Longshot For Vandy

Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean reported this morning that Vanderbilt might slow down its coaching search in order to chat with Ken Niumatalolo after this weekend’s Army-Navy game.

But Navy’s sports information director emailed Lockridge this morning to say: “He is firmly committed to coaching at the Naval Academy.”

The writer believes that Vandy vice chancellor David Williams will still put in a call to Navy’s coach on Saturday night… if the Commodores’ search is still ongoing at that time.

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Another Joe Biddle Column I Hate

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Content provided by Vanderbilt Sports Line.

Apparently Joe Biddle doesn’t read his own sports section, as he writes a column in today’s Tennessean trashing Vanderbilt football and calling it a dead-end job. Biddle argues that Vanderbilt is “in the wrong league for football,” and comes back to the familiar sportswriter troupe that Vanderbilt’s real problem is not having an “athletics director’s experience and contacts” to get the job done. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t disagree with Biddle more. Despite the cosmetic “title,” Vanderbilt has an athletic department, it just so happens that athletics at Vanderbilt is integrated in, not set apart from, the rest of the student population (imagine that).

Despite the Commodores’ 2 disappointing football seasons in a row (which proceeded their first bowl win since the Eisenhower administration), it is impossible to argue that Vanderbilt sports is not as strong or stronger now than they’ve ever been. David Williams hasn’t had to do a major national coaching search, because he’s been able to keep his quality coaches in Nashville. Essentially, Biddle is criticizing Williams for being an effective administrator. When you think about it, Biddle’s take actually makes sense given his treatment (or lack thereof) of Tennessee’s Athletic Director Mike Hamilton. Here’s a guy who, despite his “athletic director’s experience and contacts” went through 3 football coaches in 3 years while being publicly rejected by almost every candidate they targeted to fill that vacancy. Make no mistake about it Tennessee fans, Derek Dooley was not Tennessee’ first, second, or third choice. Yet somehow, because of his title, Hamilton gets a pass, and Williams gets scorned. Unlike last year’s Volunteer coaching search, Vanderbilt’s efforts are being done in a professional, quiet and methodical manner. There haven’t been any leaks, and no embarrassing public rejections. Maybe more schools should get rid of their athletic directors.

For some reason, I let Biddle get under my skin. I don’t really know why. I guess what I continue to take exception to, both from Biddle and the other Tennessean columnist David Climer, is the glee they seem to take in criticizing Vanderbilt. The lengths (uninformed at they might be) these columnists will go to slam the Commodores is astonishing (especially as compared to their treatment of the Volunteers, who are always on the ascendancy according to these scribes). Nashville is Vanderbilt’s home, yet the home-town paper’s columnists appear to relish when the team struggles. Do us all a favor Joe, head east to Knoxville, I’ll even throw in 5 bucks for gas.

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