Was James Franklin the most successful coach in Vanderbilt history, or was it Dan McGugin?

That’s a debate that fans of the modern Commodores football era will have with those that have studied the successful regimes of the football program’s past.

Unfortunately, there’s such a large gap between those eras that a comparison is probably futile.

Franklin was only in Nashville for three seasons, bringing two of the program’s best seasons of all time to the table.

Meanwhile, McGugin has a much longer, consistent track record, but one gained under much different conditions.

With that said, we’re going to try to identify Vanderbilt’s five best seasons in school history.


2008: 7-6 (4-4), Music City Bowl Champions

Bobby Johnson’s best season in charge of the Vanderbilt program began with a 5-0 record and an appearance by ESPN’s “College GameDay” in Nashville. Unfortunately, an extended losing streak held the Commodores to just seven wins, but Johnson led the team to its first bowl appearance in 26 seasons and won the program’s first bowl game since the 1955 Gator Bowl.

1922: 8-0-1, So-Con co-champions

The second consecutive unbeaten season for Dan McGugin’s Commodores was soiled only by a 0-0 tie against Michigan. We could have just as easily listed 1915’s nine-win season or 1910 and 1921’s unbeaten efforts. McGugin’s teams were dominant in the early decades of college football.

1974: 7-3-2 (2-3-1), tied Texas Tech in the Peach Bowl

Steve Sloan, much like James Franklin, had early success as a Vanderbilt coach before bolting for another job opportunity. 1974’s Peach Bowl season had to be considered Sloan’s best, beating Florida and Ole Miss while also playing Tennessee and Texas Tech to ties in the final two games of the season.

5. 1955: 8-3 (4-3), Gator Bowl Champions

Former Commodores coach Art Guepe’s crew enjoyed wins against Alabama and Florida, both by a score of 21-6, during this special season which ended with a Gator Bowl victory against Auburn (25-13).

It was the last bowl game the Commodores would win until Bobby Johnson’s 2008 team won the Music City Bowl.

4. 1948: 8-2-1 (4-2-1), No. 12 FINAL RANKING

This Red Sanders-coached team finished just outside the top 10 in the AP’s final rankings, boasting impressive wins against Tennessee (28-6), Miami (33-6), LSU (48-7) and Auburn (47-0).

The Commodores finished the season 8-0 after an 0-2-1 start following losses to Georgia Tech and Ole Miss and and a tie with Alabama.


James Franklin’s final year at Vanderbilt ended on a sour note when he decided to take the Penn State job, overshadowing what was assuredly one of the best falls in Vanderbilt football history.

The Commodores posted a second-consecutive, nine-win season in 2013 in spite of losing a heartbreaker against Ole Miss during a Thursday night home opener and later losing starting QB Austyn Carta-Samuels to a knee injury. Vanderbilt won games against each of the SEC East’s three traditional powers (Georgia, Florida and Tennessee) and finished the season with a win against Houston in Birmingham.


The first of James Franklin’s nine-win seasons may have been the best. The Commodores enjoyed a winning record in SEC play, a top 25 finish and outstanding offensive production from RB Zac Stacy, WR Jordan Matthews and QB Jordan Rodgers.

After starting 2-4, the Commodores finished the season on a seven-game winning streak that included wins against Auburn, Ole Miss, Tennessee and a Music City Bowl victory against North Carolina State. In one of the most memorable wins in their in-state rivalry, the Commodores beat the Vols 41-18 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Derek Dooley’s final appearance as Tennessee head coach.

1. 1904: 9-0

Legendary coach Dan McGugin has many solid seasons from which to choose in the early decades of the 20th century. His Commodores were almost always among the nation’s best in terms of winning percentage.

But this 1904 team stands out for its dominance of the schedule. Not only did the Commodores go unbeaten that year, but they allowed just four points the entire season. In total, Vanderbilt outscored its opponents by a combined 474-4 that season. The Commodores beat the Vols 22-0, and enjoyed a 69-0 win against Ole Miss.