For the benefit of those who are new to the site, this is Free Form Friday, a feel good romp through the open fields of the mind, the newspapers, and the blogosphere, in which we engage in this space until such time as actual college football returns again to the docket. Feel free (see what I did there?) to discuss the topic found in this post, or any other subject that your hearts desire. Maestro, the theme music:
Speaking of folks who may soon never have to work again, James Franklin finds himself at the center of an interesting bidding war between Penn State and Vanderbilt. I think it says something about the current state of college football that such a situation is even taking place. Seriously, think about it. Ten years ago it would have been hard to imagine perennial doormat Vandy having any chance of holding onto a coach who perennial powerhouse Penn State wanted. It would have also been hard to imagine the hard times through which Penn State recently trekked. But I digress.
I'm not saying Franklin won't end up in State College. But it doesn't sound like a foregone conclusion just yet. And it doesn't sound like the Commodores are giving up without a fight.
Good for them. Vanderbilt took a chance on Franklin when many, me included, didn't really think it was a great hire. He's delivered by taking Vandy to back-to-back 9 win seasons when they'd hadn't notched a single such effort in almost 90 years.
Of course, that number is a little skewed by modern scheduling. 4 of Vandy's 9 wins were against perhaps the weakest non-conference slate in SEC history. Austin Peay, UMass, UAB, and Wake Forest were a combined 6-42 on the season. 4 of the 6 victories belonged to the Demon Deacons, whom the Commodores skated by 23-21. But the Nashville New Culture Club also tallied a close win over an injury-depleted Georgia squad (with a little help from their friends), a convincing victory over the Florida Gators, and the first repeat victory over the Tennessee Volunteers since 1926.
That's real progress. As tempting as it is to simply point to the down year all of those programs had in 2013, the truth is Vanderbilt converted on the opportunities placed in front of them. They won the close ones against opponents they might have shrunk before in the past.
Make no mistake, I still believe James Franklin is an above average college football coach, not the best thing since Pop Warner. Had he played the likes of Clemson, Oregon, or Florida State out-of-conference as the Bulldogs, Vols, and Gators did his Commodores would have lost those games. But Franklin has done what Vanderbilt hired him to do, and Vanderbilt recognizes that. They're set to match offers with Penn State, which is something no other football coach in Vanderbilt history could have counted on. Vanderbilt, at least the old Vanderbilt, simply didn't do such things. If nothing else you have to give Franklin credit for stirring the administration in Nashville to get into the fray they so assiduously avoided for all these years.
I've seen a couple of commentators mention that SEC fans should be pulling for James Franklin to take the Penn State job before he makes Vanderbilt an even bigger threat. I'm not buying that. With the loss of 5 starters on offense (including top receivers Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause) and 8 on defense, the 'Dores are set for a bit of a step back (though they're not likely to lose to UMass in 2014 either). James Franklin has not established Vandy as anything approaching an SEC contender yet. But he has established that he can build excitement, get people to buy in to what he's selling, and make helicopter entrances. That's gotta be worth $3 million a year, right? Until later . . .