January 9, 2014

VU's future is here, whether Franklin is or not

As of Thursday morning, the rumors continue to fly about whether or not Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin will accept or decline the opportunity to be the 16th head coach at Penn State.

As fans, administrators, students and recruits of both schools twist in the wind, it gives Nashvillians the opportunity to pause and consider what is-and is not-the lasting legacy of Franklin.

And really, his legacy at this point has less to do with whether he stays or goes. And has more to do with how Vanderbilt approaches big time athletics on its campus going forward.

By any estimation, and I mean ANY, in the last three years Vanderbilt has made steps into the future that most believed would never happen. It hired a virtual unknown, with no head coaching experience. It hired an African American. It paid him seven figures. Then more. Then by all reports much more.

Much, much more. Rumor is, Vanderbilt did in fact match Penn State's offer that is north of $4 million a year.

Let that sink in for a minute. Now, not only would Franklin be the best paid employee in the history of Vanderbilt, he would rank among the best paid coaches in any sport in the entire NCAA.

On top of that, VU appears to have finally put its facilities money where its mouth is. Franklin's new deal, by several inside reports, does in fact include a commitment to make substantial changes to Vanderbilt Stadium.

In short, Franklin has gotten virtually everything he has ever asked for. And, according to VU athletics director David Williams (on a series of radio interviews yesterday), he got things he had not heretofor asked for.

Franklin said jump. Vanderbilt said how high?

And yet, here we sit. Waiting to see what Franklin will decide.

It begs the question that everyone is asking, and will most certainly ask if he leaves: What else could Vanderbilt have done?

The answer appears painfully obvious: Nothing.

If Franklin leaves, fans and student athletes will be sad, hurt, confused, and yes in many cases downright furious that at the end of it all, Franklin's Anchor had a very short rope. If Franklin departs for Happy Valley, he cannot claim that everyone else was less committed than he was. By this weekend, the thousands of fans he attracted to the program will still be there. He will not.

Measure that any way you like, but that is somewhere far short of what he directly and implicitly sold as his commitment to "the greatest turnaround in football history."

Three years is not even enough time to see a single recruiting class graduate. Roughly half of the recruits Franklin brought to Vandy (including the next as yet unsigned recruiting class) have not played a single meaningful snap of football under his leadership.

If he stays now, he is All In.

But if he goes now, he was going all along.

But whether Franklin stays or goes, no one can deny the sea change that his leadership brought to Vanderbilt. Never again will Vanderbilt lose a coach because of money. And it appears they will not likely lose a coach or a recruit due to facilities.

Even bigger, though, is what Franklin's success will mean for future football coaching searches. When Franklin got the Vandy job three years ago, VU had to comb through a lot of names that were retreads, has beens and wanna be's. They had to trump up the announcement with press conference with balloons and streamers, as if they were holding a birthday party for their four year old.

Now, Vanderbilt is in the Big Time of college football. It's no longer whether you can win at VU. It is now only, ONLY, a matter of who has the goods to do it.

We've already heard that people have been banging on the door of Williams' office. And from what we've been told, there are some serious names on that list. And by serious, we mean something far north of Head Coach in Waiting at a second-tier ACC school.

But even more than that, the next head coach will walk onto campus with expectations higher than anyone could have ever imagined possible. That man and his staff will be expected to rack up 4- and even 5-star recruits with regularity. He will be expected to win eight and nine football games in the toughest conference in America-maybe more. He will be expected to go to, and win, bowl games.

And even more than that, he will be expected to ignite the fire of Commodore fans as only Franklin had been able to do.

It's a totally different time over on West End from here forward. The next coach will be held to a phenomenally high standard. But, he will also know that standard can be met. Because, for the first time in school history, that standard HAS been mete.

The clock ticks on Franklin, but not on Vanderbilt football. They see the future, and it is now here.

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