23-15. 11-13 in conference. 15-4 in the last 19 games which ranks seconds only to Alabama in the SEC. 8-0 in the month of November. These are the type of numbers that get you noticed as a coach. These numbers will get you noticed even more when you put them up at Vanderbilt. This type of performance has led to James Franklin's name being thrown out when it comes to coaching vacancies around the country. He has been considered to be on many schools list of possible soon be coaches but no one has been able to lure him away from West End. Why hasn't anyone been able him to persuade him to leave Vanderbilt?
Vanderbilt isn't a football powerhouse. Vanderbilt doesn't have rich football tradition. Vanderbilt can barely sell out their own stadium (as much as it pains me to say). I have a theory. A theory that involves James Franklin being the type of coach that does not mind doing it the hard way.
Since day one on campus, he has preached and embraced that Vanderbilt isn't your typical SEC school. They don't have years of winning, and three years ago, most people would have viewed them as a basketball school. This type of outlook and view has led him to be very successful in his first three seasons. If Franklin leaves, would anyone outside of Vanderbilt fans blame him? He could easily leave for greener pastures or stay and turn Vanderbilt into something special. I may be wearing black and gold tinted glasses, but there are three clear reasons on why he is committed to Vanderbilt and in it for the long haul.
If you are like most people you view the SEC as the best conference in the country. Why would you ever want to leave the SEC? Franklin has embraced the SEC. He has used it on the recruiting trail to bring in the best recruiting classes in Vanderbilt history. Being at Vanderbilt, he has been able to sell playing time while also being able to play on the biggest stage in college football. Why would a coach ever want to leave that? Having the last seven (soon to be eight) national champions come from your conference is a huge selling tool. As we have seen, just being a part of the SEC gets you attention.
Franklin is the type of guy that can sell a program to anybody. Adding the fact that his school is also a part of the SEC is playing with house money. Best education in the best conference. He has been selling it, and it has been working.
If you do not follow Vanderbilt closely, you may not know that they just opened a brand new $31 million dollar indoor facility. New scoreboard in the stadium along with new lights. Plus many more improvements to come down the road. All of the enhancements have happened because of James Franklin.
Three years ago, before he arrived on campus none of the these enhancements would have ever occurred. There is no way the school would have ever justified spending that kind of money on the football program. If you are Franklin, how do you not view this as your own personal playground? Vanderbilt has shown that they are willing to spend money on the program. The sky is the limit.
Getting the team to start playing like a true SEC team is Franklin's job. Having the facilities of a true SEC school is the administrations job. Franklin has done his part, and now the school is following suit. That is a huge hump to get over at Vanderbilt when your team has been consistently at the bottom for 30+ years. Coaches around the country would kill for that kind of commitment from administration. You keep winning and they will keep building.
The Main Guy
Vanderbilt does not have "the guy." Vanderbilt does not have a face of the program. When you think of Vanderbilt, who do you think of? Robert "Woody" Widenhofer? James Franklin could be that guy. In some fans' minds who have sat through an unthinkable amount of losing seasons, he is already "the guy." When you think Florida State, you think Bobby Bowden. When you think Alabama, you think Bear Bryant. When you think about Tennessee, you think Robert Neyland.
All of these schools have coaches who put their program on the map. James Franklin could be that guy at Vanderbilt. A guy like Franklin seems to be the type that would thrive off chasing that goal. How could you not be excited going to work, knowing every fan views you as the savior? There is no way to prove if Franklin even cares about this type of legacy, but it hard to pass up. Knowing you took a SEC bottom dweller and took them to prominence is something not many coaches have the opportunity to do. This isn't a opportunity that he can get at many other schools. It all comes down to James Franklin wanting to embrace the opportunity.
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Everything that I have listed above are great reasons for Franklin to stay, but there is still a giant elephant in the room. Fan Attendance. As a season ticket holder, this one pains me. I can't fathom why fans will not come out and support this team and Franklin. This coach has taken you on a three year ride that you have never experienced before, and you can't commit to six to seven Saturdays a year? I do not understand.
It gets even more embarrassing when you look at the student section. I understand Vanderbilt is a strong academic school with the smallest undergraduate total in the SEC. The deck is stacked against them, but it has to be hard to stand on the sideline and not notice. A prime of example of this is the last home game against Wake Forest. You take your team to Knoxville and beat your hated rival on the road for the second year in a row. You run out of the tunnel look to the stands and see the student section 75 percent empty. You notice that the stadium as a whole is only 75 percent full. At some point, that frustration is going to start mounting. What else can you do to get fan support?
If Franklin ever decides to leave, I think fan support will be a part of the decision. Fans will be mad, but they will only have themselves to blame.
I will go ahead and admit that this theory is a wild goose chase but here goes nothing. The current state of the SEC East is as weak (calm down Bob Stoops it's not that weak) as it has been in a while. Lets break it down.
Florida: Just came off one of their worst season in years and Will Muschamp is on the hot seat. They will be searching for the right guy to play quarterback while also bring in a new OC.
Kentucky: It's Kentucky. Let's move on.
Tennessee: They have a brand new coach who had a decent first season and they claim to be recruiting well. It is still to be determined if that will translate to the field.
Georgia: Coming off a down season that was caused by injuries. They also have to replace one of the best quarterbacks in SEC history.
South Carolina: I don't really have to many negatives to say about them. They are a solid team who always finds a way to lose two games a year and end up in the Capital One Bowl.
Missouri: Just came off a season where they won the East. They will have to replace their quarterback, and I'm just not sold on them being a powerhouse in the East after just one excellent season.
So if you look at your competition, is it crazy to think Vanderbilt could be contending for the East Title within the next three years? I don't think so. If Franklin can keep recruiting the way he has been and consistently putting a solid product on the field, anything is possible. It is also impossible to account for the luck factor (looking at you Auburn) you have to have to make that trip to Atlanta at the end of the season. This all may be wishful thinking, but someone needs to plant the idea in Franklin's head ASAP.