Let me put this comment right at the top of the piece since some readers misunderstood my analysis of Charlie Strong. I am NOT writing this piece under the view UM can, will, or should hire James Franklin from PSU.
As the boards have been going through a list of potential candidates, there is a lot of angst over who was missed in the past so I thought I'd do a review of the 2 big hires last year - Charlie Strong & James Franklin to see how they'd compare to current candidates. In that spirit I will review them as if we had an opening after the 2013 season and do a similar format as other coaching candidate reviews. The other big hire of 2013 was Steve Sarkisian but he was sort of a USC or bust candidate and his Pac 12 record is not much different than say what a Dan Mullen is performing.
Here is my piece on Charlie Strong - who again I am NOT implyig UM can or will hire from Texas.
We also took a look back to Sumlin (in relation to Todd Graham) in this piece if interested. Sumlin and Strong actually have some parallels in that both only had 4 years of HC experience before a big name came calling and before their HC experience they were at a major university for a good amount of time. Sumlin was at A&M in 01-02, and then Oklahoma from 03-07. Strong was at Florida from 02-09.
(again this is written as if he has just completed his last year at Vanderbilt, and we have an opening)
"2014" candidate.... James Franklin, age: 41
James Franklin has raised some eyebrows by helping lead a quite horrible Vanderbilt football program up from the dredges of the SEC (East - the easier division) to a very respectable status. Vanderbilt is a highly respected academic institution as well, which would help in his case for the open UM job. Before becoming a head coach he was an offensive coordinator at Kansas State and Maryland; and before that he was a WR coach at multiple spots.
Unlike the other hot candidate this year - Charlie Strong - Franklin does not have a background at strong football schools as he rose up the ranks. I will also show below his stint as a coordinator is nowhere near as impressive as Strong's, even adjusting for the schools he coached at. However, he is fiery, outgoing, a type A, with a big personality that has a lot of intangibles that you look for in a head coach. He is also known as a very strong recruiter at Vanderbilt. He does bring some baggage points with his public views on how he judges assistant coaches and similar type items.
Recent (10 years) coaching background
- 2005: WR at GB Packers (this is his only NFL stint)
- 2006-2007: OC/QB at Kansas State - in his mid 30s
- 2008-2010: OC at Maryland - in his late 30s
- 2011-2013: HC at Vanderbilt
Analysis: James Franklin moves around a lot; in a span from 2005 to 2011 he had 4 jobs. Many UM fans seem to penalize young up and coming coaches for being aggressive and changing jobs to move up the ladder quickly ("job hoppers") but I don't. Franklin also got his first coordinator job very young, similar to Dave Doeren.
Obviously Franklin came up on the offensive side of the ball - which is ironic, because his strength at Vanderbilt was defense not offense. Which makes me wonder if his defensive coordinator at Vandy (Bob Shoop) is the key man in Vandy's operation.
In terms of Big 10 footprint, Franklin is not super strong - unless you count Maryland as part of the Big 10 footprint. Franklin does have a lot of experience on the eastern seaboard which I do believe (between NJ and Virginia) is going to be a massively important area for a Big 10 coach over the next decades as the Midwest population shrinks. Vanderbilt is in Tennessee so perhaps you can make a stretch and say he has some exposure to at least Ohio. Like Dan Mullen, he was born in PA so he gets "Midwest cred" for that I suppose.
Caveat for results ----> (a) nothing exists in a vacuum (b) as a coordinator you can benefit or be penalized if your HC is good or bad or average (c) injuries or graduation can change your results dramatically in any 1 year. This is the type of stuff you'd research as an AD staff on every potential candidate.
I will break down his results at 3 time frames - OC at Kansas State, OC at Maryland, HC at Vanderbilt
(1) OC at Kansas State
Upon first glance at his coaching progression I was VERY happy to see Franklin had experience at Kansas State, thinking he was touched by one of the best coaches in the NCAA the past 2 decades - Bill Synder. He who not once but twice created an excellent program at KSU - a wasteland of football. But alas, upon closer inspection Franklin was at KSU in that period of time between the two Snyder eras - under Ron Prince. Downer. That said any guy getting a OC job at a Big 5 conference job at this young age is a positive. Below is the chart of Franklin's results in his 2 years at KSU along with the year before he arrived (2005).
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
There is nothing special or unspecial about Franklin's short stint. 2005 was Snyder's last year in reign 1 at KSU and had a 45 total offense ranking. 2006 was a big drop with Franklin but allowing for first year adjustments it is difficult to penalize someone too much. And by his 2nd he had KSU right back to where it was ranked under Snyder. So we'll give this an average at the 40,000 foot point of view.
Now what Franklin can call as his claim to fame is the early development of future NFL QB Josh Freeman. Freeman came to KSU in 2006 and took over the job with 8 games to go. In 2007 Freeman threw for over 3000 yards as a sophomore which is quite impressive. So Franklin had that in his back pocket.
(2) OC at Maryland
In 2008, Franklin returned to Maryland where he had been a WR coach in 2000-2004. This was a reuniting of Franklin with Ralph Friedgen who started his career early at Maryland with a boom (10-2, 11-3, 10-2 his first 3 years) before settling into a pattern of mostly average seasons the rest of his time there. By the time Franklin returned to Maryland the program has become entirely middle of the road in the ACC. Let's see how he did with the offense in his 3 years versus the prior year (2007).
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
All in all - uninspiring. In Franklin's first year he did provide some decent improvement, taking the 2007 tire fire offense and making it average. But then the 2009 offense fell right back into a tire fire. (Maryland was 2-10 that year) 2010 was not much better. There is nothing here to excite. What's strange is Maryland as a whole was not bad in 2008 and 2010; they were 8-5 and 9-4 those 2 years, but it must have been more due to defense.
I am not a Maryland football fan so I dont know the entire back story but after 2010, Friedgen was fired after a 9-4 season and a #24 AP ranking. Randy Edsall was hired away from UConn... instead of James Franklin. Which makes sense as Franklin did not have much of a track record to stand on.
(3) HC at Vanderbilt
Per Wikipedia, Al Golden and Larry Coker were leading candidates for the open Vanderbilt job. Guz Malzahn was offered the job and turned it down. So Franklin was sort of the 4th choice. People who support Dan Mullen say Miss State is a nearly impossible job to do well at. Well Vanderbilt must be like Miss State... except with academic standards. A very difficult place to build a winner.
Let's see how James Franklin did at his time at Vandy and how he stacked up versus the prior year (2010) with Robbie Caldwell; currently the OL coach at Clemson.
|W/L||Tot Off||Tot Def|
We can see at the top level immediate improvement at Vandy in W/L in 2011 and then an astounding 9 wins in 2012 and 2013. The offense was a tire fire when Franklin showed up and remained so during his 3 years. I mean 90ish is horrid. Where the bread was buttered was defense - fantastic statistics especially in the SEC conference where teams are subjected to an array of talented skill players on offense. I consider a "20" ranking in the SEC to be "8-10" in the Big 10 when adjusting for the slog that is Big 10/MAC offenses which is what most Big 10 defenses face for 10 of their 12 games.
Now this does bring up a question to me - Franklin was an average to mediocre OC for the prior 5 years. His offense continued to suck his 3 years at Vandy. That is 8 years of offense between "suck" and "average". Did he suddenly turn into a defensive guru in 3 years? Or was his DC the man behind the machine? I have no idea. I did do some quick research on his DC who is named Bob Shoop - and is a very bright man who graduated from Yale. Before latching on with Vandy, Shoop was DC at William & Mary. He also had a very bad stint as a HC with Columbia in 2003-2005. Without being inside the walls of Vandy football one never knows in this situation who is the key to one side of the ball being so good... but it is an interesting question. However, if Franklin were to be hired at UM, one would want Shoop to come along. Because whatever they did together, it is working. And leave the OC at Vandy!
The overall record obviously improved so let's look at some key results in Franklin's 3 years:
Analysis of wins and losses
The 2011 Commodores were 6-7, and 2-6 in the SEC East. Considering how bad the team had been the prior year that's a very good improvement. Wins that year were against: Elon, UConn, (2-10) Ole Miss, Army, (5-7) Kentucky, and (6-7) Wake Forest. So no world beaters there but again - this is Vandy coming off a 2-10 year. Losses were to 5 eventual ranked teams (Arkansas, Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Cincinnati) - all expected. Florida was only 7-6 that year but still was an expected loss when you consider the difference in athletes. The only "bad loss" was to a 5-7 (1-7 SEC) Dooley led Tennessee; but that game in OT. All in all, Vandy found a way to beat bad and mediocre teams and aside from Tennessee they lost to teams they should have. The Georgia, Florida (a down Florida), Cincinnati and Arkansas losses were also within 1 TD so that is a bonus - that's the benefit of good defense.
2012 Vanderbilt finished 9-4 (5-3) and ranked in the top 25 - the first time they had done that since 1948! This was their first winning record since 1982. So this is Gary Barnett at Northwestern type of achievements. All 4 losses came in the first 6 games so Vandy finished off 2012 with great momentum. Losses were to 3 eventual top 10 teams (South Carolina, Florida, Georgia) and Northwestern who finished top 20 (10-3). So in terms of quality of losses you won't find a better 4 losses for any team in the country. And the South Carolina game was only 4 pts while the other games were not quite as close. Now on the flip side the SEC East was not great that year - the 3 top teams were all teams Vandy lost to. The other 3 - Missouri, Tennessee, and Kentucky were all bad outfits. This was Missouri's first year in the SEC, between them they went 3-21 in he SEC. Vandy also had crossovers with 3-9 Auburn, and 7-6 Ole Miss so it was a very favorable schedule as far as SEC schedules goes. But again this is Vandy fergodsakes. NC State was beaten in a bowl.
2013 was very similar to 2012 with a 9-4 (4-4) record. Two losses were to eventual top 10 teams (Missouri, South Carolina) and another loss was to top 20 Texas A&M. The other game to a decent Ole Miss team. Again this was a favorable schedule - Florida stunk under Muschamp, Georgia was 8-5, Kentucky was Kentucky, and Tennessee was 5-7. Vandy must play Wake Forest every year because all 3 years at Vandy Franklin played Wake Forest and won. The season closed out with a win versus an ok 8-5 Houston. So quality of wins was not super - really it was Georgia and then beating up on a lot of bad SEC teams plus Wake Forest, Houston, and 3 baby seals. The losses made sense altough the defense did get blown off the field by A&M and Missouri (>50 pts given up each)
James Franklin is an interesting candidate but surely not a home run...or even a triple; Charlie Strong's resume looks a lot better from this set of eyes. He does have Josh Freeman's first 2 years at KSU as a feather in his cap but the performance at Maryland was wholly uninspiring. Despite rising up the ranks on the offensive side of the ball he has no great offenses like a Sumlin or Graham has had. That said, what he did in terms of W/L at Vanderbilt is very similar to what Gary Barnett did at Northwestern but Franklin did it in a much shorter time frame. Now to be fair most of Franklin's wins were not against the best competition in the SEC or out of conference but still...it's Vanderbilt. Recruiting improved significantly under Franklin as well.
The key to Vanderbilt's resurgence was defense - which is not Franklin's apparent background. So an open question sits out there as to if Bob Shoop is the grinder behind the scenes while Franklin is the face. That is not necessarily a bad thing per se, unless Shoop gets offered a HC opportunity down the line - then if Franklin is not the key behind the defensive performance you could have serious issues. Also Franklin does have some "PR" issues with some of his public statements the past few years. And his Big 10 footprint outside from "being born in PA" is not great - however he does have good East Coast presence. Winning at a strong academic program might also make Dave Brandon look very closely at Franklin. Franklin is also a very assertive, outgoing, personable type who you can see as a sensible "face" for a major program so on the intangibles measures, Franklin would score well.