After a successful three-year stint in Nashville, James Franklin has left Vanderbilt for Penn State. With less than a month before Signing Day, expect the Commodores to move quickly in replacing Franklin.
Vanderbilt is the toughest job in the SEC. But Franklin guided the Commodores to a 24-15 mark over the last three years, which included three consecutive bowl appearances.
While Vanderbilt is not an easy place to sustain success, the job is better than it was in 2009. A new indoor practice facility has helped the Commodores keep up in the SEC arms race, and the school is willing to pay good money for a head coach.
Much like the other academic institutions (Stanford, Duke and Northwestern), Vanderbilt can offer good job security. Even though the expectations are always to win a national title in the SEC, going to bowl games and winning seasons are a reasonable (and attainable on a yearly basis) for the Commodores.
Who will replace James Franklin at Vanderbilt? Here are 10 potential candidates to watch.
10 Candidates to Replace James Franklin at Vanderbilt
Herb Hand, offensive line coach, Vanderbilt
Hand joined the Vanderbilt staff under former coach Robbie Caldwell in 2010. The New York native has brought significant improvement to the Commodores’ offensive line over the last four years and has a wealth of experience from other stops in his career. Hand worked under Todd Graham at Tulsa from 2007-09, including a stint as the co-offensive coordinator. Prior to Tulsa, Hand served as an assistant at West Virginia, Clemson, Concord College, Glenville State College and West Virginia Wesleyan. Hand doesn’t have any head coaching experience on the FBS level. However, if he’s promoted, Hand could help keep most of the staff intact and salvage this year’s recruiting class.
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman is a rising star in the assistant coach ranks. The Cincinnati native started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999. After two years with the Longhorns, he stayed in the Lone Star State with stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice. After four stops in Texas, Herman was the offensive coordinator at Iowa State from 2009-11. And after three years with the Cyclones, Herman was hired by Urban Meyer to coordinate the Ohio State offense. Under Herman’s direction, the Buckeyes averaged 37.2 points a game in 2012 and 45.5 points a contest in 2013. Much like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Herman is due for a chance to run his own program. As a member of Mensa and a coach with a stint at Rice, Herman would be a good fit at Vanderbilt. But is he ready to leave Ohio State? If he returns to Columbus in 2014, Herman would have one more year to work with Braxton Miller, which could only raise his stock for a head coaching job next season.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, Louisiana-Lafayette
Hudspeth has quietly built an impressive resume from a handful of stops, including the last three years as the head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns. Louisiana-Lafayette is 27-12 under Hudspeth’s direction, and the Ragin’ Cajuns claimed a share of the Sun Belt title in 2013. The 27 wins under Hudspeth are the most in a three-year span in school history. Prior to taking over at Louisiana-Lafayette, Hudspeth spent two years as a receivers coach at Mississippi State (2009-10) and worked as the head coach at North Alabama from 2002-08. In seven years at North Alabama, Hudspeth recorded a 66-21 mark. As a former SEC assistant, Hudspeth certainly knows his way around the league and would be another high-energy coach for the Commodores. However, Hudspeth does not have experience recruiting to an academic institution like Stanford’s Derek Mason. Could that have an impact on his candidacy?
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo doesn’t have the name recognition of a Chad Morris or Pat Narduzzi, but he’s a rising star in the coaching ranks and has been successful at three different stops. The New York native went 44-14 at Lehigh from 2001-05. From 2006-10, Lembo guided Elon to a 35-22 mark and one playoff appearance. In three years at Ball State, the Cardinals are 25-13 under his watch. Lembo has also led Ball State to back-to-back bowl games for just the second time in school history. Moving from Ball State to Vanderbilt would be a sizeable jump. However, Lembo is ready for a chance to run a BCS program and his success at small schools like Elon and Lehigh should be attractive for athletic director David Williams.
Mike MacIntyre, head coach, Colorado
MacIntyre would be an outstanding hire for Vanderbilt. However, he indicated this week he does not plan to pursue the job. Even if MacIntyre does not plan to throw his name into the ring to replace Franklin, Vanderbilt would be wise to at least inquire. MacIntyre just finished his first season at Colorado (4-8) after three years at San Jose State (16-21). While MacIntyre’s overall record is just 20-29 overall, San Jose State’s win total improved in each season, and the Buffaloes made considerable improvement in 2013. MacIntyre has an interesting backstory, as his father (George) coached at Vanderbilt from 1979-85. And Mike played with the Commodores from 1984-85 before transferring to Georgia Tech.
Derek Mason, defensive coordinator, Stanford
Mason has been a key piece of Stanford’s success under David Shaw. He is regarded as one of the nation’s top defensive coordinators and is an excellent X’s and O’s coach. Prior to joining Stanford’s staff in 2010, Mason worked in the NFL with the Vikings as a defensive backs assistant from 2007-09. Mason’s first college job was in 1994 at San Diego Mesa College, followed by stops at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, Saint Mary’s, New Mexico State and Ohio. Under Mason’s direction, Stanford has finished first or second in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of the last three years. Considering Mason is familiar with recruiting and coaching at an academic institution, those attributes could work prominently in his favor for the opening at Vanderbilt.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
Morris is the highest-paid assistant in college football and just finished his third season calling the plays at Clemson. Under Morris’ direction, the Tigers have averaged at least 440 yards per game in each of the last three years. Clemson has also averaged at least 40 points a contest in in back-to-back seasons. In 2013, Morris guided the Tigers to an average of 508.5 yards per game, while the offense also averaged a whopping 6.4 yards per play. In one season as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator (2010), the Golden Hurricane averaged 505.6 yards per game and 6.5 yards per play. As if it wasn’t obvious by those numbers, Morris is one of the nation’s top offensive minds. However, his only head coaching experience was on the high school level. While Morris may experience a few ups and downs as a head coach, his offensive background is worth the risk. For Vanderbilt, Morris would be an exciting hire and would build on the momentum from the past three years under Franklin.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi turned down Connecticut and was believed to be in the mix at Louisville before Bobby Petrino was rehired. Narduzzi’s coaching career started at Miami (Ohio) in 1990 and continued there until 1992. From 1993-99, Narduzzi worked at Rhode Island and spent the following three years (2000-02) at Northern Illinois. Narduzzi’s first chance to coordinate a defense on the FBS level was in 2003 at Miami (Ohio), and he joined forces with Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati in 2004. Since 2004, Narduzzi has worked under Dantonio and has coordinated some of the nation’s top defenses at Michigan State. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach in 2013. The Spartans finished second nationally in total defense and allowed just 4.0 yards per play this season. Narduzzi’s defense at Michigan State was a key reason why the Spartans claimed the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory over Stanford this year. The only downside to Narduzzi’s resume is no head coaching experience. He is regarded as a good recruiter.
Greg Roman, offensive coordinator, San Francisco 49ers
Roman interviewed at Vanderbilt before James Franklin was hired in 2010. Could he get another look this year? Most of the New Jersey’s native experience has been in the NFL, starting with the Panthers in 1995, continuing with the Texans in 2002, the Ravens in 2006 and the 49ers in 2011. Roman worked with Jim Harbaugh at Stanford from 2009-10. Although he has no head coaching experience, Roman has worked under one of the best coaches in the NFL (Harbaugh) and is an excellent offensive mind. How quickly Roman would be available depends on how far San Francisco goes in the NFL playoffs. Roman’s name was in the mix for the Penn State opening.
Kirby Smart, defensive coordinator, Alabama
Smart’s name has popped up for a few jobs over the last few years, but the former Georgia defensive back can afford to be patient in choosing his first head coaching gig. Smart has worked under Saban for eight years, starting in 2004 at LSU and continuing in the NFL with the Dolphins. He followed Saban to Alabama in 2007 and has served as the defensive coordinator since 2008. The Crimson Tide’s defense has ranked No. 1 in the SEC in total defense every season since 2008, and this unit led the nation in fewest points allowed in 2011-12. As we mentioned earlier, Smart does not have any head coaching experience, which seems to be the only concern on his resume. Is Smart waiting for a job in the SEC to open? If so, is Vanderbilt an appealing destination for him? Or is Smart waiting for a chance at Georgia, LSU or one of the other premier jobs in the league?
Others to Watch
Mike Bobo, offensive coordinator, Georgia
Bobo interviewed for the Georgia Southern vacancy but was passed over in favor of Willie Fritz. Bobo has been a successful offensive coordinator with the Bulldogs, working in Athens since 2001.
Pep Hamilton, offensive coordinator, Indianapolis Colts
Hamilton was hired as the Colts’ offensive coordinator in 2013. Prior to jumping to the NFL, Hamilton served as Stanford’s play-caller from 2011-12. And he has stops as an assistant in the NFL with the Jets, 49ers and Bears. Hamilton has never been a head coach.
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain was in the mix for the open job at Louisville. After two years at Colorado State, he has a 12-14 and guided the Rams to a New Mexico Bowl victory in 2013. Prior to coming to Fort Collins, McElwain served as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.
Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State
Pruitt was an unknown coming into 2013. After all, he had no coordinator experience on the FBS level and worked as a defensive backs coach at Alabama from 2010-12. However, Pruitt was a key cog in Florida State’s national title run, guiding the Seminoles to a No. 1 national rank in scoring defense. He is also regarded as an excellent recruiter.
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator, Vanderbilt
Shoop had a successful three-year stint as Vanderbilt’s defensive coordinator under James Franklin. However, as a Pennsylvania native, he could follow Franklin to Penn State. Shoop went 7-23 in three years as Columbia’s head coach from 2003-05.
Matt Wells, head coach, Utah State
Wells recorded a 9-5 mark in his first season at Utah State, which was a difficult year considering the Aggies lost quarterback Chuckie Keeton due to a knee injury. While Wells did an outstanding job this year, he inherited a good team from previous coach Gary Andersen. Wells has only been a head coach for one season.