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Reports: Franklin To Pull Up Anchor, Leave Vanderbilt For Penn State

still-waiting-skeleton copyIt was fun while it lasted.

James Franklin’s impressive three-year run at Vanderbilt is apparently coming to an end as various sources report that the coach will soon officially be named the new coach at Penn State.  However.  Vandy defensive end Caleb Azubike spoke with Franklin today and he says his coach told him that no decision has yet been made and “he’s still pondering.”  And VandySports.com reports that “rumor is, Vanderbilt did in fact match Penn State’s offer that is north of $4 million a year.”

But as most outlets are calling this race in favor of PSU, just as we’ve been saying for weeks, the story is turning toward the sexual assault that allegedly took place inside Franlin’s VU football program.

If there was one school we thought would not hire Franklin, it was Penn State.  We were wrong.  Now stories like this are going to start bubbling up — “James Franklin could bring his own scandal baggage to Penn State.”  Donald Gilliland of PennLive.com writes:

 

“… that doesn’t mean Penn State wouldn’t find its brand associated once again in unflattering national headlines if it hires Franklin.  

Defense attorneys for one of the players in the case have explicitly asked for — and complained about not receiving — text messages between players and (the) Vanderbilt coaching staff regarding the incident as part of the discovery in the case.

What’s more, the defense attorneys also say they are preparing to subpoena Franklin in anticipation of his taking a coaching job elsewhere.  

‘We want to make sure if he takes a job outside of Nashville we can compel him as a witness if we desire him to be one,’ said Defense attorney Fletcher Long.”

 

Gilliland goes on to detail the rape allegations against four ex-Vandy football players and says Franklin’s “potential ongoing involvement in the court case itself could bring seriously unsavory details into association with the Penn State name.”  A name that’s already been dragged through the mud due to Jerry Sandusky’s sex scandal.  A scandal which resulted in NCAA sanctions, the destruction of Joe Paterno’s reputation, perhaps the old coach’s immediate decline in health and death, and all manner of other troubles.

So are we surprised at this hire?  No.  We’re shocked.  Then again, since when have schools ever cared much about reputations and black eyes?  Louisville just re-hired Bobby Petrino, proving that winning is truly the only thing that matters to most big-time programs.

And to be fair to Franklin, if he’s not been involved in any kind of cover-up — and we continue to bet that he was not — he shouldn’t be penalized because of something four miscreants in his football program did.  He should be able to move elsewhere.  We just think Penn State — given all the circumstances — is the absolute oddest fit possible.

Now, Penn State will certainly get a man who knows how to recruit and who knows how to create “attitude” within his program.  Whether or not Franklin will like being compared to Joe Paterno at every turn, well, that remains to be seen.

For Vandy, it appears AD David Williams is about to be back in the coach search business.  As we wrote earlier this morning, thanks to Franklin and a newfound financial commitment to football at Vanderbilt, Williams has a better job to sell today than the one he offered Franklin three years ago.

Also, the Dores will have to work to hold together this year’s class of commitments, if/when Franklin does indeed officially take the Penn State job.

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If Franklin Goes, Can Vanderbilt Find A Suitable Replacement?

silhouette-question-markWith reports that James Franklin has been offered the Penn State job now all over the web, the question becomes: “If he leaves, can Vanderbilt find another winner?”

Honest answer?  It won’t be easy.  But that’s the case with every other program in the country, too.  Every hire is a roll of the dice.  And while there are no guarantees Vandy AD David Williams could find another winner, there’s nothing to say the man couldn’t roll another seven or eleven, either.

Franklin and Williams have made the Vanderbilt football job a better gig.  First, many believe the school is paying Franklin more than the $3 million guesstimate that’s so often kicked about.  You can be sure a school handing out those kind of greenbacks can find someone willing to take them.

Second, Franklin has demanded improved facilities and an increased recruiting budget.  VU has answered on the recruiting budget and most of Franklin’s facility demands have been or are being addressed as well.  So if he goes, his replacement won’t have to argue for things like an indoor practice facility.  Vandy’s now got a brand new one.

In general, there exists a commitment to football at Vanderbilt.  And that goes deeper than cash.  Many around the league believe the school has eased its entrance requirements for football players (though no one with a VU mortar board is likely to admit that).  Whether it has or hasn’t, Franklin has still proven that a good recruiter can lure 3- and 4-star recruits to Vanderbilt.  And that might be Franklin’s biggest gift to the school.  He’s provided a blueprint for the next guy.

Whoever replaces Franklin will know which buttons to push on the recruiting trail.  He’ll know that a “50-year plan” and a world-class education will sell to a lot of mamas and papas.  He’ll be able to tell recruits — as Franklin has — that they can a) play in the best NFL preparatory conference in the nation, b) win games and go to bowl games, c) get a diploma from one of the most respected institutions of higher-learning in the US, and d) they can do it all while living in one of the nation’s most vibrant cities, filled with museums and libraries and concert halls.  No other SEC school can boast that combination.  No other SEC school can even come close to that, in fact.  And while we doubt many of Franklin’s recruits have hit town, unpacked, and headed straight for a museum, that doesn’t mean parents haven’t liked that pitch.

Franklin has also shown that winning isn’t impossible at the West End school.  He’s benefited from what have turned out to be pretty easy non-conference schedules, yes, but in this day and age you can go 2-6 or 3-5 in the SEC and still reach one of the 30+ bowl games now in existence.  Ask Dan Mullen.

And what better time for a new coach to enter the SEC East?  Missouri just went from 2-6 in the East to division champs.  Florida’s coach is on a red-hot seat.  South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier will soon turn 69 and he — like Franklin at VU — is just about the only coach to have success at his school in the past 100 years.  There are no guarantees Carolina’s program will continue to excel post-Spurrier.  Tennessee is likely to be mediocre again as Butch Jones tries to re-stock the Vols’ roster.  And Kentucky is still at the bottom with Mark Stoops having to basically start from scratch.  Who knows if/when Tennessee or Kentucky ever find stability?

Granted, last year’s jump by Mizzou suggests that our views now might not mesh with what actually occurs over the next couple of seasons… but on paper, the East is the place to be if you want to make three million bones a year and coach in the SEC.

But there is one problem.  Whoever replaces Franklin will have to replace an extremely popular coach.  If he does something out of step with his predecessor’s work he’ll probably hear a few, “Franklin didn’t do it like that” comments from the cheap seats.  (That’s ironic because if Franklin takes the Penn State job he’ll definitely be told how he differs from Joe Paterno.)

Franklin did more than just go 6-6, too.  The last two seasons he’s gone 9-4.  He’s won his bowl games.  He’s won two in a row against in-state rival Tennessee.  While it’s possible Franklin could continue along on that same path, history suggests otherwise.  At some point even Franklin would face a rebuilding year.  If Franklin jets and a new guy arrives in time for a 6-6 campaign, he’ll be judged against his predecessor’s 9-4 campaigns.

And what if Franklin has squeezed the absolute maximum from the Commodore program?  Coaches are cocky fellows.  Most of them believe that they can win anywhere in the country.  But good coaches also tend to have shrewd agents.  Agents who’ll say, “Why not pass on Vanderbilt for the time being… let someone else prove that they can keep that ball rolling.”

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Vandy’s Franklin A Wanted Man, Even In Some Places We Wouldn’t Have Expected

James-Franklin-contemplativeWhen it comes to interviewees for head coaching jobs, no one in the country is more sought after at this moment than Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.  We’re talking about a Stage 5, Gruden-level feeding frenzy.  And why not?  The Commodores’ coach just wrapped up back-to-back 9-4 seasons, he’s won 16 of his last 20 games, and he’s taken to Vandy to three bowl games, winning two of them.  Short of walking across the Cumberland River, Franklin has proven about all a man can prove at what had been the SEC’s traditional cellar-dweller.

That’s why he’s on Penn State’s short list.  That’s why the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins have reportedly asked for permission to speak with him.  It’s why the Houston Texans did speak to him (reportedly) and why the Tennessee Titans might check to see if he’d be interested in moving a couple of miles across town.

The NFL thing seems a bit farfetched as the two biggest pluses for the young coach are his infectious enthusiasm and his recruiting ability.  And recruiting doesn’t help a whole bunch in the pro game.  That’s not to say Franklin can’t X and O with the best of them, but it’s his attitude — which he’s instilled into Vanderbilt’s program — that’s drawn raves from pundits and wowed some NFL owners.

Today the NFL Network reported that the Washington Redskins plan to meet with Franklin, “likely” this week.  He is believed to have met with Penn State officials yesterday.  There the Pennsylvania native is on a short list that includes two former Nittany Lion players-turned-coaches: Mike Munchak and Larry Johnson.

For his part, Franklin has remained mum at every turn.  Asked by The Tennessean for an interview yesterday he simply texted back: “Excited about going to LA, we can talk later.”  Franklin will be a part of ESPN’s coverage of tonight’s Auburn/Florida State BCS Championship Game.

Tennessean reporter Jeff Lockridge tweeted today that co-defensive coordinator Brent Pry has pulled out of the Georgia Southern head coaching search:

 

2014-01-06 02.53.21 pm

 

Whether that means Pry will stay at Vandy or move with Franklin to the pros or — more likely — Penn State remains to be seen.

The one surprising point in the Penn State/Franklin talk is the lack of talk regarding the ongoing court cases of four former VU players arrested for sexual assault.  As noted previously, defense attorneys for one of the accused requested that the Nashville DA send them transcripts of all phone and/or text conversations between the players and their coaches — including Franklin — on the night of the alleged rape.

As we’ve stated repeatedly, we don’t believe for a second that Franklin helped his players cover up such a heinous act.  However.  If you’re Penn State University can you really afford to ignore the possibility — no matter how small — that Franklin might have helped cover up some portion of something?

David Jones of PennLive.com is the only columnist to broach the topic to date, writing:

 

“But a rape case involving four of his former players at Vanderbilt is ongoing.  Though Franklin has, to this point, been cleared by police and the local DA of any wrongdoing including involvement in a cover-up of any type, the trial is still pending.”

 

Left unwritten is the fact that PSU just went through a massive beatdown at the hands of the justice system, the NCAA, and the public at large for a widespread cover-up of former assistant Jerry Sandusky’s own sex crimes against young boys.

For that reason, if there were one job in America this writer would have automatically ruled out as a potential landing spot for Franklin… it would have been PSU.  So much for that.

Perhaps the folks at Penn State feel they can put up with one or two uncomfortable questions at an introductory press conference if it means introducing the right guy.  Perhaps they feel completely at ease with Franklin’s assurances that there are no skeletons in his closet when it comes to the sexual assault case involving his ex-players.

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Vanderbilt Wins Bowl Game But Will Coach James Franklin Return?

postgame-links-150x1501Vanderbilt 41 – Houston 24. Video Highlights

1. Vanderbilt wins the game but will the Commodores lose their coach? James Franklin reportedly interviewing with Penn State and requests to interview with NFL’s Browns and Redskins. Also a report out that Franklin will interview with Detroit Lions. Franklin reportedly one of Penn State’s top three candidates.

2. Jeremy Fowler on head coach opening at Louisville with Charlie Strong off to Texas: “If Vanderbilt’s James Franklin is still on the board after 1,234 NFL or college interviews, he’s worth the first call. Make him say no.”

3. First back-to-back nine win seasons in Vanderbilt history.  SEC now 7-2 in bowl games.

4, Vanderbilt defense gives up 24 points in third quarter – shuts out the Cougars the rest of the way.

5. Vandy goes to running game in second half - 133 of 211 rushing yards came in third and fourth quarters.

6.  Vanderbilt seniors finish career with winning record.  Started off 2-10.

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Report: James Franklin Tops List Of Penn State Coaching Candidates

James-Franklin-contemplativeWith reports out that Penn State coach Bill O’Brien could be offered the job as the Houston Texans head coach as early as today, speculation has moved on to the next man in charge of the Nittany Lions program.  At the top of the list, according to one report, is Vanderbilt coach James Franklin.

Citing “knowledgeable sources within the program,” the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania says Franklin tops the list of potential candidates. David Jones also adds that “athletic director Dave Joyner has direct knowledge of Franklin through family members and third parties who are very impressed with him.”

Other factors working in Franklin’s favor according to Jones:

- He’s a college football coach, not a former NFL guy who wants to return to the professional ranks.

- He’s a motivator who can recruit.

- He’s got an offensive background that “would meld nicely in the tutelage of soph-to-be PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg.”

Jones also notes that Penn State needs to act quickly should the University of Texas target Franklin because the Longhorns “certainly could outbid PSU with its deep pockets and unlimited athletic budget.”

The 8-4 Vanderbilt Commodores play Houston Saturday in the BBVAA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.  When asked about rumors regarding his status on Monday, Franklin simply stated, ““I love the Vandy fans. I love the Vandy nation. I love everything we’re doing,”

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Vandy’s Bowl Challenge Just Got A Little Bit Tougher With Injury To QB Carta-Samuels

austyn-carta-samuels-throwsVanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels has had surgery on his left knee to repair a torn ACL, ending the senior’s career and making James Franklin’s job a bit tougher heading into bowl season.  Carta-Samuels played three games with the ACL tear  and deserves massive praise for being so selfless.  According to Jeff Lockridge of The Tennessean, the coach was “emotional” and “teary-eyed” while addressing his quarterback’s status.

“Really proud of that kid,” Franklin said.  ”He rehabbed and was able to come back and was able to get a brace that he was able to practice and play in.  He put the team above himself, and then he had surgery right when the season ended, and he’s going to try to get ready for his Pro Day.”

One must assume that Franklin and team physicians determined that Carta-Samuels was not in danger of doing any further damage to his knee by playing on it.

With Carta-Samuels out, the Commodores will turn to backup Patton Robinette.  The redshirt freshman is more of a runner than a passer, which will likely impact Vandy’s gameplan against Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

For the season, Carta-Samuels was 193-0f-281 (68.7%) for 2,268 yards, 11 TDs and nine interceptions.  Robinette was 40-of-69 (58.0%) for 488 yards, two scores and three picks.  He did run for six additional touchdowns.  Vanderbilt defeated Georgia and Florida with Robinette at quarterback, but they also lost at Texas A&M.  When Carta-Samuels returned against Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest — all wins — Robinette continued to be used as an occasional change-of-pace quarterback.

Still, going from a two-quarterback attack with an established passer to a one-QB attack with a so-so passer won’t be easy against quality competition.  If the Commodores defeat 8-4 Houston it will be just the team’s third win over a winning team in the past two years.  Also, Franklin will have to make sure his team is up for Birmingham’s BBVA Compass Bowl.  Since Vandy’s holiday destination was announced, VU fans have complained loudly and consistently about their team’s trip.  They now need to hope that their moaning hasn’t impacted their team’s view of the game.

We would expect Franklin to actually use the gripes as a motivation for his team.  ”We deserved better, now let’s go out and prove it.”  They’ll just have to do so with one half of the quarterback tandem that led them to their last three victories.

 

 

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Suck It Up, Vandy Fans, Bowl Bids Have Everything To Do With Tourism

poutingThe bowl system isn’t fair.  It never has been fair and it never will be fair.

Cities initially staged college football games during the holiday season in order to bring fans to their hotels, restaurants and stores.  In a century of bowl games, things still have not changed on that front.  In fact, television has made tourism an even bigger part of the equation.  Now cities not only want two fanbases coming to town during for a game, they also want to draw in additional visitors by airing advertisements for their beaches and golf courses in well-watched bowl matchups.

And all that is where Vanderbilt runs into trouble.

The Commodores got the short end of the stick this year when it came to SEC bowl travel.  After two years in the Volunteer State (in the Music City and Liberty Bowls), Vandy finally landed a postseason game across the Tennessee border.  Unfortunately, that game is the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, the very last bowl game on the SEC’s lengthy list.  So a team that went 8-4 is going to a bowl farther down the food chain than games playing host to Mississippi State (6-6, Liberty Bowl) and Ole Miss (7-5, Music City).  Two other 8-4 SEC teams (Georgia to the Gator and Texas A&M to the Chick-fil-A) also landed better travel itineraries.

Naturally, Vandy fans aren’t the least bit happy about what they view as a slight to their program.  Our mature, well-reasoned reply?  Tough noogies.

Decades of losing have made Vanderbilt less than must-watch viewing for most national sports fans.  And though the Dores have sold a healthy number of tickets to those two bowl games within their state, they still couldn’t sell out a 40,000-seat stadium — by far the smallest in the SEC — during the stretch run of what’s become the school’s best three-year period since the 1920s.  Drawing less than 40,000 for November games against Kentucky and Wake Forest is no way to wow bowl committees.  Especially when the coach himself has been challenging Vandy fans to show up and turn out since the day he arrived in Nashville.

This is not to say, “Well, it’s Vandy, who cares?” as some VU fans will most assuredly cry.  We’d say the same for any SEC school that couldn’t put 40,000 fannies in seats in an effort to hang onto the best coach they’ve had in the modern era.  Want a better bowl trip?  Show the bowls that you’ll support your team.

Next season the SEC will begin to play a larger role in determining who goes bowling where.  Whether that will make a difference in VU’s future fortunes is yet to be determined.  And while some Vandy fans compare their squad to Duke — headed to the Chick-fil-A Bowl — the fact of the matter is that the Blue Devils won 10 games, finished with a #24 ranking, and won an ACC division championship.  In other words, it’s an apples to carrots comparison to say the SEC should have fought for VU as the ACC did for Duke.  Duke accomplished more.  It was an easier fight.

With all the talk of bowl destination disappointment, James Franklin had better make sure his players don’t spend too much time listening to their fans’ groans.  The Commodores have beaten just two teams with winning records the last two years and Houston — also 8-4 — should present a pretty good challenge down at Legion Field.

If Vanderbilt fans turn up in Birmingham in large numbers and if Franklin’s team can win its ninth game over a pretty good foe, then Commodore Nation will have something to complain about if the Dores are shafted in the bowl selection process next season.  Until then, Vandy’s just the latest school to whine, wail and weep about unjust bowl treatment.

Oh, and just to be on the safe side, ya better start snapping up a few more tickets to Dudley Field next season, too.

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Franklin, Pinkel, Nussmeier… SEC Coaches Keep Getting Tied To Open Washington Job

washington-logoFor the moment, Doug Nussmeier remains Alabama’s offensive coordinator.  But multiple reports are suggesting that Nussmeier is a front-runner for the Washington coaching job, along with Boise State darling Chris Petersen.  If those are the Huskies’ top two candidates, Bama fans can probably say goodbye to Nussmeier.  Petersen flirts but never accepts any school’s offer.  And Nussmeier has reportedly expressed interest in the job.

Nussmeier served as Steve Sarkisian’s offensive coordinator from 2009 through 2011 when Nick Saban came calling.  He replaced Jim McElwain who left Bama to become the head coach at Colorado State.  Nussmeier currently makes $680,000 in Tuscaloosa.

But Alabama’s OC is not the only SEC coach who’s had his name attached to the Washington gig.  Missouri’s Gary Pinkel was mentioned as a potential candidate on Monday.  When asked if he would be interested in the job once held by Don James — Pinkel’s coaching mentor — the feisty coach simply shut things down with a “press conference is over” and left the podium.

Today, however, he told ESPN radio that he would remain at Mizzou.  (Funny to think that Pinkel entered the season on the hot seat with many Tiger fans “tired” of him.)

James Franklin’s name briefly bubbled to the surface but that story has failed to gain traction to date.  Southern Cal didn’t make a run at Franklin though most expected them to.  If Washington doesn’t come knocking on his door, either, it might show that the Vanderbilt rape case is making potential suitors leery of the man who turned Vandy football around.  Attorneys defending one of the accused ex-Commodore players recently requested copies of all the text messages sent between the players and coaches during the period of the cover-up.

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Good News For Vandy: Sarkisian Takes The USC Job

sarkFirst, he said he’d spoken with Southern Cal AD Pat Haden about the Trojans’ job.  Then he said he hadn’t interviewed at all.  Now he’s the new head coach at USC.

Good to see the Trojans have found another honest guy to replace Lane Kiffin.

With Steve Sarkisian agreeing to leave Washington for Southern Cal, Vanderbilt fans can breathe a sigh of relief.  James Franklin won’t be leaving Nashville for Los Angeles.

However…

There’s now an opening at Washington.  And there will be more openings in the coming days.  Franklin — with the fine work he’s done at Vandy — will probably have his name attached to every single one of them.  That doesn’t mean he’s leaving, but it does mean Commodore fans still have to worry about that possibility.

 

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Rumors Continue To Tie Vandy’s Franklin To Southern Cal Gig

james-franklin-trojan-helmetSouthern California AD Pat Haden is reportedly nearing the end of his search for a new football coach.  Interim coach (and former Ole Miss coach) Ed Orgeron is no longer in the running for the Trojans’ full-time gig.  Boise State’s Chris Petersen has pulled his name out of the hat, as usual.

That leaves three candidates that we know of: Washington’s Steve Sarkisian (already interviewed), Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio (already interviewed), and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.

Sarkisian is a former Trojan assistant.  Del Rio is a former USC player.  Franklin is the wild card.

From the coach’s perspective, it would be almost impossible to turn down one of the five best coaching jobs in the country to remain at Vanderbilt.  Yes, the school — like Southern Cal — is private and can toss plenty of cash around.  But Franklin has already worked miracles in Nashville.  He’s led the school to three straight bowl games for the first time ever and he’s won eight games in back-to-back years (with a chance to win nine in back-to-back seasons).  That’s not been done at Vandy since the 1920s.

Plus, Franklin has repeatedly called on fans to turn out for Commodore football games.  They haven’t.  There were thousands of empty seats for both the Kentucky and Wake Forest games as VU made its stretch drive.  Vanderbilt Stadium seats just 40,000, so unfilled seats are sure to chap a coach with Franklin’s aspirations.

Franklin also might be thinking it’s time to jump while the getting’s good.  Vanderbilt has beaten just two FBS squads with winning records over the last two years.  At some point, even at Vandy, fans will want more.  Ask Dan Mullen about feasting on cupcakes for too long.

Vandy AD David Williams needs to pull out all the stops to keep Franklin and you can be sure that he will.  But if USC offers, it’s hard to imagine Franklin not accepting.

However, oother issue at play is the rape trial involving four ex-VU footballers.  Defense attorneys have requested copies of the text messages sent back-and-forth between the players involved and Vandy’s coaches during the attempted cover-up.  Haden will have to discuss that matter with Franklin on the uber-slim chance that Vandy’s head coach in any way aided his players in trying to hide the deed.  That’s extremely doubtful, mind you, but after the Penn State scandal, it wouldn’t be prudent for an AD to hire a coach without asking about such an ugly episode.

USC is expected to name a coach in the next three weeks.

Stay tuned…

 

(UPDATESarkisian has now said he did not interview with Southern Cal.)

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