Compass Bowl win end for Franklin at Vanderbilt?
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — They chanted, pleading him to stay.
James Franklin stood with his players in front of the Vanderbilt fans, joining them in singing the school’s alma mater after a 41-24 win over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl when it began.
"WE WANT FRANKLIN … WE WANT FRANKLIN."
Meanwhile, Jordan Matthews stood near mid-field, posing with fans and fellow students for photos along with his game MVP trophy.
"Bowl games are special at Vanderbilt," Franklin said. "… this is part of Vanderbilt’s culture now."
They brought the unprecedented to a school that has been lauded far more for its academics than football. The coach delivered respectability; the receiver records.
We know Matthews, a senior, closed out his Commodores career. The only question now is whether Franklin did too.
According to multiple reports, Franklin will interview with Penn State on Sunday as it searches for a replacement for Bill O’Brien. The school is also said to be looking at Miami’s Al Golden.
Per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins have also requested permission to speak to Franklin.
Vanderbilt HC James Franklin, who interviewed for Texans HC job two weeks ago, has gotten requests to interview with Redskins and Browns.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 4, 2014
It was reported Franklin already interviewed with Texas and the Houston Texans. Both those jobs look to be filled as the Texans hired O’Brien and Charlie Strong is expected to accept an offer from the Longhorns of five years at $5 million per.
Amid all the off-the-field commotion, the Commodores added their own form of drama during the game, scoring 24 unanswered first-half points only to see the Cougars pull even at 24-24 through three quarters.
"We were told by the ESPN people the ratings had gone down, so we wanted to make it exciting and spike them up in the third quarter," Franklin quipped after his defense gave up 22 first-half yards and was then burned for 300 yards in the third quarter.
That the Commodores had that lead to begin with came courtesy of the player that rose along with Franklin.
Matthews opened the game’s scoring, hauling in a catch in the left flat on a screen before racing down the sideline for a 50-yard score. He then added another 50-yard TD reception late in the second quarter. But Matthews may have been at his most impressive with a circus catch with all-AAC safety Trevon Stewart draped over him.
Franklin used his right arm to gain position as he hauled in a one-handed catch on a ball thrown over his back shoulder for a 39-yard gain.
By halftime, Matthews had five receptions for 143 yards, giving him the 19th 100-yard game of his career, 10th of this season and fourth in a row. But those would be his only catches of the game as the Commodores failed to complete a second-half pass.
Matthews is being projected as a second-round NFL draft pick after a career that saw him become the SEC’s all-time leader in receiving yards (3,616) and catches (257) and this season he set a single-season receptions mark at 107. He became the program’s first offensive All-American since guard George Diedrich in 1951.
Not bad for a two-star recruit out of Madison (Ala.) Academy who received just one scholarship offer.
After totaling 15 receptions for 181 yards as a freshman, Matthews broke out thanks to the arrival of a new offensive mind in Nashville.
Maryland’s offensive coordinator, Franklin was named coach-in-waiting in 2009. But when then-head coach Ralph Friedgen was fired after the ’10 season, Franklin left for Vanderbilt.
He had energy, charisma — and an offense that would prove tailor-made for Matthews.
Matthews broke out as the Commodores went 6-7 in Franklin’s first season, hauling in 41 balls for 778 yards, both team highs.
A year later, Matthews was an All-SEC first-teamer with 97 catches for 1,323 yards and eight scores, as Vanderbilt rose to its first nine-win season since 1915. The Commodores capped off the year with a 38-24 win over North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl.
Saturday, Vanderbilt reached nine wins again, making Franklin the first coach to accomplish that feat in back-to-back seasons in school history.
While it took the running game to close things out with Brian Kimbrow scoring on a 21-yard run and Jerron Seymour finding the end zone on a 1-yard dash, Matthews’ impact was undeniable.
He feasted on the Cougars’ 116th-ranked defense early on, a performance that, despite the second-half disappearance, was enough to set a Compass Bowl record and name him MVP.
"People want to make a lot of talk about individual stats, but if you look at all my stats came in the first half," Matthews said. "That second half we leaned on Jerrod and Brian Kimbrow heavy. I think it’s just a testament to the type of team we have."
Matthews and Franklin hugged before the coach raced along the sideline, shaking the hands of anyone he could find: players, staff and media members.
He made his way behind the Commodores bench, where fans had lined a chain-link fence surrounding the field. He high-fived supporters, beaming. Along the way, a woman called out "We love you, coach Franklin."
Was it a victory lap or a goodbye?
In closing out his postgame press conference, Franklin was asked specifically about his name popping up for other jobs. He picked up a roster and began rattling off all that the Commodores will return next season.
He named the players and discussed the schedule. Then, as he rose to exit the room, a reporter asked "Will you be back?"
Franklin, either not hearing the question or not wanting to answer it, left the room, headed off for a radio appearance.