(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)
Safe to say it’s been a busy week in college football.
That’s because just moments after USC announced that they’d fired Lane Kiffin on an airport tarmac Sunday morning, the Crystal Ball Run staff gathered for an emergency meeting at our underground lair to discuss who his replacement should be.
My colleague Allen Kenney made the case for Kevin Sumlin on Tuesday. The choice is great (obvi), but comes with one caveat: From everything I’ve heard and everyone I’ve talked to, Sumlin seems as likely to be coaching in a professional stadium near you next fall, as he does taking over in Troy. On Wednesday, Kevin McGuire suggested Steve Sarkisian, to which I say… Wait, wasn’t that dude on the hot-seat himself like two minutes ago?
Nope, there is only one fit to take over in Troy. He combines the recruiting pizazz of Sumlin, with a short- but significant- track record of on-the-field success too. Plus, few can rally a fan-base quite like this guy can.
The man I’ve got in mind? Vanderbilt’s James Franklin.
Let’s take a look at why Franklin should be the next coach of the Trojans.
USC Coach Candidate: James Franklin
Current job: Vanderbilt head coach
Strengths: Solid offensive background; brilliant recruiter; ability to rally a fan-base unlike few others; too much “swag” to be contained in one room; plus, did I mention that he just won nine games last season… at Vanderbilt!?!?!?!?!?!
Weaknesses: Has never beaten a ranked opponent; also, four ex-Vandy players (plus one who is considered an accessory) are in the midst of a nasty sexual assault allegation case. Fair or not, Franklin is caught in the cross-hairs of it.
Why USC Would Hire Franklin:
Hmm… where to begin, where to begin?
Let’s start on the field, because ultimately, that’s all that really matters. USC is a very “bottom-line” job; the fans don’t care about sanctions, scholarship restrictions or improvement across the Pac-12…they just want wins. No, I take that back. They expect wins.
And “frankly” (see what I did there!?!?!) Franklin is the guy to deliver those wins.
In two short years at Vanderbilt, Franklin has completely turned around what was once an SEC doormat, and made them a respectable, middle of the road conference team. Under Franklin’s watch, the ‘Dores have gone to back-to-back bowl games, marking the first time in school history that has ever happened. Not to mention that 2012’s nine-win campaign was just the third time that’s happened in Nashville as well.
It also leads to the question every USC fan (and ultimately, every fan of every school who’ll be looking for a coach this winter) will be asking themselves: If Vandy can get to nine wins, in the rugged SEC, with limited recruiting options (because of academics), what the hell could the guy do when he was selling one of the most prominent college football programs in the history of the sport to recruits?
It’s a good question, but at the same time, let’s get back to the point about Vandy’s recruiting for a second. Because while everyone considers the Commodores to be a motley crew of quantum physics players, overmatched every time the ball is kicked off, that’s simply not true. Franklin has actually done a great job of getting guys other people want, onto the Vanderbilt campus.
The Commodores finished the 2013 cycle with the No. 19 ranked recruiting class in all of college football, which has to be some kind of unofficial school record. That class included a number of players with other SEC offers, and a few four-star guys who could’ve gone pretty much anywhere they chose.
This is important, and please understand the relativity to it all. Sure at Alabama and Florida, those numbers might not be amazing. But again everything has to be graded on a curve if you’re Vanderbilt; factor in everything that’s involved with recruiting at a school that, and it’s borderline incredible what Franklin has done on the recruiting trail. It’s also got to have USC fans drooling.
And finally, there is the “it” factor. And whatever “it” is…well, Franklin has it.
Simply put, the guy has the ability to sell his program. The ability to sell himself. And the ability to sell what he’s doing.
As a matter of fact, I’ve talked to a number of friends who cover the SEC, and to a man, every one of them tells me that Franklin is as dynamic- if not more so- than any coach in that league. Yes that’s a league that includes Sumlin and Saban. Les and Richt. Yet it’s Franklin who blows them all out of the water on the speaking circuit.
It also leads to one very simple thought: If Franklin can stand out like that, in a place as crowded as the SEC, I can only imagine what he’d do in the Pac-12.
Why USC Wouldn’t Hire Franklin:
For starters, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that for all the success Franklin has had against most of the SEC, he still has been unable to do it against the big-boys. Through two seasons and change, Franklin still has not beaten a ranked team (0-7). Although in his defense, Franklin has come close a few times, and beaten pretty much everyone that was unranked (18-6).
That could be a problem at USC, where championships are expected, 10-win seasons demanded, and victories over rivals UCLA and Notre Dame assumed.
But the bigger issue- as it should be- will be the fallout from a sexual assault case that continues to rage on against a number of ex-Vanderbilt football players. Four have been charged with aggravated rape (with a fifth considered an accessory) and it has put a black cloud over the program.
But while it’d be unfair to pin it all on Franklin (every college football program has off the field problems…. although few to this extreme) he is the man in charge, and the guy that has to answer to the questions on the subject.
It also makes me curious about his viability as USC’s next head.
Pat Haden seems to be a guy who takes character into consideration as much on-the-field success whenever making decisions of this magnitude.
Could this be a situation where, because of the allegations against the former Vandy players, Haden removes Franklin from consideration for something completely outside of football?
It seems possible. And if he did, it’d be hard to blame him.
Ultimately, there’s nothing I can say here that wasn’t already addressed in the two bullet points above.
In terms of sheer “football” variables- recruiting, on the field performance, bluster on the booster circuit- Franklin has everything USC could ever want.
But the final decision could ultimately come down to the off the field factors as well.
You couldn’t blame Pat Haden if he looked the other way because of them.
But if he doesn’t and does choose Franklin, he’s getting a heck of a football coach.
For all his insight, analysis and opinion on college football, follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.