Over the past week we've had to wonder if Vanderbilt's Board of Directors were acting like children in the midst of a muddled head coach search for their beleaguered football team. It turns out a more accurate description would have been teenagers.
The university has decided to strip any shred of legitimacy from its coaching search by making their official hiring announcement on the school's Facebook wall. While other SEC schools use press conferences on ESPN or other networks to generate excitement and inform the masses over their latest decisions, Vandy will be resorting to the preferred medium for my 16-year-old cousin to post her Gym-Tan-Laundry updates. Just like that, the joke that was the Commodore Head Coach hunt transitioned to punchline, and the voices you hear laughing are coming from the other schools in the SEC.
The swing in legitimacy is stunning. Just five days ago Vanderbilt fans were holding their heads up proudly as reports of an impending Gus Malzahn hire swirled. Then, in the course of 24 hours, pride turned into doubt, then depression, and then finally resignation that we were, in fact, dealing with the "same old Vandy." When James Franklin popped up in rumors a bit of the optimism returned, but the hopes that the new coach would be able to turn around the losing culture of Vanderbilt football had been dimmed. Now, in the face of Franklin's impending announcement via Facebook, it seems as though those aspirations have been extinguished altogether.
The problem isn't hiring a moderately successful assistant from a moderately successful program. It's the fact that we're treating the position like the ignored stepchild of the SEC. By making the first official announcement of Franklin's employment on Facebook, the university is raising a white flag to the rest of the conference. The administration is essentially telling the SEC "Don't worry about us. We have no ambition to be like any of you." It's a terrible message to send for fans, students, and potential recruits. In the world's biggest stage for college football, the Commodores are meekly shuffling aside and avoiding the spotlight.
The hope that followed the Gus Malzahn rumors was based in the idea that he would be able to come in and turn around a culture that had accepted losing as the norm. That hope still exists in Franklin's hiring but using a social network, regardless of popularity, to announce his position is a step backward in reversing that culture. When the standard insults and hate came in backlash of the Malzahn hire, Vandy fans could brush it off thanks to the idea that the university was newly committed to building a legitimate football program. Now, instead of brushing off the Malzahn circus and coming back stronger, Vanderbilt is turning their coaching search into the SEC's biggest joke of the offseason. For most fans, it's a struggle just to be apathetic in the face of such embarrassment.
Things got so bad that now we're getting crap from the few schools that we used to be able to look down on. A friend of mine - a former kicker at Duke - made it a point to bust my balls about Vanderbilt's upcoming Facebook announcement. When I responded brimming with excitement about hiring an Offensive Coordinator who gained fewer yards per game than the Blue Devils, he responded with "Come on now, there are other teams to pick on."
Unfortunately, there aren't. Not when you're Vanderbilt.