On his way to Penn State, James Franklin has set up the next Vanderbilt coach for a terrific yet daunting challenge in Nashville.
This is a much better job than the one Franklin took three years ago. The Commodores have tasted winning, athletic director David Williams is aggressive, facilities are better, and Franklin made more than $3 million per year with the Commodores.
The challenge is this: Winning consistently in the SEC at a program that's never done it. And Vandy just went 18-8, so is a dip in 2014 inevitable? Franklin is the school's all-time leader in bowl wins -- with 2.
Perhaps no, but winning at Vandy requires serious mettle.
Who does Vandy think is up for the challenge? Yes, some of these names are recycled from previous job implications. That's because they are good candidates.
Mark Hudspeth: There's buzz in coaching circles that Vandy will reach out to Hudspeth, who's well-respected in the Southeast and is 27-12 in three years at Louisiana-Lafayette, a definite flex option for your fantasy coaching roster. ULL is finalizing a contract extension for Hudspeth, according to a source.
David Cutcliffe: Not sure he would leave one ascending, academic-minded football program for another, but Cutcliffe could do some healthy schemin' on opposing SEC defenses. Give him a call. Probably too old, though. Plus he's a king in Durham.
Pat Narduzzi: He was up for UConn and Louisville, so he must be doing something right. Vandy has been stout defensively in recent years. If Narduzzi gets the right offensive coordinators, Commodores could be dangerous.
Bob Shoop: The Commodores' current DC will probably get an in-house look. Shoop was a disaster as the head coach at Columbia, which is the Vanderbilt of the Ivy League. For continuity's sake, he's probably Vandy's best bet. Offensive line coach Herb Hand would be worth a hard look, too.
Chad Morris: This is your last chance, Chad. You've coached some good offense at Clemson, Tajh and Sammy are leaving, you're ready to become a head coach. But this is probably the last BCS-level job left on the market.
Mack Brown: Seems unlikely that, at age 62, Brown would want to grind Vandy into a contender. But he's a Tennessee native, he started his playing career at Vandy before transferring and, well, he's a good coach. Probability still low, IMO.
Derek Mason: Stanford to Vandy would be a seamless transition for Mason, who's ready to become a head coach after leading one of the country's best defensive units the last few years.
Greg Roman: The 49ers OC has interviewed for Penn State -- twice -- and could be an NFL head coach soon. More than most, Vandy needs a coach that can maximize potential, and Roman does that in San Fran.
Rhett Lashlee: The guy's young -- He's a man! He's 30! -- but the dude is sharp. He'll be a head coach eventually. His offensive creativity would acquit well in Nashville.
Mike MacIntyre: His four-win debut at Colorado might not look impressive, but those who paid attention know the Buffs were much more prepared and competitive under MacIntyre. His dad, George, was a Vandy coach and Mike went to school there.
Pete Lembo: Here's another name that has circulated for several jobs but he hasn't broken through. His time will come. His detail-oriented approach would serve Vandy well.
*UAB now open: With Garrick McGee off to be Louisville's OC -- shows how much of a dead man walking McGee was in Birmingham -- how about these two words for a replacement: Gene. Chizik (h/t to CBSSports.com editor Tony Moss for that one). Knows the recruiting base, still three seasons removed from a national title. Do it, Blazers.
*Auburn RBs coach Tim Horton interviewed for the Georgia Southern job this week, per a source. GSU wants to wrap up a hire by the relaunching of recruiting on Jan. 15.
*Louisville special teams coordinator/running backs coach Kenny Carter interviewed for the UMass job today, per source. The Minutemen will probably have a hire wrapped up soon. Carter could be the guy. He also is talking with Charlie Strong about a potential position at Texas.