Why James Franklin Will Stay At VU This Year
THE CHALLENGE OF A COMPETITOR:
WHY STAYING AT VANDERBILT MAKES SENSE FOR JAMES FRANKLIN.
As rumors swirl around Nashville – and State College, Pa. – regarding James Franklin's place of employment in 2014, it's worth emphasizing one very specific point about Vanderbilt's current head football coach: He made VU football work because he challenged recruits to aspire to greatness. More particularly, he challenged recruits to aspire to greatness not in SPITE of the history of Vanderbilt's program, but BECAUSE of it.
Do we realize how significant this detail is?
The tone, tenor and content of Franklin's pitch to recruits always did hit the sweet spot, and with good reason. When coaches come to historically downtrodden programs (think of Chris Collins with Northwestern basketball right now – he's finally opening up a Chicago pipeline of talent that the Wildcats have not been able to crack for decades), their attitude should be rooted in a desire to make history, to carve out a little bit of immortality.
"Win at a high level at a place where it's been hard to do so!"
"Flourish at a program where decades of predecessors have been unable to flourish!"
"Succeed where few men have succeeded before!"
This was and is the genius of Franklin's approach on the recruiting trail and in the overall remaking of Vanderbilt football. It always was the right way to attack this job, and that's why Franklin has been able to be so productive at VU. He has understood the psychology of aspiration and competition better than his predecessors, all while infusing his players with an infectious energy that has not burned out the way it did under Bobby Johnson after one small taste of postseason glory. (That one taste, however, did at least pry open the doors at Vanderbilt to greater expectations and, ultimately, the emergence of Franklin on the scene.)
Now, though, Franklin has accumulated a number of bowl-producing seasons. Nine wins in a season are now more regular than not. The same is true for bowl wins. At Vanderbilt, this constitutes wild, over-the-top success. It is easy to think that the fullness of the challenge of coaching at Vanderbilt has been met by James Franklin.
Yet, Franklin dreamed big when he took this job. Does he REALLY want to leave now?
Next season, Missouri will face the pressure of having to defend its SEC East title. Georgia loses Aaron Murray. South Carolina loses Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, and Bruce Ellington, among others. Florida will probably still be a mess on offense under Will Muschamp. Tennessee will still be sorting itself out, regardless of what it might do in 2015 under Butch Jones.
We do realize that in the 2014 season, the SEC East is likely to be marked by chaos more than stability. It is Vanderbilt's – and Franklin's – chance to make a run at the flag, a run at Atlanta on the first Saturday of December.
Let's inject a dose of realism into this discussion: Will Franklin be Vanderbilt's coach in, say, 2019? Probably not – that's not a guarantee, but it's probable. Lifer coaches are very rare species these days. There's no doubt that Franklin is an ascendant figure in the coaching business. The day when he leaves will likely occur within this decade. That should be acknowledged, and it would be imprudent to try to deny the odds attached to such a proposition.
However, if we're going to be honest about James Franklin's future, sticking around for the 2014 season really does make sense for him and not just VU.
Franklin might not succeed in getting Vanderbilt to the 10-win plateau in 2014. He might not win the East and go to Atlanta. He might not bring the Commodores to the top third of the 14-team SEC… but it's very much in his nature to try. It's very much in his competitive bones and marrow to dive into the chaotic 2014 SEC season and see if he can achieve a little bit of history, thereby enabling Vanderbilt fans to look south at Oxford and say, "Hey, Ole Miss, we got to Atlanta before you did!"
Franklin's competitive fires burn so deeply that a departure at this point in time would feel oddly but genuinely premature. Vanderbilt football right now is a marvelous symphony, but an unfinished one, and if Franklin leaves now, he might regret that he didn't try to set the bar even higher at VU. There's too much waiting to be gained in the 2014 season for Franklin to abandon the Commodore project right now. Winning on an even bigger level this coming season and staying a few years to see if that level can be sustained are realistic goals for Franklin. To be clearer on the matter, those are realistic goals for Franklin in the sense that they fit with his competitive instincts and the very sales pitch he has made to recruits all along.
There has always been a "Why not us? Why not now?" quality to James Franklin's motivational style at Vanderbilt. That's precisely why staying is not only in his best short-term interests; it's why he'll probably listen to the inner voice that reminds him why he came to this program in the first place.
It's why James Franklin will stick around for 2014 when all is said and done.
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