published Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Vanderbilt's Franklin keeps looking better

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin celebrates with players after they defeated Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Birmingham, Ala.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin celebrates with players after they defeated Houston 41-24 in the BBVA Compass Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, in Birmingham, Ala.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With Vanderbilt's 41-24 BBVA Compass Bowl win over Houston complete Saturday afternoon, VU athletic director David Williams was in no mood to speculate on whether Commodores coach James Franklin might be headed out the door to a bigger stage.

"I feel confident he'll be back," Williams said. "I expect to [one day] win the national championship, and I expect James Franklin to be the coach when we do that."

Though private schools are not required to release coaches' salaries, most believe Franklin already makes more than $3 million a season, a hefty sum for almost any coach not named Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or Les Miles. After guiding the Commodores to back-to-back nine-win seasons (9-4) and back-to-back bowl wins, Franklin almost assuredly is worth that or more in today's marketplace.

And while he didn't say he'd say no to Penn State, Texas or any other top BCS job if such a school came calling, Franklin did tell the media during his postgame comments, "This is just the beginning. We'll be better next year."

Of course, when he was asked if he'd be back to coach that team, Franklin never answered. He was already halfway out the door.

Not that Williams seemed perturbed.

"He may not talk to you (the media), but he always talks to me," the AD said. "I talk with James on a daily basis. I talk to his agent once a week. I don't hear the things you hear. Someone in the media called me and told he was going to Southern Cal. Someone else said he was going to Washington. He hasn't taken either one."

The current rumor mill has Louisville coach Charlie Strong headed to Texas and Miami coach Al Golden packing for Penn State. Franklin -- a Pennsylvania native who also successfully recruited the state while a Maryland assistant -- also is reported to be on the Nittany Lions' short list, much as he was rumored to be a serious candidate at Texas and Southern Cal.

Let Strong wind up with the Longhorns and Golden take over Penn State and Franklin's name can be expected to surface for vacancies at Louisville, which joins the Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2014 season, and Miami, which is already in the ACC.

But would he take another job? The Commodores play eight home games next season, including Ole Miss, South Carolina Florida and Tennessee. Franklin works for an AD who seems to view the school's athletic brand through his football coach's success, not unlike the way former Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton embraced former basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

Nor is it easy to argue with Williams when more than 30,000 Vanderbilt fans traveled to Birmingham for a bowl game that's losing its title sponsor. Franklin is definitely making a huge difference in the perception of Commodores athletics, and with a crowd of 30,000 or more for future bowls to consider, he may even land them in a Florida bowl next year.

"I grew up in Detroit," Williams said. "And I saw a lot of snow there. Now I like snow on Christmas. I hope it snows every Christmas, then I hope it turns 80 degrees the next day and stays that way. That's kind of how I feel about James and these jobs. I want to hear his name mentioned every tme because it means we're doing something right. But then I want those jobs to go away and have him stay here forever."

As he spoke to those 30,000 or more black-and-gold clad VU fans at Legion Field, Franklin said, "These nine-win seasons and bowl wins are becoming really fun. Go 'Dores and Anchor Down."

For at least a few more frigid days, if not weeks, those fans must nervously wait to see if their coach will be content to keep his anchor dropped in Nashville for at least one more autumn.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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