Boclair: Brave new world

Tuesday, December 6, 2011 at 9:05pm

Here’s hoping James Franklin enjoyed his first season as Vanderbilt’s football coach.

In spite of the obvious challenges he faced, he actually had one of the easiest jobs in the country. Expectations were so low in the wake of back-to-back 2-10 seasons and decades of almost constant futility that the pressure to succeed was minimal, at best.

Now that he’s helped author a 6-6 record, guided the program to its second bowl appearance in four years and received a contract extension, the black and gold fan base (miniscule as it might be on a relative scale) is going to want even more. Not more of the same, more and better and more often.

Once expectations change, so does what’s acceptable. That’s when things become more difficult for coaches.

Just ask Houston Nutt.

He was considered an unqualified success when he went 9-4 in his first season at Ole Miss, a generally pitiful program prior to his arrival. Another 9-4 the following season was not nearly as good, because the Rebels were a consensus preseason top-10 pick and a favorite to win the SEC West (they went 4-4 in conference play). Two losing seasons later and he got fired.

Just ask Ron Zook.

Illinois had not gone to bowl games in consecutive years since 1993 and 1994. The Illini went to one last season and then were 6-6 (aka bowl eligible) this fall. Zook lost his job, though, because expectations peaked when his team started with six straight wins but then finished with six consecutive defeats.

Zook, of course, also was the poor sap who followed Steve Spurrier at Florida when expectations were impossibly high at that school. He had three winning seasons and finished the coaches’ top 25 each time — and got fired.

Just ask Rick Neuheisel or Turner Gill.

Neuheisel got UCLA to the first Pac 12 championship game — and got fired. In two years at Kansas, Gill went from the hottest commodity on the college coaching market to out of work because he did not work a miracle similar to what he did at Buffalo.

The examples are almost endless.

For his first year at Vanderbilt, Franklin was afforded the luxury of being close. His team lost by five to Georgia and Florida and by three to Arkansas — and that was considered good news. The fact that the games were competitive and went down to the wire was hailed as progress.

No one felt compelled to break down all the coulda, woulda, shoulda moments in those contests such as why, with a seven-point lead on Arkansas, his halfback threw a pass, which was intercepted and led to an Arkansas field goal. Remember, the final difference in the score was three points.

Similarly, no one can dispute the fact that Franklin made the right call when he replaced starting quarterback Larry Smith with Jordan Rodgers after six games, at which point the Commodores were 3-3. No one, though, felt terribly compelled to dwell on why he went with Smith in the first place or that he did so based on the idea that Smith “gives us the best chance to win.”

Most any other FBS coach in the country would have been blasted for not having made the switch sooner, like prior to the opener.

All of that is about to change.

Win or lose, this year’s bowl game is a reason for celebration. For the first time, Vanderbilt will graduate players who appeared in the postseason more than once. It is something few, if any, actually expected.

After that, each close loss moves Franklin closer to dismissal. Each bungled “money play” will have folks looking a little closer at a severance package, and the number of armchair quarterbacks who feel they know what’s best for the program will increase exponentially.

It was all fun and games this year.

Now it’s just games … games people expect him to win.    

5 Comments on this post:

By: jws37205 on 12/7/11 at 7:25

One of the easiest jobs in the country? Are you on crack?

Franklin did a terrific job this year, and what you should be writing is a mea culpa response to your pre-season article, "Loudmouth". Instead, you follow up one attempted hatchet job with another,

As a Vanderbilt fan of over 30 years, I recognize how much James Franklin has done in the one year he has been at the helm. Vanderbilt has an upcoming recruiting class that is ranked in the top 25, according to Rivals.com, the first time ever. He took us to a bowl game with the same group of players that won a combined 4 games in the last two years. His success is resulting in much needed improvements to facilities, which will pay dividends in future recruiting and development of player talent.

Of course, all you want to focus on is the negative. I feel sorry for you and any family member that has to spend time around you on a daily basis. Please up your thorazine dosage before you have a permanent break with reality.

By: judyboodo@yahoo.com on 12/7/11 at 12:25

It seems to me that the difference is all of the programs that you mentioned have living people who remember when times for their football programs were good. Vanderbilt doesn't have that. Closest case in point, Vandy's basketball program, when they don't win the fans begin to grumble.

By: fightcrib on 12/7/11 at 2:52

-Boclair you are a negative guy, sarcastic and cynical in writing style. Do you hate Vandy and cannot recognize their success, or are you trying to inspire them to do better with your negativity. You are trying to be a poor-man's Mark Twain, but you end up sounding like a ghetto version of deez nutz.
-These Vandy kids managed to go to a bowl game and they are getting a better education than you did.

Fightcrib, BNA

By: Rasputin72 on 12/7/11 at 2:53

How many winning seasons has Vanderbilt had in the last 50 years? 6 and 6 is not a winning season.

By: fightcrib on 12/7/11 at 8:01

Rasputin72, you are obviously David Boclair. The answer David, is about 50 more than you, jerk.

Fightcrib, BNA