Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris
One of the hottest coaching names on the market has a new home.
Former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin led the Commodores to three straight bowl games and back-to-back nine-win seasons, but has moved on to greener pastures in Happy Valley as the new head coach of Penn State, according to an announcement from the Nittany Lions on Saturday.
So where does that leave Vanderbilt?
The program is no longer the SEC pushover it once was, and has demonstrated not only the willingness to pay coaches what they want, but to have more of a recruiting pull than ever before.
Who can keep that momentum headed in the right direction? Here are five qualified candidates.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris (left) and head coach Dabo Swinney
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris should be No. 1 on Vanderbilt's list, and if he turns down the Commodores at first, he should be their second and third choice as well.
He isn't a long-term solution. In fact, Morris matching his predecessor and staying in Nashville for three years would be nothing short of a surprise if he's not scooped up by a bigger program in the immediate future.
If you're Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams, you take that chance.
Being a proving ground for hot shot head coaches is a remarkable step up from where the program once was, and Morris has proven during his time at Clemson that he has what it takes to produce a dynamic and effective offense.
The Tigers have finished first or second in the ACC in total offense in each of this three years as offensive coordinator, and earned two Orange Bowl berths in the process.
Vandy needs to ask Morris twice, and if he turns them down both times, back up a Brinks truck to his house and don't let him say no.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart
Like Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Alabama defense coordinator Kirby Smart has been a hot shot assistant in the coaching market for quite some time.
He's spent the last six of his seven years on the Alabama staff as defensive coordinator, during which time the Crimson Tide never finished worse than fifth in the country in total defense.
He has recruiting ties to the southeast, has been groomed under Nick Saban—one of the best coaches in college football history—and could be looking for an out after Saban agreed to a long-term extension that should keep him in Tuscaloosa until the end of his career.
Smart is in a place where he can wait out the perfect fit for his time to jump into the head coaching ranks. But if Vanderbilt comes calling, will that patience have worn thin enough to make the move?
Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth
If you're looking for the "next big thing" on the coaching front, look no further than Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth.
The 45-year-old has compiled a 27-12 record in his three years leading the Ragin' Cajuns, and won three straight New Orleans Bowls in the process. An innovative mind who previously worked with Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Hudspeth has ties all over the south—particularly in the states of Alabama and Mississippi.
That'd be incredibly beneficial for recruiting.
His offenses have finished in the top half of the Sun Belt in each of his first three years at the helm, and could work wonders with SEC athletes in Nashville.
He'll be an SEC head coach some day, and Vanderbilt would be well-served to make that become a reality sooner rather than later.
Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason
Derek Mason is probably overdue for a head coaching job, but maybe Vanderbilt will be the right fit.
The associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator of the Stanford Cardinal has been mentioned as a possible candidate for other recent openings, and would be a great fit at Vanderbilt.
He's an assistant on the rise who has proven that he has what it takes to lead a fantastic defense. The Cardinal finished in the top two in the Pac-12 in total defense in his two seasons with his current title, and has shut down Oregon in each of those seasons. With more and more teams implementing elements of the hurry-up and spread, that experience is invaluable.
Plus, he knows how to recruit and coach at a place that has similar academic requirements to Vanderbilt, which is an attribute some other candidates don't have.
Vanderbilt's defense was pretty solid this season (354.8 YPG), and Mason would could keep that momentum heading in the right direction.
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo
Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo would be a perfect fit in Nashville as head coach of the Commodores. His Georgia offenses have been a remarkable blend of old-school pro-style football mixed in with an uptempo attack that keeps defenses honest.
The Bulldogs have finished in the top four in total offense in each of the last three seasons, and he might be itching to make that next step in his career. When reports surfaced that Georgia Southern might be interested in Bobo, he insinuated that the next step was something he's interested in according to Marc Weiszer of the Athens (Ga.) Banner-Herald.
“I think we all, well I, aspire to be a head coach one day,” Bobo said. “Where at? I don’t know. I also aspire to win a championship here at the University of Georgia."
He's unproven, sure.
But so was Franklin when Vanderbilt hired him off the Maryland staff.
Sometimes risk equals reward.