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In Vanderbilt Coaching Search, Expect the Unexpected

Chad Morris and a few other front-runners might get all the ink right now, but David Williams has shown that he sometimes thinks outside the box

Tyler Smith

If you've heard about Penn State hiring James Franklin, you've no doubt heard some of the names floating around to replace him at Vanderbilt. And at least one of them seems to echo the leading candidate from when Franklin took the job more than three years ago.

It might be a bit extreme to say that Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is the front-runner for the job, in part because it's not at all clear that Vanderbilt has a favorite right now. Morris is also thought to be in the mix for Texas' OC job, and he has a pretty good gig right now. But if Vanderbilt can make the money work and the position attractive enough, the thinking goes, Morris has a great shot.

That was also what a lot of people thought in late 2010, as well. In that case, Vanderbilt's top choice was another offensive coordinator from a BCS team: Auburn's Gus Malzahn. There were even reports that Malzahn had accepted the job, though those reports were shot down as soon as the next day. Attention then pivoted to James Franklin, who was then head-coach-in-waiting at Maryland.

Franklin seemed to be an odd target for Vanderbilt at first. He was, after all, slated to become the head coach of Maryland, which had seen more recent success than Vanderbilt, even if that success was somewhat sporadic. Franklin had no ties to Vanderbilt or the SEC, and probably wouldn't have been on the list of anyone other than Vanderbilt Athletics Director David Williams on the day after Robbie Caldwell resigned in 2010.

And while it's harder than ever to have a true surprise candidate for a head-coaching position -- Athlon has posted a list of no fewer than 16 men who could be next in Nashville -- it's worth remembering over the next few days that Williams might not go with the name that everyone is thinking of, at least if he has to move beyond his first choice. It would be hard to argue with the results of that approach the last time the job was open.