Why Vanderbilt should pay James Franklin $5 million a year (if they have to)

NCAA Football: Georgia at Vanderbilt

James Franklin’s Vanderbilt squad just beat Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl. It was Vanderbilt’s third straight bowl game.

Before that, Vanderbilt played in four bowl games. Ever.

Before Franklin, Vanderbilt had five winning seasons since 1959.

The program has finished a season ranked twice ever. 1948 and last year (2012). It’s likely that they are in the final top 25 ranking this year as well.

To say that Vanderbilt’s football history is mediocre at best is to state the obvious.

Meanwhile, because of Maryland’s ineptitude, Vanderbilt landed a top 20 coach in college football. Hiring coaches is often a crapshoot. The degree of success achieved as a result of any given hire is very difficult to predict when the hiring occurs. Vanderbilt got a huge break by landing James Franklin. Now it’s time to go all in, in order to keep him.

As I explained in my article regarding Kevin Sumlin and why he’s worth $5 million a year, there is a very limited supply of proven coaches in the game of college football. Having a top 20 coach is essentially worth whatever you have to pay him if you’re playing in a major conference. Vanderbilt and Texas A&M both benefit from the SEC football television contracts and will benefit from the upcoming SEC Network. Revenues as a result of football will continue to rise in the coming years with the College Football Playoff and the conference network coming to fruition. The revenue is there.

Securing James Franklin’s employment keeps your program relevant in the very important next era of college football.¬†We know Vanderbilt’s history. We know what is at risk if Franklin leaves. Fewer programs have more to lose by losing a top 20 coach. Vanderbilt can easily go back to two-win seasons in just a few short years without Franklin at the helm.

Of course, James Franklin is getting all kinds of attention. It’s no surprise. Programs like Penn State will take a hard look at Franklin, and It’s now reported that multiple NFL teams are interested in interviewing him for a head coach position. Over the long-term, it might be difficult to hang on to Coach Franklin, but Vanderbilt leadership needs to pull out all the stops now and attempt to secure him.

Related: Ranking the SEC Coaches Salaries

Is it just money? Or, does Franklin want a chance to win championships? Maybe the better question is, is it possible for Franklin to win championships at Vanderbilt? It’s difficult, but I think it is actually possible. It takes time to change the expectations of a program. It takes time to change the base talent level at the program. Franklin is doing that.

Stanford might be an interesting program to look at to see what is possible. Coach David Shaw is 34-7 in his 3 seasons with three straight BCS appearances. He of course inherited the program that Jim Harbaugh (and QB Andrew Luck) helped bring to its current level of success. But, Harbaugh was 4-8 and 5-7 in his first two seasons as head coach at Stanford. Before that, Stanford was 1-11 in 2006.

It’s not a direct comparison, but Vanderbilt doesn’t have to be battling for 4th place in the SEC East every year in the future. Programs change. Some for the better; others not so much. Here’s one, small example: James Franklin has the same number of bowl victories at Vanderbilt in the last two seasons as the Tennesse Vols have since 2002. The future isn’t set in stone. Vanderbilt can compete in the SEC with the right guy leading the program. James Franklin is that guy.

Vanderbilt needs to keep James Franklin.



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  • Coach Franklin is very much beloved by the Commodore fan base (evidenced by our chants of Franklin at the end of the Compass Bowl). I really hope he stays, I’m excited to see what he can do in a quarterback depleted SEC next year.

    • Maybe the vandy fans should support their team then if they want to keep jim. For them not to sell out that small 39 thousand seat stadium for every game with franklin having them playing like they have is ridiculous.

      • That should have been “him” in the first post not jim.

      • This is the common criticism, and one that is definitely at least a little valid. But let’s also not pretend that a school like Vanderbilt (6k students, by far the smallest in the SEC) should have the same quantity of fan support that other SEC schools enjoy. We produce 1,500 alumni per year, most of whom wind up moving out of state. Compare that to a school like UT that has about 28k students, most of whom come from (and are more likely to stay in) the state of Tennessee. The demographics are so drastically different that you can’t try to make a straight-up comparison to other SEC schools.
        That being said, as the team has had more success the stadium has been getting more full. As he continues to build a winning program the city of Nashville is more and more starting to adopt Vandy as their team, it’s just a process that takes some time.
        Lastly, we just sent 30k fans (on the low end) to our bowl game. For a school our size, we do a pretty good job supporting the team already. I would still love to see us sell out our stadium every single week, and need a bigger one. And I think we will as the program continues to grow. Just wanted to point out some things that most people don’t think about when they decide to start bashing Vanderbilt’s fans.

        • Good point. I hadn’t thought about the size of student population. however, my post wasn’t necessarily pointed at alumni. More to the point that a city the size of Nashville not supporting a school in its city that is an sec affiliated school is ridiculous. Accept my apologies for I didn’t intend to call out the alumni.

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