#2 in the series today, on the eve of tomorrow's massacre: James Franklin, the head coach at Vanderbilt. Franklin is 39 years old, a native of Langhorne, PA and graduate of East Stroudsburg University where he played QB in the early ‘90s. Franklin's career has seen him move somewhat rapidly up the coaching tree from the Division II ranks in the mid-‘90s to FCS James Madison and Idaho State in the late'90s, two stints and Maryland under Rod Vanderlinden and Ralph Friedgen, a little time with the Green Bay Packers, and a spell at OC under Ron Prince at Kansas State. Franklin is in his first year as HC at Vandy, sitting with a 5-5 (2-5) record with games to go @ Tennessee and @ Wake Forest.
Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:
1. Has he coached teams that have won a conference title, made multiple bowl games, and/or consistently been highly ranked?
Nope. This is Franklin's first year as a HC. Honestly though...this is Vanderbilt a program that has been to 4 bowl games in their entire history and only one bowl game in the last two decades (2008). If Franklin can get them to a bowl this year that would be a major accomplishment.
2. Has he built a program from the ground up?
Is building a program might be the right word. Make no mistake, Bobby Johnson (HC at Vandy from 2002-2009) made Vandy the most competitive it has been week-in and week-out since the early 1980's. And he didn't leave the cupboard entirely bare....but it wasn't exactly stocked either. Franklin has managed to not only put Vandy in good position to go to a bowl in his first year but has made them super competitive in their losses. They lost to Georgia and Florida by 5, Arkansas by 3, and have managed to blow out Kentucky and Ole Miss, which is rare for Vandy to ever do to another SEC program. Then there is recruiting...but more on that in a minute.
3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?
Substantially is hard to asses at this point but they are certainly headed in the right direction after back-to-back 2-10 seasons under Johnson and Robbie Caldwell in 2009 and 2010.
4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?
5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?
Yes. Franklin served as TE coach under Mike Price at Washington State during the 1998 season. From 2000-2004, Franklin was the WR coach at Maryland under both Vanderlinden and Friedgen. He was one of only two holdovers from Vanderlinden's staff. In 2005, He served as the Green Bay Packers WR coach under Mike Holmgren, he was the OC/QB coach at Kansas State in 2006 and 2007, and lastly he was the OC and HCIW at Maryland from 2008 to 2010.
There is a lot of there-there, if you will. He has jumped around a lot and served under a bunch of different head coaches. What sticks out to me are two things: 1. He served under head coaches that had pretty good success in recruiting...and that includes Prince even though his tenure was largely a debacle; 2. He served under head coaches that were good offensive minds: Holmgren, Friedgen, Price, and even Prince were all successful offensive coordinators and all but Prince won at least one championship of some kind. Pretty good coaching pedigree there.
6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?
No. Vandy is a perennial bottom-feeder...but they are in 4th place above both Kentucky and Tennessee so there is that.
7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?
Somewhat. Vandy is 22nd in total defense in FBS so far this year, only giving up 327.60 yards per game. This is good enough for sixth best in the SEC. And they are only giving up 21.6 points per game, good enough for 31st in the nation....which is 8th best in the SEC. So as compared to the league they are in, which is defensively-focused, the Commodores have been average to below average. Normally though, Vandy is abjectly horrible, so this is a definite improvement. The Dores have also been getting tons of turnovers, tied for 10th in FBS with 24 so far this year, 15 of those are INTs so they are one of the few teams with more INTs than David Amerson. The Dores have been somewhat fair in both getting pressure on the QB and in third down D...but still in the Top 50 nationally which is pretty good.
The D is giving up 3.35 yards per carry on the ground which is solid and 122.9 yards per game on the ground. This is good enough for fourth best in the SEC, behind only Bama, LSU, and Georgia. Pass D is somewhat less impressive, but still good only giving up around 200 yards per game through the air. The numbers seem to indicate a somewhat bend-but-don't-break style but they have been vindicated so far with lots of INTs and they are still getting decent pressure on the QB with 22 sacks on the year.
Vandy's defensive coordinator is a FBS newbie, Bob Shoop. Shoop..where have we heard that name before....? That is right, Bob is John Shoop, the somewhat hapless OC at UNC's brother. He has been a lot more successful than his brother not only at the FBS level so far but in his prior stints at William & Mary and UMass. Also, Shoop was the secondary coach at BC under our current HC from 1999-2002. BC had some pretty good defenses during that stretch of the O'Brien era in Boston.
8. Any indication that he can recruit ACC-level (or above) talent?
Yes. This might be one of Franklin's biggest strengths. Not only did he pull in good talent at both Maryland and Kansas State, but Vandy currently has the 31st ranked class nationally. Right now this is good enough for 8th in the SEC ahead of UGA, Mississippi State and Ole Miss and would be the highest rank of any Vandy class as far back as Scout's database goes. This would also be the first class that did not finish dead last in the SEC since 2002 (when their class was ranked 11th of 12). While recruiting rankings are certainly not end-all, be-all, they do provide a general sense of where a team's recruiting stands and it looks like Franklin has stepped it up so far.
9. Does his offense run more than five plays?
Definitely. This year might not be the best judge of that but Vandy is making the best of what they have to work with. As noted before, Franklin has worked for some of the best offensive minds in the nation and it shows. We all have personal experience with what his offense did to our D while he was at Maryland (losses in two of three meetings and gave up 27, 31, and 38 points). Vandy's offense in total yards does not look that impressive, with only 335/game which is 99th in FBS (one above us, no less). The Dores have also been turnover prone, 92nd in FBS with 21 turnovers so far this year. However, Franklin's focus has been on his team's strength: their rushing attack. Vandy's QB is mobile so it makes sense that the Dores have rushed the ball almost 100 times more than they have thrown it. They are averaging 4.39 yards per carry, but in the SEC that is decent. With 11 TD to 13 INT for their passing attack, it is pretty clear that this is the best strategy and it seems to be working decently well.
Based on their punting numbers, it appears this strategy plus playing field position (which is a must in SEC-style football) has been Franklin's game plan.
This offensive philosophy is flexible based on personnel and takes advantage of where there are mismatches. We know all about this as well, just look at Franklin's strategy last year against the Pack. Take Torrey Smith, a WR much larger, stronger, and faster than the Pack's secondary, and keep calling plays for him until the D can take it away. We couldn't, we lost. I like that idea and it seems to be working well for Franklin so far in his career.
John Donovan is Vandy's offensive coordinator. Donovan was recruiting coordinator, then the QB coach and then the RB coach at Maryland from 2001-2010. Prior to that, Donovan was a graduate assistant under Friedgen at Georgia Tech.
10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?
As noted, Franklin's offenses regularly gave us headaches while he was at Maryland so his connection is pretty clear.
11. Any other random red flags or positives?
Positives: his relationship with Debbie Yow. As we all know, Yow was the driving force behind naming Franklin head coach in waiting, one would have to assume (and hopefully this isn't wrong) that there are still mutual good feelings between Yow and Franklin.
Would he be better than TOB?
Hard to say. His recruiting clearly looks better and his offense looks more creative than what we have seen from Dana Bible, but the jury is still out on what his results might look like here. Granted, he has achieved the same record that we have this year in year one at a much tougher school to win at with (I guess) a less talented roster. Granted, they have mostly beat up on weaker competition, but they have held their own against the upper-echelon of the SEC and have a shot with one more win to be bowl eligible.
Would he be better than Chuck?
Pretty much the same thinking here as with TOB. Hard to say at this point.
Would he take the job if offered?
This is somewhat a mystery. A lot of things at play here. First, it is his first season and Franklin has a very promising class coming in plus he will have momentum if the Dores can manage a win in their last two games and get to a bowl game. Second, he is a head coach in the premier college football conference and that is a recruiting advantage not to be sniffed at.
However, he is at Vanderbilt. They are a small private school in a league of large, public schools with recruiting advantages that dwarf what Vandy has to offer. And life is only going to get harder when Texas A&M and Missouri are added to the league. Can he do at Vandy what Jim Grobe managed to do at Wake, for instance? It will be much harder to achieve there. Maybe he wants that challenge, who knows.
Sure, he could certainly set his sights higher than NC State, but what if the Dores regress the next two seasons and have sub-.500 years while he waits for results to catch up with recruiting? Will Tennessee and Florida get their act back together and make it that much more difficult for Vandy to get ahead? And Ole Miss (who VU plays every year) for that matter? What impact will having to play Missouri every year do for the Dores too?
While we don't know how much Franklin makes, I would guess in the $1 million range, since he made about $600,000 at UMD as the OC. We can certainly go up from there, and Vandy could probably match us, but this decision wouldn't be about money but where he thinks he has more of a future.
How would I feel if he were hired?
Happy. He is a good recruiter and a good offensive mind. I think it would be about as good a hire as we can expect. Franklin is young and dynamic with a good staff and a lot of good connections in the college football world.
How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?
I think the fan base would be enthusiastic. Everyone remembers what Maryland pretty routinely did to us during the Friedgen era, and given his youth and enthusiasm, I think it would be a breath of fresh air for the fan base.