Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin’s name has been floating around colleges across the country thanks to the impressive amount of success he has at the helm of the Commodores’ program, and it looks like the former Maryland head coach-in-waiting has cashed in his chips and moved on to a bigger job. Sources across college football have indicated that Franklin has accepted Penn State’s offer to replace Bill O’Brien as head coach, ending Franklin’s tenure at Vanderbilt after three years.
Franklin’s run at Vanderbilt was outstanding, as he took over a team that went 2-10 in 2010 and promptly reeled off three straight seasons of six wins or less with three consecutive bowl appearances, quite an accomplishment for a team that had a total of three bowl appearances from 1974 to 2008.
Coach Franklin’s most impressive season may have very well been 2013, a year in which the Commodores beat the Georgia Bulldogs in Nashville for the first time since 1991 and handed the Florida Gators its first loss to Vandy since 1988 and only its second loss to the ‘Dores in The Swamp since 1945, the first year these two teams met. Franklin also delivered Vanderbilt its second straight victory over rival Tennessee, marking the first time since 1925 and 1926 that the Commodores had defeated the Volunteers in back-to-back matchups.
James Franklin’s hire seemed surprising when it was executed following the 2010 season, but it did not take long for Franklin to prove that Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams made a home-run addition to Commodores football. Now that Franklin has decided to take his talents to the Big Ten and finish what O’Brien started in Happy Valley, Williams will be tasked with trying to duplicate this success once again. Here are five coaches I believe Williams should target to replace Franklin:
Chad Morris, Clemson OC – Easily the hottest offensive coordinator in college football, Morris becoming a FBS head coach is a matter of when, not if. Morris just completed his third season at Clemson, in which the Tigers posted eleven wins for the second straight season and finished the season ranked eighth in the nation with 40.2 points per contest. Vanderbilt pursued then-Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn very aggressively and seemed very close to signing him before the deal fell through, and it would not surprise me in the least if Williams and the athletic department use the same strategy and go after Morris.
Kirby Smart, Alabama DC – Much like Morris, Smart is respected across the country as a soon-to-be head coach, even if the Crimson Tide just finished with back-to-back losses for the first time since the end of the 2008 season. Although Alabama ultimately missed out on the coveted three-peat, Smart’s Crimson Tide defense played extremely well yet again, finishing the year allowing just 286 yards per game (8th in the nation) along with just 14 points per game (4th in FBS) in a season that saw Alabama pitch three shutouts. It will more than likely take an SEC gig for Smart to leave Tuscaloosa, where he is certainly in line to replace Nick Saban once he takes the Texas job retires; it will be exciting to see if Vanderbilt contacts Smart and if he feels like the Commodores job is one he desires.
Mark Hudspeth, UL-Lafayette HC – Flying under the radar this offseason is Hudspeth, who has quietly led the Ragin’ Cajuns to three consecutive 9-4 seasons with three straight New Orleans Bowl victories. Hudspeth, who also holds a 66-21 record in seven seasons at North Alabama, led the Ragin’ Cajuns to their first Sun Belt conference title since 2005 and has experience coaching in the SEC (served as Mississippi State WR coach in 2009 and 2010), meaning his hire at Vanderbilt is not out of the realm of possibility.
Bob Shoop, Vanderbilt DC – James Franklin clearly figured out what it took to keep Vanderbilt competitive in the cutthroat Southeastern Conference, so why not promote within the coaching staff to promote stability? Enter Shoop, who has served as the Commodores’ defensive coordinator since Franklin’s hire prior to the 2011 season. Vanderbilt’s defense was impressively formidable last season, and when it was all said and done the 9-4 Commodores were 23rd in passing yards allowed with 207.3 and tied for 14th in the nation with 29 forced turnovers. Shoop’s previous head coaching stint at Columbia was a bit underwhelming (7-23 record in three seasons), but that should not eliminate his candidacy to replace his former boss.
Mack Brown, former Texas HC – This is the longshot of all longshots, but just hear me out. A native of Cookeville, Tennessee, Brown is no stranger to Vanderbilt, having played for the Commodores in 1969 and 1970 before transferring to Florida State and having watched older brother Watson patrol the Vandy sidelines as head coach from 1986 to 1990. Brown has an administrative role lined up at Texas, but who’s to say he would not consider coaching somewhere else; after all, there are nine current FBS head coaches who are older than Brown, including Alabama’s Nick Saban. Brown may decide after his sixteen seasons in Austin that he is finished coaching, but Vanderbilt would benefit tremendously if he decided otherwise.