National Columnist

Co-Coach of the Year? Fine, as long as one is Vandy's Franklin


We wimped out. We didn't name one national coach of the year for college football, but two. Couldn't decide. Couldn't choose. Gave the award(s) to two different people, like this is youth soccer or something -- both of you get a trophy!

We wimped out, doubled our odds of getting it right, and still got it wrong.

Because neither coach is named James Franklin.

Brian Kelly, I understand. He has brought Notre Dame almost all the way back, back from the brink of Bob Davie and Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis, right to the brink of Knute Rockne and Frank Leahy and Ara Parseghian. Notre Dame is 12-0 and playing for the national championship, and there were people -- lots of people, one in 2009 with a name that looks suspiciously like mine -- who didn't think this could happen at Notre Dame. At least, not unless the school got a dynamite coach.

And Notre Dame did. Brian Kelly is dynamite. He's one-half of our Coach of the Year. The other half, David Shaw, I don't understand quite as much. Yes, Stanford had a great season. Yes, Stanford may well have deserved to beat Notre Dame on a peculiar day when a Stanford running back reached the end zone without a touchdown to show for it.

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But David Shaw replaced a winner like Jim Harbaugh, not a loser like Charlie Weis. He didn't have to rebuild, he had to maintain. For two seasons Shaw has done that -- sort of like Butch Jones has done twice after replacing Brian Kelly, at Central Michigan and then at Cincinnati -- and that's a wonderful feat. But Coach of the Year? It's not that wonderful.

Not when James Franklin is out there winning eight games at Vanderbilt, which is like winning 19 games at Notre Dame or 15 games at Stanford.

Meaning, it's impossible.

It's impossible, what James Franklin has done -- and is still doing -- at Vanderbilt. It's absurd.

A school with brutal academic standards, eliminating most of the recruiting pool, can win eight games at a BCS conference. Stanford does it, and Stanford's academic standards are way up there as well. But Stanford's in the Pac-12, a conference not nearly as strong as the SEC. Stanford's also in California, a state loaded with football talent. Vanderbilt is in Tennessee, a state loaded with Tennesseans.

To go 8-4 at Vanderbilt, with a chance at winning a ninth game by defeating North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl, is ridiculous. To qualify for the Music City Bowl is ridiculous. To go 5-3 in the SEC, even in a down year for the SEC? At Vanderbilt?


Franklin has been at Vanderbilt for two years. The Commodores have played in bowl games both years. Know when the last time the Commodores played in a bowl game, two years in a row? It had never happened before. Because it was, until James Franklin arrived, impossible. The last time a Vandy team won eight games in a season? Not impossible, because it did happen ... in 1982. Last time before that? Um, 1955.

Twice in 57 years. Before this season.

And Franklin is not David Shaw or Butch Jones, replacing a brilliant winner and using that foundation to build his own house. Franklin has built on a foundation of froth. Vanderbilt was 2-10 in each of the two seasons that preceded his arrival, parting ways with both coaches responsible -- Bobby (Johnson, who resigned the week before SEC media day in 2010) and Robbie (Caldwell, who succeeded Johnson as a de facto interim coach).

Congratulations, James Franklin, you're hired. This school offers no tradition, no talent, no real hope. It's in the SEC, but with admission standards closer to the Ivy League. And now it has reached back-to-back bowl games, with a top-20 recruiting class coming next season. Impossible.

People might appreciate it, but they don't fully understand. They see Vanderbilt's record -- 8-4 overall, 5-3 in the SEC East -- and offer a hearty meh. On our website, we split the national coach award down the middle and give neither half to James Franklin. The Associated Press didn't think Franklin was the top coach in his own league, giving it instead to Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin. We didn't make that mistake, though. We picked ... Florida's Will Muschamp.

For our national award we picked Brian Kelly and David Shaw. Kelly is at Notre Dame, doing things other coaches have done at Notre Dame. David Shaw is at Stanford, doing things other coaches have done at Stanford.

James Franklin is at Vanderbilt. Doing things that don't happen at Vanderbilt.

James Franklin should be SEC and national Coach of the Year. How is this even debatable?

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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