Author's Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series detailing coaches who deserve Coach of the Year Award consideration for the jobs they have done this season in turning around once-dismal programs. Part I can be found here. Part 2 can be found here. Part 3 can be found here.
Vanderbilt University is sometimes referred to as the "Harvard of the South." As far as academics go, that's a great title to have. However, the sports-related aspect of it isn't nearly so positive.
Harvard plays at the FCS level, and isn't exactly a power team even in that lower division. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, plays in the SEC, where academics rank something like 20th on most of the schools' priority lists, right behind figuring out what appetizers to serve in the luxury boxes at football games.
The SEC is notorious for repeatedly neglecting academics in order to further their athletics. It's no surprise that one of the biggest academics-related sports scandals in history took place at an SEC institution—Georgia in the early '80s, where many of the players were illiterate and/or admitted with embarrassingly low SAT scores, among other things.
Since academics is the No. 1 priority at Vanderbilt, competing in the conference most renowned for obtaining football success at the expense of academic integrity is quite difficult.
In the past 30 years, the Vanderbilt Commodores have experienced all of two winning seasons (1982 and 2008). Some have argued that success at Vanderbilt is nearly impossible due to its standing as an academically-oriented school in an athletics-obsessed conference.
Vanderbilt's first-year head coach James Franklin is not among those who believe that Vanderbilt's academic standing prevents it from having success on the football field.
Under the guidance of Franklin, the Commodores currently sit at 5-5, and need only one more win in order to become eligible. With winnable games against Tennessee and Wake Forest remaining, there is a good chance that the 'Dores will be bowling this year. Considering that the team was 2-10 each of the previous two seasons, that's quite an accomplishment.
The team is currently 31st in the nation in scoring defense, and their offense is finally beginning to show signs of life as well. Junior running back Zac Stacy is having a terrific season, as he has rushed for 891 yards and ninfe touchdowns so far, with a good shot at breaking the school's single-season rushing yards record of 1,103 yards.
Meanwhile, Vandy has found a go-to quarterback in Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of NFL superstar Aaron Rodgers. In only six games as the starter this season, Rodgers has thrown for 1,166 yards and seven touchdowns, while adding 305 yards and four touchdowns rushing.
Most important of all, the team believes that it can compete with the other SEC schools, regardless of academic standing, and it's showing on the field.
In the past, the Commodores put up little resistance against their conference foes and looked much like the cupcakes that the other SEC teams are notorious for loading up their non-conference schedules with. This season, Vanderbilt has already beaten two SEC teams, and three of their conference losses were by less than a touchdown.
Franklin has sparked a complete turnaround in Vanderbilt's football program, and has them believing in themselves like never before. Add to that the fact that he is doing it a school which is at an extreme competitive disadvantage in its own conference, and it becomes obvious that Franklin should be getting some pretty serious Coach of the Year consideration.
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