James Franklin Isn't Right to Pull Vandy Recruits, but He Isn't Wrong, Either

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It's not a popular stance, but James Franklin's decision to honor his Vanderbilt scholarship offers at Penn State makes sense. In fact, it's the closure that Vandy fans may need to move on.

I don't think James Franklin is trying to screw over Vanderbilt.

Yes, he's pulling recruits from the Commodore Class of 2014. Yes, he may have lied to administrators and players on his way out of Nashville. Yes, his recent "thank you" in the midst of a rapidly dwindling supply of coaches and recruits seems trite.

But I don't think that it's malicious.

James Franklin is simply watching over his best interests, which are now Penn State's best interests. This isn't a new or unique trait from him. Franklin worked hard to raise Vanderbilt up from the depths because he understood that building a culture benefitted everyone. Now, he's trying to recreate that symbiotic culture in Happy Valley. While it may come at Vandy's expense, it's a justifiable loss from CJF's perspective.

This won't make me many friends around Vandyville, but from a risk/reward scenario, Franklin's actions make sense. Here's his situation. He has two options

a) Keep his bond with Vanderbilt and cut ties with the players he's recruited, regardless of his relationship with them.

b) Keep his bond with his recruits and honor the scholarship offer he gave them in Nashville.

Choosing (a) is an integrity move, but it does nothing to help Franklin. It works to strengthen a relationship that he no longer has. Once the coach decided to leave for Happy Valley, that tie was effectively severed. Vanderbilt recruits, many of whom opened up their recruitment after Franklin's departure, weren't guaranteed to stay in Nashville anyway. Any player who was so invested in CJF that they would follow him to the Nittany Lions was unlikely to stay in Vandy without him.

Choosing (b) burns Vanderbilt. It also benefits the coach and the recruits that he has built a relationship with over the past year. It also holds him to a bond and offer he made to incoming players, albeit at a different university. Those players can be a part of his future. Vandy's current players can be nothing but his past. If he goes down this road, he benefits himself, Penn State, and the players that he's been working with for the past two years (while burning the ones he worked with intimately for the last three).

Either way, Franklin was going to take a hit. He can either catch heat from Vandy fans or lose out on players he thinks can build a program. He chose the path that benefits him the most and moves him forward instead of tying him to a fanbase that had already begun to turn on him as PSU's coaching search heated up. That absolutely sucks for Vanderbilt - but the university isn't the one making that decision.

Ultimately, the choice to leave comes down to what the players want. Ideally, these high school students would choose a team based on a combination of the coaching staff, a program's prestige, and the university behind it. However, the players that have based their decision on the ebullient coach that has been a constant in their lives throughout their senior years don't have the same connection to Vanderbilt as they do to James Franklin. Nothing should stand in their way when it comes to making the choice that serves them the best.

As for Franklin, dwelling on his choices won't make Vanderbilt any better (and I understand how that sounds after posting and venting over his thank-you message earlier in the day). This is a no-win situation for Vandy, a bitter taste that won't go away - but it also gives this team closure. James Franklin doesn't want this relationship anymore. That chapter of Commodore history is over. A new chapter begins as soon as David Williams makes his latest coaching hire in the coming week.

So don't begrudge a coach that honors his bond with a player from another era. Look forward to the players who want to be part of the next great generation of Commodore football.

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