Don’t rule out Franklin, not now
James Franklin is the anti-Derek Dooley.
The second-year Vanderbilt coach is fiery. He’s emotional. He’s controversial. But most importantly, and the most-distanced from Dooley, Franklin is relevant.
Franklin’s on the way up. Dooley, well, you already know.
Some people love James Franklin. Some people hate James Franklin.
But either way you’re talking about Franklin’s team, Vanderbilt. When was the last time any sportswriter worth a paycheck could write that and get away with it?
But Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, before Franklin and his ’Dores blew the doors off the Dooley era with an explosive second half, Franklin was doing his best Dooley impression.
His team was conservative in its play calls. His team was sloppy in its execution. His team was penalized for all those non-judgement calls that a well-coached team isn’t.
Then halftime came around. And Dooley proved that he’s the only one that can play the true role of Derek Dooley in the second half of a winnable football game.
Franklin’s team was explosive. Dooley’s team was exploding. Franklin’s team was turning it on, Dooley’s team was turning it in. But none of that caught Tennessee fans off guard.
Dooley was 0-12 coming into the game when trailing at the half. Now it’s 0-13. Really it’s 0-and-doesn’t-matter.
But while Dooley’s exit interview was being played out on Dudley Field, Franklin was auditioning on the other sideline. His resume doesn’t really need the help, though.
While Dooley is under .500 in almost three full seasons — two of which didn’t, or won’t, end with bowl games — at Tennessee, Franklin, 13-11 in 24 games, has Vandy bowling for a second straight year.
His six wins last year were the most for a rookie Vanderbilt coach in 36 years. His team became bowl eligible on Nov. 26 of last season.
They were bowl eligible on Nov. 10 this season — after a fourth quarter come-from-behind win at Ole Miss. Vandy could have a nine-win season with a win next week at Wake Forest and a win in a bowl game. Last time that happened in Nashville?
But everything hasn’t stayed the same between this season and last for Vandy and Franklin.
Remember last year, when Franklin was the brash, rarely quiet and rarely conservative Vanderbilt coach that was a lightning rod for off-field conversation? Where’s he been this week? Or this season?
He wasn’t shy about speaking his mind about the Vols last year. It wasn’t usually a very respective opinion, either. This year? More quiet, more reserved, less “little brother.”
This year he didn’t have that chip on his shoulder. Instead he had the regular coach speak you’re accustomed to hearing at press conferences. Speaking with respect about the Tennessee program.
Maybe Franklin has changed as a coach off the field. Or maybe he’s just changed his tone. But the product on the field is the same — wins, and relevance, at Vanderbilt.
But maybe Franklin knows his resume is being more closely evaluated. Four Southeastern Conference jobs will be open during the offseason.
Tennessee is one of those. But is Tennessee evaluating the resume of a guy like Franklin? Sure, Tennessee fans would hate it. But it’s hard to rule out Vandy’s anti-Dooley.
And reading between the lines of Franklin’s quotes this week, it sounds like he may be looking for an interview.
Vanderbilt’s win was historic enough to bring back General Robert R. Neyland stats Saturday night. He was hired in 1926. Saturday’s loss to Vandy was the worst in the series since 1954, when Harvey Robinson’s Vols lost 26-0 to end Robinson’s UT coaching career at two seasons and four SEC wins over that time. Robinson was the first coach to try and fill Neyland’s shoes after his third and final stint as head Vol.
When you’re citing those scores, from those years, Tennessee can’t afford to turn its nose up at any candidate.
Even if it’s Franklin.
Grant Ramey is a sportswriter at The Daily Times. He can be reached at 865-981-1145 or (firstname.lastname@example.org) He wrote from Nashville.