James Franklin, Vanderbilt's prospective head coach-in-limbo, is generating a lot of praise for his offensive prowess and ability to develop skill players on offense. His work with quarterbacks like Josh Freeman and Danny O'Brien gives him an inside track when it comes to developing a position that has been unstable in Nashville since Jay Cutler left in 2005. However, criticism has followed the Commodores' heir-apparent to Robbie Caldwell, focusing on Maryland's lack of innovative playcalling and failure to dominate in a relatively weak ACC over the past three years. Despite Franklin's abilities as an offensive guru, his teams have yet to get over the eight-win hump despite a schedule that offers up mediocre teams like Duke, Wake Forest, and Virginia on a yearly basis.
The dueling trains of thought show Franklin in two different lights. One suggests that his ability to recruit talented players and develop them into true football players will make Vandy a consistent threat in the SEC. The other thinks that Franklin is an overrated presence who is unable to call plays effectively or create an offense on a larger scale. While there's no doubt that James Franklin has been successful in many of his roles, both camps have valid points. So which is right? The statistics seem to side with the second group.
Franklin has seen modest success as Maryland's Offensive Coordinator, but the team's statistics don't seem to bare out any major improvement from his arrival. While most would point to the 2010 season as the coordinator's high water mark, his first season at the helm in College Park in 2008 was actually his most statistically impressive:
|Year||Yards Per Game||ACC Rank||Rush Yards||Pass Yards||Yards per Play||YPP Rank||Record|
Franklin's bounce back year in 2010 may have been a vast improvement over 2009's albatross, but failed to match the success of his first season - one where the Terps went 7-5 in the regular season and 4-4 in the ACC despite wins over four nationally ranked teams. The OC's biggest impact has been a greater emphasis on passing - not surprising considering his background as a QB/WR coach - but the team's increased offensive output may have been more closely related to an ACC shift that emphasized more offensive plays. Despite gaining nearly 30 more yards per game in 2010, the team only ranked ninth in offensive YPG in 2010 - almost 40 yards behind eighth-place Duke.
|Year||Offensive PPG||ACC Rank||Pass YPG||Pass Rank||Rush YPG||Rush Rank|
While 2010's scoring ranks were the best in recent history by far, the team's offensive yardage still rated out as average or worse in a mediocre ACC in Franklin's last two years. The team's emphasis on the passing game is apparent under his care. This may not be good news for a Vanderbilt team whose talent is stocked primarily at the running back position. On one hand, the position may be de-emphasized if the Terrapin OC comes to Nashville. On the other, Maryland's worst season came during a year where their rushing game was abysmal, and the team bounced back in part by averaging almost 20 more YPG in 2010.
Could this suggest that Franklin understands the importance of using the run game to set up the pass? This was a strategy that was often misplaced in Vandy's offense in 2010, especially as the team's stable of tailbacks turned into a M.A.S.H. unit. Franklin will have to understand how to utilize VU's athletes to get the most out of his offense, as Vanderbilt has a more prolific rush attack than the Terps. Over the past five years, only once have the Commodores had a rushing attack as anemic as Maryland's best season in that same span (133 ypg in 2008).
However, that's almost the only category in which Vanderbilt and Maryland have been comparably close since 2006. Though Franklin helped guide Maryland in a conference that lacks the strength of the SEC, the team was statistically superior to the Commodores throughout the past five years, including Vandy's Music City Bowl year of 2008. When Maryland put together solid seasons under Franklin (2008 and 2010), they were better than Vanderbilt - and by a wide margin.
|Vanderbilt vs. Maryland, 2006-2010|
|Yards Per Game||Conf. Rank||Offensive PPG||Conf. Rank|
Of course, these statistics don't tell us everything, and the ones used for this analysis are pretty basic at that. They're merely another observation for a fanbase that probably hasn't seem too many Maryland games over the past three years (admittedly, the only game I watched this season was the how-the-hell-did-they-win-that victory over Navy in their opener). However, they do paint a picture that echos some of the Terrapin fans' warnings about getting too excited about James Franklin. Though he's been relatively successful, his victories have been modest ones.
Franklin's track record of developing players and creating success stories should be getting Vanderbilt fans excited about his potential hiring. His record running an offense at Maryland doesn't carry quite the same air of optimism. His career prospects in Nashville may rely on the staff he puts around him. If he's smart, it will include guys who already have some experience in the SEC.
If James Franklin is going to be a successful coach for the Commodores, he'll have to perform better than he did as a coordinator in College Park. He'll have to change an entire culture - including his own - to get there. It's a daunting task, but it is not impossible.