Or, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying, and Anchor Down".
The earliest talk of HC James Franklin leaving Vanderbilt that I can remember started late last year. He had just brought Vanderbilt to its first back-to-back bowls in school history; moreover, we had a top 20 recruiting class coming in. CJF had "achieved the impossible": he was making Vanderbilt relevant. To those outside the program, it was a certainty that CJF would leave for a traditional football powerhouse. Those rumors were put quickly to rest with his second contract extension.
A year later, and we have another 8-4 regular season, our first back-to-back 8 win seasons since Dan McGugin. Before CJF, Vanderbilt had four bowls ('55 Gator, '74 Peach, '82 Hall of Fame, '08 Music City), we're now almost double that. We are again surrounded by the sentiment that CJF will eventually leave Vanderbilt. Most of the sentiment is rooted simply in one mentality: Who would want to coach at Vanderbilt?
The simple fact here, as Vice Chancellor David Williams has been very honest about, is that we certainly have a history we would like to forget. It's a cliche, but we can't change the past. We're still a small school that is dwarfed in undergraduate population by the rest of the conference. As such, to outsiders it doesn't seem like a 80K+ stadium is ever in our future. There's also the strong, and understandable, sentiment that such things as an SEC championship will never happen. I'm looking forward to our boys proving that one wrong in a few years or so.
The argument for CJF leaving us is very strong when you come at it from this perspective. Football fans assume, rightfully, that coaches are ambitious people who want to win championships. Something that barring a miracle (one that we'd all welcome), may never happen at Vanderbilt. It's also reasonable to say we won't ever have the fanbases of LSU, USC, Ohio St., etc. There's also strong precedent for a coach to take a traditionally bad football school, turn it around, and leave as soon as a big name comes calling. So few examples of coaches sticking with a small program I can't even think of any as I write this.
Ok, I'm not here to be pessimistic. While Vanderbilt cannot change its past, VCDW has been clear that Vanderbilt wants to change our future. With the changes in the University backing the team more, the facilities for the team, and just the campus atmosphere, something has changed. When I was at the Wake Forest game Saturday, it really struck me how different the crowd was. Even with the poor student showing because of Thanksgiving. That crowd was into the game more than I had ever seen it. We've gone through our highs and lows, but the fans are more invested in the team now. We all are very quick to credit CJF for being a huge (if not the biggest) part of all this. I want us all to remember the work that's been done by VCDW and his colleagues to really give CJF the tools he needs to succeed.
Instead of us focusing on what's needing change at Vanderbilt, let's look at some of the things that will keep CJF.
Vanderbilt Holds On To Coaches
One thing that I have been quick to point out this season is that we hold onto our coaches. Basketball and baseball may not mean much in the SEC, but they certainly mean a lot to teams elsewhere. Kevin Stallings and Tim Corbin have both been courted by some of the highest programs in the land in their respective sports. I remember when Tim Corbin was interviewing for a coaching position when I was still at Vandy (I think it was Clemson wanting him back). The rumor going around was that Chancellor Gee was waiting for him at the airport when he got back with one question: "what do we need to do to keep you?" Of course, as y'all know, Corbin has stayed with us.
Corbin in particular has become a huge part of the football family. That says a lot to me. It says that CJF shares the passion of wanting to build a legacy at Vanderbilt. This kind of sentiment gets a lot of laughs from outsiders, I say let 'em laugh. We've had an incredible record of holding on to coaches, which I think speaks very highly of VCDW's ability to find men who are willing to stick with us.
VC David Williams
I'm gonna steal (and modify a bit) an idea originally put forth here by "Andrew VU '04":
VUDW is simply an awesome man. He's got an incredible resume, a huge figure on campus, oh yeah, and he's been on the NCAA appeals committee (which only has five people). He's given CJF a huge opportunity here, and he's come through with his promises. The great relationship between VCDW and CJF is plainly clear.
I simply cannot see CJF turning around and betraying all that and leaving us as Vanderbilt is making all these commitments. It doesn't mesh with the direction the school is going, it doesn't mesh with what we've been told, and it simply doesn't make sense to the University if CJF isn't in it for the long haul. When money doesn't matter as much (we'll get to that later), one of the biggest things that will keep a coach is how his relationship is with the University. I think CJF may realize he's one of the best relationships a HC and an AD could possibly have.
I'm going to toot our own horns here for a moment, and assert that it is a scientific fact that Nashville is an awesome city. It's got all the feel of an urban environment, with plenty of gorgeous suburbs to raise a family in. A wonderful night life, great music, and great overall culture surrounds Nashville. I've often said to people, "If you can't have fun in Nashville, you're just not a fun person." It's not like NYC or LA where you can't get away from the non-stop crush of humanity. It's also a hell of a lot more friendly and low-stress than the major cities.
"Big city" won't really understand the appeal of Nashville without living there. Even the most stubborn of people will come to love Nashville if they give it the chance.
I don't believe money is going to be a problem for us. No school is really going to offer CJF the kind of money Nick Saban or Mack Brown makes, not without some rings anyway. Speculating over the actual dollar amount Vandy gives CJF is not worth the effort. In the end, we'll be able to match the offers he's going to get elsewhere and THEN some. Remember that TN has no state income tax so that also works in our favor.
It's been said on AoG that if a school like Texas throws all their money at a CJF they can outspend us. Fair enough, but as long as we're talking scenarios that are unlikely, I'd like a few SECCGs.
I'm betting I'm shocking some of you by putting this here. It's been our biggest worry, right? CJF continuously seems frustrated at the fact we're not selling out every game. I don't blame him. I also think, however, he's level headed about it. Yes, he's frustrated, but he's also a great recruiter. When he's showing frustration, he's recruiting fans to the stands, he's recruiting us to get our friends to go, he's recruiting people to talk about the team.
Again, we're a tiny school compared to the rest of the conference. We're also fighting about 90 years of horrific football. We've got a huge mountain to climb in terms of getting our support up. The large majority of the support is going to have to come from Nashville residents as most Vanderbilt alumni don't stay in Nashville. It's starting to come around, but we still have the big orange menace we're constantly fighting on that front.
Despite all his clear frustrations, he's also expressed a tremendous joy in seeing the growth of the fanbase. Which, by the way, is no way trivial. The players and coaches routinely comment on how the town and University is changing. It's going to take time, and in my mind, I think that's part of the "fun" of leading Vanderbilt football to prominence.
I think CJF is the kind of guy that if you put him in front of NCAA '14 would take a 1* school on Heisman and bring it to a powerhouse. He's the kind of guy who loves to do things that people say he can't. To me, he seems much more like the kind of guy who'd rather have a statue at Vandy than be screamed at by angry Texas/USC fans for a 10 win season. The kind of coach that comes along once in a lifetime.
It's possible I'm wrong, everyone thinks they've found "the guy who will stay" when they're in our position. However, I believe very strongly that CJF has shown a very special dedication to Vanderbilt that a lot of outsiders don't understand.
Let's make sure we show him the same dedication.