We didn’t buy in at first.
You can go back through the archives of the Vanderbilt blogosphere in December 2010 and see that we were…less than enthusiastic about the hiring of James Franklin. Much of the disappointment, obviously, stemmed from the thought that we had (allegedly) thrown $21 million over 7 years at Gus Malzahn and been turned down, and some of it stemmed from the apparent lack of success in recent years for Maryland. I knew Friedgen was on the way out for the Terps, thanks to my DC pals, and the fact that Maryland flaked on Franklin’s head-coach-in-waiting deal was discouraging. There were questions about play-calling, there were questions about recruiting, and there was a general sense of malaise over the fact that once again, we went out and got somebody else’s coordinator instead of a known good proven BCS-conference coach.
What a difference a year makes.
From the first press conference, it looked like we had a winner. From his first recruiting haul, it was apparent that he knew how to bring guys into the fold. And tonight, at 6-6 in his first year, the most successful new Vanderbilt football coach in generations, we have to admit: it looks like James Franklin can coach.
Yes, we were 6-6 in 2008. But this is a very different team. We won in 2008 by playing teams close, no penalties, no turnovers, and just hanging around for sixty minutes. When we won, we won close, and when we lost, we lost ugly. This year, five of our six wins were by three touchdowns or more. Read that sentence again. In our six losses, four were lost by a margin of six points or less. Read that sentence again. Now consider this: one catch against Georgia, one fumble not lost against Arkansas, one field goal made and one of theirs missed at Florida, and one field goal made at Tennessee, and this team finishes the regular season 10-2, 6-2 in the conference, and tied with South Carolina.
This team, in one season, with almost the same players as last year, was five plays and a tiebreak away from the SEC Championship Game.
Vice-Chancellor David Williams, it is said, was dialed in on James Franklin from the beginning. And he was questioned for it. In the cold light of midnight, it has to be said: his judgement is impeccable.
(Edited to reflect how I botched the standings. Alas, the Gamecocks still beat us in my scenario.)