As James Franklin settles in as the new head coach at Penn State and Vanderbilt’s recruiting class continues to evaporate into thin air, I asked members of Commodore Nation to share their reflections, retrospectives, and/or rants about Franklin’s exit along with the past, present, and future of Vanderbilt football. First, I share my thoughts and then let other members of Commodore Nation speak for themselves. Enjoy!
Joseph Williams: We had inexplicably lost a coach right before the season started. We’d only won two games the previous season. With a funny yet in-over-his-head coach that next season, we only won two games again. We were teased by Gus Malzahn.
Then, James Franklin arrived on the scene. With a chip on his shoulder, encouraging Commodore Nation to have a chip on its shoulder too, he charmed, hyped, encouraged, sloganeered, worked his butt off, and pushed everyone else at Vandy to work their butt off. And it paid off.
Under the leadership of James Franklin for three seasons, Vanderbilt football went to new heights. Most people know the numbers. Three straight bowl appearances. Two straight 9-win seasons and bowl victories. Top 25 recruiting classes. First time to ever beat Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia in the same season.
And when James Franklin left Vanderbilt in the past few days to become the next head football coach at Penn State, the history made in the past three seasons didn’t disappear.
We still have those wins. We still have the new traditions. We still have the memories. We still have the new facilities that have been built, and a legacy to continue that encourages the Powers That Be to continue to spend more money than they have ever spent before to find our next great coach that will take our football team to even greater heights.
We do still believe Vanderbilt football can be better and expect it to be continue the turnaround.
As SI’s Lee Jenkins tweeted on Saturday…
Tough day for Vanderbilt, but in history of college football turnarounds, it’s often the guy after the guy
— Lee Jenkins (@SI_LeeJenkins) January 11, 2014
So we debate whether we should hire Clemson’s Chad Morris or Stanford’s Derek Mason… or someone else altogether. But we also think back over these past three years, and the history made along with James Franklin’s role in it must be re-examined.
Nothing can be or should be taken away from what James Franklin accomplished in the last three years. I don’t know if any other coaches could have done this at Vanderbilt. So for that, I’m thankful. And we always knew the name of the game, that Franklin would leave for a historically top-tier program.
But part of the history of the past three years has been revised and put in perspective over the past few days. The open letter from a Vanderbilt sophomore tried to make the case to James Franklin to take the road less traveled, to take a risk on Vanderbilt as more than a stepping stone.
But ultimately, we were only a stepping stone and an opportunity to figure out which slogans and sound bytes were most effective. A fellow Commodore student leader from time at Vanderbilt posted during the will-he-or-won’t-he, “I have so much respect for what Franklin has done at Vandy, regardless of whether he stays or goes. But his coaching philosophy was so predicated on family. “It always starts with I love you, it always ends with I love you.” He told his kids they were like his sons. Well….. I don’t think you leave family just because the grass looks greener elsewhere. He also preached to his recruits about the importance of building a legacy, not inheriting. They bought in, because they thought he believed what he was telling them. So leaving before most of his recruits have the opportunity to make significant contributions is a bit strange. From that standpoint, I can’t help but lose some respect for him if he leaves.” Of course, now we know that many of those recruits may be following him to Penn State. And some reports have him giving the same spiel about Penn State (top-notch academics and athletics) that he gave about Vanderbilt.
Sure, maybe it was a win-win and lose-lose for Franklin. The approach he took to find so much success made it fairly bittersweet whenever he left. David Climer summed it up well in a front-page column for The Tennessean on Sunday: “James Franklin was all in. Until he was all out. […] He talked the talk until he walked. At the outset of preseason practice last August, Franklin spoke about sinking roots deep into the community, saying he “would love to have the fairytale that your kids going to the same school for 18 years.” The fairytale ended on Saturday. In retrospect, the fairytale has been unraveling for quite some time as Franklin assessed the coaching landscape here and elsewhere. It really was just a matter of time before he jumped. “This is my dream job,” Franklin said at a press conference on Saturday on the Penn State campus. “This is where I want to be.” Sound familiar? It should. During his introductory press conference at Vanderbilt on Dec. 17, 2010, Franklin said: “This is not a stepping stone for us. This is a destination.””
Our Top 25 2014 recruiting class is dropping fast and expected to continue dropping. The coaching search is on. And when I, a glutton for punishment, turned on the Penn State press conference Saturday afternoon announcing James Franklin as their new head coach, I found my closure.
James Franklin was as charming as ever. But the spark was gone. Maybe it was him, realizing that he was just saying some of the same things he’s said here over the past three years. Maybe it was me, realizing the same thing.
But I think I finally looked at James Franklin for what he is instead of some mythological, superhero figure sent to Earth to turn Vanderbilt football into a Disney underdog movie where we win the SEC Championship. I think I was finally facing reality. He wasn’t my coach, our coach anymore. He was selling his new school and program like he sold ours.
I’m thankful that James Franklin transitioned our football program to a higher level. But I’m also thankful he’s gone sooner rather than later. A business, organization, or team can’t be dependent upon a singular leader or personality. Vanderbilt needs to move on and continue building.
Better coaches are interested in us because of James Franklin. And Vanderbilt football will be going to a higher level ultimately because James Franklin left us sooner rather than later.
So thanks for the memories, Coach, even if those memories are a bit more grounded in reality now. But reality is what we need to face, because the next football season will be here before we know it, and as defensive lineman Kyle Woestmann said on Saturday, “The heartache will last a day, and then it’s time to go win an SEC championship.”
The time for heartache is over. We’ve got a title to win.
Jay Salato: A much needed blast from the past for us. James Franklin did at Vanderbilt what I truly believed (in my 20+ previous years of fandom) was impossible. Now I believe, as Kevin Garnett believes, that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE. He raised the expectations. Though this was a hard week for Vanderbilt fans, I have a difficult time being anything but appreciative for Franklin’s three years in Nashville. Could he have handled his last three days (or even three weeks, if you believe that he started pursuing the Penn State job in December) better? Of course. But I choose not to focus on those things. It is not healing. It is not helpful.
As for the future, it is bright. Our players have united. Our fans have united. I am confident that we will be very successful in the future, if not the near future. I trust David Williams, as do most Vanderbilt fans. With good reason. Let’s let time heal our wounds and the Goldfather (VCDW) go to work! Anchor down, my friends, anchor down.
Stephanie Mills: All I can say is that that chip on our shoulder that Coach [Franklin] encouraged us to keep just got a WHOLE lot bigger.
Matt Grimes: I can’t fault James Franklin; I can only thank him for what he managed to provide. However, I can say that I’m disappointed, as his exit only reinforces the idea that Vandy is to be used as a stepping stone gig and not as a destination job. If Franklin had managed to give us five years, I wouldn’t be quite as down about how the situation played out. Whoever becomes the next hire best bring the same intensity, though – if one of Franklin’s main complaints, even with his fire and personality, was that not enough fans came out for gameday, the new coach has his work cut out for him. The culture is changing, but a blip on the radar is all that it is for the current moment. Sustainability is key. Do work, David Williams, and go Dores.
Ross Bolen: The most important hire in the history of Vandy football obviously. There are interesting potential parallels to draw in the trajectory of Louisville’s program from the first Petrino era (2003-2006). the Kragthorpe hiccup and two season stumble, to Charlie Strong taking the program up another notch.
Marc Hetherington: The most important thing that James Franklin did was provide Vanderbilt with evidence that the right coach can win there. I don’t think anyone truly believed that before he actually did it. He sets a ridiculously high bar for his successor, but he proved that it can be done.
Kyle Southern: He taught us how to win, and he changed our culture so that we expect to. I wish him well and look forward to how we build on this foundation.
John Nesbitt: I’m not mad, I’m thankful. Thankful that David Williams found him (when the doubters were VERY LOUD three years ago that he wouldn’t be good). Thankful that he did so much in three years. Thankful that he left us better than we were before. Three years ago we were bad, like dog poop bad.
Now, we are in a great place to go grab a great coach, like Derek Mason or Chad Morris. We are a Top 20 school in the best conference. We are one of the best cities in the USA, our team primarily consists of two Top 25 classes who just had the enormous chip on their shoulder “grow three sizes that day.”
We have top notch facilities now. We have a growing, dedicated fan base that has never cared until now. We have exposure now. We are relevant now. So thank you James, I have no hard feelings here. Steal recruits, leave us behind, this is all just part of the game. Best of luck to you, although I wish you hadn’t chosen Penn State, I could have cheered for you at USC or Texas or the Redskins (when are they changing their name…. Geeez Washington, this is 2014.)
I believe in the penguin DW. I believe in these players. I believe in Vanderbilt and always will #AnchorDOWN.
Austin Rissler: James Franklin was fantastic for the Vanderbilt University football program. I don’t think that is really much of a debate. Even with the damage he did to this year’s recruiting class by drawing out the PSU transition, we are undoubtedly in very good (not great) position to lure a strong coaching staff which can continue to build Vanderbilt football into a consistent top-20 program. For all the reasons people above have mentioned (current roster, facilities, growing fan base, etc.) our future should be bright. I emphasize should.
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict with any degree of certainty what our program will look like in 3 years. For anyone who disagrees with that statement I’d like to remind them of the Louisville football program back in 04′-09′. After an 11-2 record in 2004 they went 12-1 in 2006 on the shoulders of Junior QB Brian Brohm, winning the Orange Bowl and finishing #6 in both the AP Poll and final BCS standings. This represented the second and third highest win totals in school history (sound familiar?). Returning Brohm and the majority of the Orange Bowl team it only made sense for the Cards to start 2007 at #10 in most polls–afterall, the only thing that had changed was their head coach. From 2007-2009 the Cards would post records of 6-6, 5-7, and 4-8, respectively.
While Vanderbilt football has grown tremendously and set many school records over the past three years, Vanderbilt did not end 2013 at #6 or win the Orange Bowl. Louisville had more funding, more history, better facilities and a better returning nucleus of players in 2007 than Vandy will have in 2014. Louisville also had Tom Jurich, one of the absolute best in the business, running its search. Stuff happens.
I am most definitely not saying that Vanderbilt is doomed and will go 15-21 over the next three years. Simply that stuff happens. The single worst thing about a coaching change in college football is the uncertainty such change brings. No one knows where Vanderbilt football will be in 3 years. I will hope for the best–but not feign certainty that we have a bright future.
Robert Funke: Well that was a giant bummer. Eh, I mean. Forget James Franklin. He was always kind of crazy and said things that didn’t make sense, but I just always took him at his word that he thought they made sense in his head. Turns out, he was bullshitting, and it’s our bad as fans for buying it.
But what do I expect? Head coaches to exhibit existential angst appropriate for men making millions off the backs (and knees and skulls) of mostly underprivileged kids? With millions of dollars on the line? I don’t know if there’s a place in college football for a man of unwavering integrity. James Franklin sure isn’t one. Anyway. I think he’ll do really well at Penn State.