NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams must pivot quickly to replace one of the program’s most successful leaders in James Franklin, who has left for Penn State.
Franklin took Vanderbilt to bowl games in each of his three seasons (winning two), along with nine victories apiece over the past two seasons — all program firsts. His 24-15 overall record also included 2013 wins over Tennessee, Florida and Georgia, an unprecedented feat in the same year.
Former Commodores coach Gerry DiNardo knows exactly the kind of coach Vanderbilt must hire to maintain the forward momentum generated by Franklin.
"It takes someone young and brash and someone who isn’t afraid to make as many enemies as friends," said DiNardo, who went 19-25 at Vanderbilt from 1991-94, before departing to become coach at LSU in 1995.
DiNardo and Steve Sloan, who went 12-9 as Commodores coach from 1973-74 before moving to Texas Tech, were the only other coaches to leave the program — over the past five decades — for another head-coaching position.
"The Vanderbilt football coach can’t see the academic restrictions as an obstacle," DiNardo said. "It also takes someone who is willing to go 100 miles per hour and wants to conquer the world."
"His record these past two years is extraordinary," DiNardo said of Franklin. "That is the best run I can remember at Vanderbilt for a head coach. I think his record speaks for itself."
So, where does Vanderbilt head now? Certainly, Franklin departs the program, having left it in much better shape than he found it.
Here are some potential candidates:
**Kirby Smart: It’s a matter of when, rather than if, the Alabama defensive coordinator becomes a head coach. The former All-SEC defensive back at Georgia was on Nick Saban’s staff at LSU and the Miami Dolphins, before following him to Tuscaloosa.
**Chad Morris: The Clemson offensive coordinator is reportedly the highest-paid assistant in college football for a reason. He’s considered an offensive genius in the mold of Franklin and Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Like Smart, heâll be a head coach sooner than later.
**Derek Mason: The Stanford defensive coordinator is also one of those hot commodities as a top assistant at a top program. Like Franklin, Mason would be a popular minority hire. He was reportedly contacted by Washington, UConn and Army about their openings.
**Mike MacIntyre: After getting it done at San Jose State from 2010-12, in his first head coaching gig, MacIntyre took over at Colorado for the 2013 season. There has to be an emotional tug for MacIntyre when it comes to Vanderbilt. His father, George MacIntyre, was Commodores head coach from 1979-85, and he grew up around the program.
**Bob Shoop: While the Commodores’ defensive coordinator would surely have the same position on Franklin’s staff at Penn State, Shoop has been involved firsthand in what it takes to sustain success in Nashville. He also has head-coaching experience at Columbia from 2003-05.
**John Donovan: Ditto that about Shoop for Donovan, Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator who has been on the same wavelength with Franklin. After being on the staff at Maryland from 2001-10, Donovan followed Franklin to Nashville, serving as his offensive right-hand man.
**Mack Brown: While he was ushered from the Texas job after 16 seasons, Brown (2005 season national champion) hasn’t said that he’s finished with coaching quite yet.
Battling the perception of an ‘older’ coach, Brown is the same age (62) as Saban and Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, who are still going strong. Brown played at Vanderbilt for two seasons and hails from nearby Cookeville, Tenn., where his brother, former Vanderbilt coach and star quarterback Watson Brown, coaches at Tennessee Tech.