Vanderbilt Football Has Arrived at Crossroads with Departure of James Franklin

Chad MintonCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2014

Vanderbilt was 24-15 under James Franklin
Vanderbilt was 24-15 under James FranklinStacy Revere/Getty Images

Just a couple weeks ago the Vanderbilt football program was heading down a road so bright after winning their second bowl game in two years, but the coaching carousel changed that quickly as Penn State nabbed James Franklin as their new head coach.

Instead of a straight and positive road, Vanderbilt has reached a shaky crossroads that could wipe out all of the progress they made under Franklin.

It ended up just being wishful thinking that Franklin would continue on as the head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores. Despite all his success and popularity in Nashville, Franklin had to go chase his dream job. No shame there.

For the Commodores, they have to move on quickly. Franklin has put them in a position to remain successful and relevant in the SEC for years to come if they handle this coaching change in a smart manner.

There are currently several impressive candidates in the pool of possible replacements for Franklin. Many of these names would have never even been considered three years ago when the Commodores were winning two games a season.

Even a respected NFL name like Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer is getting in on the interview process for the Vandy coaching vacancy.

Respected college coordinators like Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason have also risen as strong possibilities to replace Franklin and continue the progress he made.

However, a wrong move here by Vanderbilt could send them spiraling back down to the SEC cellar. They can't pick themselves back up quite as easily as the SEC powerhouses can when they lose a head coach.

There is one thing working in the new coach's favor, and that's a very favorable 2014 schedule that offers eight homes games. That schedule also has no Alabama, no LSU and no Texas A&M.

Something else that's working in favor of Vanderbilt and the new head coach is a fanbase that probably feels somewhat betrayed. They've been called out countless times for not filling up the smallest stadium in the SEC.

Will that mean that these fans come out with a vengeance in 2014 to prove the doubters wrong? They have plenty of home games to prove it, and fans usually respond when you push them hard enough.

This process has to move swiftly in the coming days as the recruiting rankings for Vanderbilt are slipping rapidly with no head coach in place. They've dropped from the mid-20s all the way back outside of the top-60, according to

There is still plenty of time for them to recover if the right coach gets in there fast and restores order. Recruiting rankings are always a fluid process.

It will be interesting to see if the resurgence of Vanderbilt football ends up fizzling out or maintains its course next season.