Monday, December 20, 2010

Don't Fall into the Ralph Friedgen/Clay Travis/Maryland Played Us Trap

Maryland made it official today, announcing that the university was buying out the final year of their head coach Ralph Friedgen's contract. Those Commodore fans unhappy with Vanderbilt's hiring of James Frankin will undoubtedly use this news as further evidence that Vice Chancellor David Williams "got played." Don't.

Disaffected Vanderbilt Fan: But Maryland's AD said James Franklin would not have been guaranteed this job had he turned down Vanderbilt. That proves they didn't want him and that he's not a good coach and the Commodores got played.

Bobby O'Shea: So what? As far as I'm concerned, this doesn't prove anything. Maryland hired a new Athletic Director, Kevin Anderson, after Debbie Yow moved to NC State to take the same position in Raleigh. He obviously wants to hire his own people, including a new football coach.

Disaffected Vanderbilt Fan: If Franklin was so good, they would have done everything they could to have kept him in College Park.

Bobby O'Shea: Not necessarily. Anderson claims Franklin leaving allowed the Terps to buy-out Friedgen and that they wouldn't have done so without his departure to Nashville. Frankly, I don't believe that, despite the Maryland's AD statements to the contrary.

Disaffected Vanderbilt Fan: We took Franklin off Maryland's hands, allowing them to get rid of Friedgen and hire Mike Leach.

Bobby O'Shea: I think Anderson's contention that Maryland was only in a position to get rid of their current head coach after Franklin left oversimplifies the situation. Here's why: according to the Maryland press conference, Anderson was concerned about Friedgen's ability to recruit players and assistants given that he was in the last year of his contract. That may have been the case, but the jump from there isn't "we need to fire our coach." Rather, it's either to offer the coach an extension or announce the succession plan in place (i.e. Franklin as "coach-in-waiting") is going ahead as planned). Understandably, Anderson didn't want to do either because neither Friedgen nor Franklin were "his guys."

The long and the short of it is, the narrative that Vanderbilt got played in this situation is unpersuasive. First, that conclusion ignores the internal politics at work. Maryland's current AD had nothing to do with hiring either Friedgen or Franklin and he wanted to have the opportunity to select the next coach for himself. The "coach-in-waiting" arrangement tied his hands. Anderson admits that Franklin would have been considered for the head job, just not guaranteed it. He told Franklin as much. Franklin opted for the certainty of a head coaching position at a program that was sure they wanted him, rather than waiting it out to see what Anderson decided to do.

Second, the narrative assumes a zero-sum game. In this situation, that's not the case. Vanderbilt doesn't "lose" if Maryland "wins." Potentially, both programs have an opportunity to win if the coaches they hire make the individual programs better.

Third, the veracity of narrative depends on Maryland hiring Mike Leach. But that doesn't matter, either. Vice Chancellor Williams made it abundantly clear that he was not interested in Mike Leach. He said he was aware that Leach went to law school and knew what his record was. He also knew that Leach was currently embroiled in litigation surrounding his termination from Texas Tech and noted how his name hadn't been mentioned for any other vacancies, despite Leach's clear interest. Vanderbilt wasn't the only team not interested in Leach. As it stands, there is a report that it's Under Armour behind the Leach to Maryland talk. Meaning, the only way Leach is getting back into coaching is with corporate sponsorship. Vanderbilt was not interested in Mike Leach, even if some of their fans (and members of the local media) were. While the wisdom of that decision not to hire Leach remains to be seen, it's not as if Maryland will get Leach instead of us, because Vanderbilt never wanted him to being with.

Now, I'll admit that I was intrigued by the notion of Leach early on in the process (an idea ridiculed by some of my VSL Brain Trust brethren, I might add). But more than anything, I trust that Vice Chancellor Williams and his staff are the right people to run Vanderbilt athletics and get the program where it needs to be. Because I trust them, I defer to their judgment until they prove my faith is misplaced. The premise of Vanderbilt vs. Maryland in the battle for a head football coach is a trap, don't take the bait.


Anything but Gatorade said...

The basic facts are these:
1. Vandy expresses interest in hiring James Franklin.
2. Franklin has a $1MM buyout clause in his contract through the end of 2011 if he doesn't get hired as HC at Maryland.
3. Maryland shows no interest whatsoever in keeping Franklin around.
4. Vandy hires Franklin.
5. Maryland fires Friedgen.

Maybe Maryland didn't handle their coaching arrangement intentionally to the detriment of Vanderbilt, but Vanderbilt clearly made it easier and more importantly CHEAPER for the Terps to clean house and start over. Franklin leaving meant that the price tag for firing Friedgen just went on clearance to the tune of $1 million off. My personal misgivings about Franklin aside, the circumstances surrounding his exit from Maryland are certainly specious. I'm not a big Clay Travis fan, but he's not totally off base.

Bobby O'Shea said...

I think your resuscitation of facts is correct. All of those things did happened. With that said, so what? I don't believe the facts support the ultimate conclusion that Vanderbilt got played. If Vanderbilt believes James Franklin is there guy, then what does the university care if, in getting the coach who is going to rebuild our program, we help another school save some coin? Again, it's not a zero-sum game between Vanderbilt and Maryland.

The circumstances surrounding Franklin's departure are only suspicious if one wants them to be. Not surprisingly, a sports talk radio host/columnist wants them to do. It creates more fodder and advances a narrative he is comfortable with (Vanderbilt football being perpetually terrible). The problem, is the "suspicions" depend on 2 incorrect assumptions: 1) Franklin was forced upon us, and 2) Maryland and Vanderbilt are in direct competition with one another. But neither of these statements are true. Vanderbilt wanted Franklin (even if some fans are unimpressed). Commodore fans are, in my view, too hung up on the fact that Maryland didn't do anything to keep him. Again, so what? The fact that Maryland's AD, who had nothing to do either with hiring or making him the coach-in-waiting, was unwilling to make a long term commitment to James Franklin says very little about Coach Franklin or Vanderbilt's decision to hire him.

Maze said...

BobbyO'- 1
Bob- 0

Seamus O'Toole said...

I agree with Bobby O'Shea: the facts don't support the conclusion that we "got played" by Maryland. I find it rankly inconsistent that Bobby failed to apply this exact same logic to the Malzahn situation, but I guess that's neither here nor there at this point.

Despite my agreement, I also can't say that I blame the casual observer for raising eyebrows at the recent news reports. It might appear to an objective person that Vanderbilt has just hired a first-time head coach who was apparently (a) not impressive enough to Maryland's new AD for Maryland to make a play to keep him, and possibly (b) on the verge of being fired anyway (though I take Kevin Anderson at his word when he says this isn't true, especially since Franklin hammered home at the presser what a great situation he had left at Maryland). Whether or not Maryland's AD wanted an entire staff of his own guys in place, it's understandable for people to be concerned about the fact that Maryland appears pleased as punch to see Franklin go.

It's hard to know at this point how prescient the hire of Franklin will turn out to be. I'm excited about him because I think he has the energy and the savvy to be able to sell Vanderbilt to recruits and their parents, he's saying all the right things about winning and changing the culture and being a CEO, and he's young enough to be able to build something for the long haul. He's received some ringing endorsements from people who know the game a lot better than I do, so all I can do at this point is give CJF, and David Williams, the benefit of the doubt.

In short, nobody pawned this guy off on us; DW wanted him. This hire should be judged by the results, not by Clay Travis.

Bobby O'Shea said...

Even while agreeing with me, Seamus has to take a shot. What a guy!

Seamus O'Toole said...

After knowing me for nearly a decade, he says this as if it comes as some surprise. I thought by now I was pretty clearly on the record as being a jackass, but maybe I need to work harder.