For the past three years, anytime MrSEC.com has claimed James Franklin ran his mouth a bit too much (his aides have to have pretty wives, Nicky Satan, etc), many Vanderbilt fans have rushed to defend him. Anytime this site has suggested he might leave — who didn’t see him eventually leaving Nashville? — many Commodore fans have tsk-tsk’d us and claimed that we “must just be scared of what he’s building” at VU.
All of that changed on Saturday.
Check Twitter. Check a Vandy message board. Check out this lengthy post from VandySports.com, the Rivals site covering the Dores.
In the eyes of many VU supporters, Franklin has gone from infallible god to used car salesman. From a man others must fear to a man they themselves cannot stand.
We point this out not to mock Vanderbilt backers but to remind everyone that even folks with fancy degrees can fall way too deeply in love with a winning coach. Franklin was good for Vanderbilt. He improved the program. He supplied a blueprint to his replacement. And he deserved support for it.
But he didn’t deserve blind faith. No man does. If more of us remembered that you’d see less rage and pain after a winning coach hits the bricks for a better gig.
Tennessee fans ignored all of the secondary violations, all of the jerkish comments, all of the general nonsense that surrounded Lane Kiffin while he was in Knoxville. Anyone pointing out that he behaved like a nitwit was “anti-Vol.” At least until Kiffin left Knoxville less than a month before signing day to take his “dream job” at Southern Cal. Ironically, Kiffin left UT on a January 10th. Franklin left VU on January 11th. Like Franklin, Kiffin went from hero to zero in a matter of hours.
At Florida, anyone daring to criticize Urban Meyer for running a discipline-free program was viewed as a hater, someone who must root for a school that can’t beat Saint Urb. But then he retired, un-retired, retired again and left Will Muschamp a penal colony to try to clean up. Finally, when he finished up his “I need to watch my kids grow up” period and landed at Ohio State a whopping one year later — kids grow up so fast these days — many Florida fans arrived at one conclusion: “Hey, this guy won games but he was full of crap.” Yes, he was. In fact, most coaches are… because most people are.
Most of us are selfish individuals who’ll say anything to get ahead in life or to make an extra buck. That may be a sad view of humanity, but it keeps this particular writer from being disappointed when people don’t live up to their word. If our species is flawed, logic dictates that coaches will be flawed, too. They’re of the same species (though some of us believe anyone coaching at good ol’ State U. must be an angel rather than a mere mortal).
Franklin, like many a coach before him, begged his school’s fans and administrators for full buy-in. Vandy ponied up a lot of cash and they admitted a few athletes who might not have been let in to school for previous coaches. Tens of thousands of Vanderbilt fans got in their cars and drove to Birmingham for a ho-hum January bowl game. In their view, they bought in fully.
But no matter how many nine-win seasons Franklin had in Nashville, VU is still not a destination job. Not yet. That’s not an insult, that’s historical fact. Vandy fans who’d been convinced by Franklin that their program was as good as any were therefore floored when he chose Penn State over Vanderbilt. Roll that one around in your head for a bit. Three years ago, would anyone planted on terra firma have expected a football coach to select Vandy over Penn State? But Franklin said what coaches say. Then he won games. Fans and media fell in blind love with him believing anything he said and defending anything he did. Commodore fans just didn’t see this coming.
So when it did come and he did leave there was hurt, anger, and scorn. Consider these snippets from the VandySports.com column linked to above:
“Franklin doesn’t have a neck brace (like Bobby Petrino), but somehow he managed to find a way to leave a school he made into a national power as The Most Hated Man in Town…
For a coach who has never known how to stop talking, the silence coming from Franklin’s Tweet-a-minute camp was deafening…
Those of us who worked around him know why he bailed. Franklin wanted to work where there was already a built-in fan base with a vast stadium. He felt he was a big time coach, and big time coaches coach in big time arenas. To each his own.”
If those aren’t the remarks of a person who feels betrayed this writer doesn’t know what would be. Suddenly Franklin never knew how to stop talking? Funny how that changes from a positive to a negative when a coach jets. If this site or another had written that very same thing a week ago, Vandy fans would have been up in arms.
And the “to each his own” line reveals hurt feelings as well. The writer of that piece knows full well that there’s not a coach in America who would prefer to work in an unfilled 40,000-seat stadium than in a packed 100,000-seat stadium. None, zero, zip. Yet the anger brought on by Franklin’s adios blinds Vandy supporters to that fact. ”Well if he wants to go to one of the 10-15 best programs all-time, so be it.” Uh, yeah.
Again, this isn’t to make fun of VU fans or anyone who grew to know Franklin while covering him. It is simply a reminder that we all need to remember that these guys are human beings with human egos. If they spot a better gig or a way to make an extra buck, all that we’ll see is a vapor trail in their wake.
They’re not infallible. They’re not gods. Most don’t looooooooove their school so much that they’ll turn down better jobs. They’re people. And we people are typically out for ourselves. (Okay, Mark Richt is the exception to the rule.)
So from Columbia, Fayetteville and College Station out West to the other Columbia, Gainesville and Lexington to the East, you SEC fans should root for your coaches and support your coaches. But don’t put blind faith in them. If you do you’ll only wind up hurt feelings and rival fans yelling “told ya so” back in your face. Ya know… like broken-hearted Vanderbilt fans today.