In a couple weeks, the coaching carousel will start spinning.
College presidents and athletic directors in search of a football coach — there could be as many as four Southeastern Conference vacancies — will do their best to sway the top prospects away.
Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams plans to make sure the circus doesn’t visit West End.
Williams told The City Paper on Tuesday he is prepared to keep James Franklin at Vanderbilt by rewarding him a better contract. Franklin, 40, has led the Commodores to bowl eligibility in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. With two regular-season games left, including Saturday’s showdown against Tennessee, Vanderbilt (6-4) is flirting with its first eight-win season since 1982.
“Whether it is an extension, whether it is changing terms, whether it is ripping [the contract] up and giving a new one, we’re prepared to do what we need to do for James Franklin to be the football coach,” Williams said. “… James and I meet every week, including this morning, and I think we’re both on the same page that we expect next year when we kick off in the opening game against Mississippi that James Franklin will still be at the helm of Vanderbilt football. I have every expectation of that.”
Williams said he doesn’t talk about contracts with his coaches during the season. But he meets with every head coach after the season to review their status. Franklin might not receive a brand new pact but Williams said revisions will be made in order to “make it a better contract.”
“I think he has had a great season — and it’s not over,” Williams said. “In my 13 years [at Vanderbilt] we’ve been eligible for bowls three times. This is the first time in my 13 years that we’ve been bowl-eligible with still two games to play. ... Last year was a good year, he got rewarded. It looks like this is a better year.”
Franklin received a contract extension and “substantial increase” in compensation after last season. Williams also granted him his wish of an indoor multipurpose facility, which broke ground two months ago and is expected to be completed next October. In addition, renovations and additions have been made to the athletic complex, the locker rooms and Vanderbilt Stadium.
But Williams realizes that won’t keep potential suitors away. Last week, Franklin was asked about other schools inquiring his services. In the SEC, Kentucky will have an opening after firing Joker Phillips. Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee might be looking too.
Franklin’s name has been tossed out with several possibilities, including North Carolina State. The Wolfpack are also 6-4 but there are mumblings that isn’t good enough for Tom O’Brien’s sixth year. N.C. State’s athletics director, Debbie Yow, is no stranger to Franklin. While the athletic director at Maryland, she named Franklin the head coach-in-waiting.
Franklin, of course, never became Maryland’s coach. After Yow left in 2010, Kevin Anderson took over the athletics department and Franklin began looking elsewhere.
“I had a really good situation that I was excited about. That changed,” Franklin told The City Paper last December. “I had a relationship. That person left. I no longer had a relationship with the new person coming in.”
And Franklin forged a new relationship with Williams, who doesn’t want the bond to end any time soon.
“I can’t predict what happens five, 10 years from now but I think James likes it here,” Williams said. “He’s had success here. We certainly like having James here. I think we’re working on changing a lot of things as it relates to how football has been approached at Vanderbilt. ... We’re giving James the opportunity to be the best he can be and make this program the best we can be. As long as we can continue to do that we don’t really have to worry about looking for something else.
“As James tells the kids, what can you ask for? You get to play in the SEC, you get to live in one of the best cities in the United States and you’re with one of the greatest universities in the world. Why would you leave?”