Vanderbilt, Duke may become victims of success


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For the first time in its history, the Vanderbilt football program
has earned bowl eligibility in consecutive seasons. The program is in line to
sign a Top-15 recruiting class in February and things are trending in a positive
direction for those who have anchored down.
Similarly, Duke is making strides toward consistent legitimacy. The
Blue Devils have won six games before November for only the third time since
1953 and are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 -- coincidentally the last time the team broke six wins.
The success and subsequent excitement that James Franklin and
David Cutcliffe have brought to the beaten-down fan bases of both private
universities are now being tempered with the potential loss of both men as
college football's annual coaching carousel begins to spin.
Vacancies at Kentucky -- which may not be viewed as a step up for
either Franklin or Cutcliffe -- and Arkansas are expected to soon be
joined by Tennessee and Auburn. The familiarity with Cutcliffe
at Tennessee will likely make the 58-year-old a candidate worth considering
despite being an elder statesman in the coaching ranks. Franklin became a hot
name immediately after he took the position at Vanderbilt, and his success on the
field combined with the proven ability to recruit SEC-caliber players makes him attractive.
Now all those invested in the Commodores and Blue Devils will be forced to wait and see if their coach remains or if they will use the perennial doormats as steppingstones.
For their part, each coach is saying all the right things, right now.
"We love where we are and what we are doing," Cutcliffe said. "I am happy at
Franklin shared the coachspeak.
"We have been dealing with these types of things since we got here," he said.
"Our focus is on this week."
While both recite the expected verbiage, speculation will persist.
Chris Lee covers the Commodores for
VandySports.com, and he believes Franklin is sincere. But if Franklin chose to leave, it would pause the forward progress.
"Franklin has been the best coaching hire this school has made since Steve Sloan in the 1970s, and I think many would argue he is better than that," Lee said. "Most people will talk about his recruiting, but his on-the-field coaching is
incredible. If he left I think the next guy could probably win with the talent
he has brought into the program, but it won't be the same.
"There is a real feeling that with Franklin this could be a nine-win program. If
he got Vandy a New Year's Day Bowl victory, they will build a statue for him."
Vanderbilt's come-from-behind victory against Ole Miss last week was a
statement game for the program. Three-star commit Taurean Ferguson of
Jonesboro (Ga.) High viewed the victory as the team personifying the attitude of
its leader.
"They never gave up and that is the kind of guy Coach Franklin is," Ferguson
said. "He doesn't stop. He is always coaching guys up and making them believe.
He will get after you when you need it but he does it to build you up, and I
think that comeback was because of him and his style."
Ferguson was the fifth commitment to the Vanderbilt class, choosing to give his
verbal pledge in March. The 5-foot-9 cornerback said that his relationship with
Franklin was the primary reason.
"He really made me feel like he cared," Ferguson said. "He made me feel like I
was already on the team. He was the only coach that was recruiting me that would
pick up the phone every time I called and I like that he was always available."
Franklin said that he does not have a set message for recruits regarding his
future with the program, but that he will address it with any who ask.
"I will get into more detail with those guys," Franklin said. "We have a
personal relationship with those kids and we will get into detail with them."
Ferguson said that he hasn't asked the coach his intention but made it clear
that if Franklin wasn't part of the program it may change his status as well.
"I hope he stays and I am pretty sure he will," Ferguson said. "If he leaves
before signing day, though, I will probably look around to see if there is a
better place for me."
Landon Stokes, a three-star defensive end from Orlando (Fla.) Lake
Highland, said that his relationship with Franklin was a major reason for his
commitment as well but, unlike Ferguson, he plans to stay the course regardless
of Franklin's status.
"Coach Franklin is a great coach. I want to play for him and I think he will
stay," Stokes said. "But it is about the whole package for me and I am anchored
down right now."
If Franklin were to leave, the Commodores' commit list would become a list of
targets for poaching programs. Four-star quarterback
Johnathon McCrary and three-star running back Johnathan Ford figure to
receive the most attention.
Duke, on the other hand, may be in a better place to keep its class together.
Brian McLawhorn covers the team for
DevilsIllustrated.com and he thinks that the philosophy on Tobacco Road is
different than in Nashville.
"The unique thing is that I don't think Cutcliffe is the main guy in any of the
recruiting," McLawhorn said. "It is a family-style recruiting approach and not
just one coach being a driving force. I think that aspect will keep a lot of the
kids here, but if he took the staff with him it could fall apart."
The 16-man class for Duke is currently ranked No. 55 class in the country and is
on track to be one of the Blue Devils' highest-ranked recruiting hauls over the
last decade.
McLawhorn said that the loss of Cutcliffe would likely be noticed in the future
and that his presence has always been felt in the region whether he was at
Tennessee, Ole Miss or now at Duke.
"He has been involved with the Raleigh-Durham area for so long that he will get
the kids he wants if he goes to a place like Tennessee," McLawhorn said. "His
relationship with Peyton and Eli Manning always generates attention when they
are on campus and that plays a major role in recruiting."
What both programs are banking on is the follow-through on promises made to both
Duke has upgraded its practice facility, it has extended its outdoor field from
60 to 100 yards, and it has stadium improvements in the works.
According to McLawhorn, the administration has shown Cutcliffe a commitment that
it has not shown any previous coach, Steve Spurrier included.
"Spurrier really didn't stay long enough to find out, but it was unlikely he
would have gotten what Cutciffe is getting now," McLawhorn said. "Ted Roof got nothing, I mean zero support. With what Cutcliffe has done on the field and the off-the-field stuff improving, it has students and alumni
enthusiastic for the first time."
Vanderbilt is following through with similar plans. It has renovated the
football stadium and added a new high definition Jumbotron, it made cosmetic
improvements to the McGugin Center and built a new $30 millon practice facility.
Lee thinks the administration is doing everything it can to keep Franklin
The rubber will meet the road when doing all a program can proves not to be enough to keep each man happy.
"They are paying Franklin and his assistants a good salary and making sure that
Vanderbilt is competitive with other SEC schools where it can," Lee said. "There
are things that the school simply cannot do, but it is getting its bang for the
buck. The administration is doing as much as they can afford."
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