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Tennessee Lands 4-Star DT Sawyers

PLAYER UPDATETennessee is the only school in the nation that will have to replace every starter along both its offensive and defensive lines next season.  Out of 125, the Vols are the only ones facing that huge challenge.

So receiving the faxed paperwork from 4-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers out of Nashville is a big catch for Butch Jones’ monster class.

Vanderbilt fans have to be disappointed.  Not only did Sawyers decommit from the Dores once James Franklin left, but now he’ll be facing them every season decked out in bright orange.

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Vanderbilt’s Signee Tracker… Still A Big Ol’ Blank

VANDERBILT UPDATEThanks to the departure of James Franklin and a number of the quality commitments, National Signing Day figures to be a quiet one.  As of now, it’s a very, very quiet day.  As in no faxes in to date.  According to the Commodores’ official athletic site, new coach Derek Mason is still waiting for his first signee of the day.  (As of 8:22am ET.)

UPDATE — Dallas Rivers, RB is on the board for Vandy

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At Arkansas – And Elsewhere – Unanswered Prayers Are Sometimes Best

prayingFans want “big name” hires.  They want the flash and hoopla that surround bringing in a proven coach from another program.  And why shouldn’t they?  Swiping a top coach from somewhere else ups a program’s street cred and earns plenty of “SportsCenter” pub to boot.

There’s really just one problem with the “big name” hire.  That’s the fact that name hires are just as hit or miss as up-and-comer hires.  Just ask an Arkansas fan.

Arguably, Razorback athletic director Jeff Long has been America’s best go-getter AD since 2007.  In football he stole Bobby Petrino away from the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and Bret Bielema from then-Big Ten champion Wisconsin.  In hoops he swiped former Hog assistant Mike Anderson from neighboring Missouri.

In terms of pleasing the ol’ fanbase, Long has been hitting on all cylinders with his hires.  And how’s that worked out for him?

Well, Petrino blew himself up with a scandal that could have left the University of Arkansas in legal trouble and Long without a job.  The first-year of Bielema’s rebuild earned Arkansas its first-ever winless season in conference play and it’s first-ever nine-game losing streak in a single season.

In basketball, Anderson has failed to take the Razorbacks to the NCAA Tournament in his first two years and it’s looking doubtful he’ll make it in Year Three.  After a loss at Tennessee last night, Anderson’s Arkansas teams are now just 2-21 in true road games and just 3-27 in games outside the Natural State since his coronation.

Long swung for the fences three times in a row.  One is already a strikeout.  It’s too early to make a call on the Bielema and Anderson hires, but suffice to say they’ve not turned into home run hires just yet.

This isn’t a knock on Arkansas, mind you.  It’s just a reminder that praying for a big name or a hot name doesn’t always pan out.

For every Nick Saban or John Calipari who lives up to expectations there’s a Bobby Petrino who leaves a program worse than he found it.  For every hot up-and-comer who pans out (Gus Malzahn, Billy Donovan) there’s an equal number of fast-risers who never quite reach the heights folks expect (Anthony Grant, Tony Barbee).

Sometimes the “who’s he?” hires — James Franklin at Vanderbilt, Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss — are better than the guys everyone dreams about.

Will what’s happened at Arkansas over the past few seasons prevent Jon Gruden rumors from popping up the next time a football job opens in the SEC?  Of course not.  Everyone will always want their school to hire a splashy name.

But sometimes the unanswered prayers turn out best.


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SEC Headlines 1/19/2014

headlines-sun3-150x150SEC Football

1. New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason: ”I’m never going to try and be James Franklin.”

2. More from Mason:“I’m looking for an offense that has versatility. You have to adapt your offense to what you have in your arsenal.” Watch his introductory news conference.

3. David Climer:  ”If first impressions count for anything, the Commodores hired the right coach.”

4. Former Alabama quarterback Luke Del Rio is transferring to Oregon State.

5. Alabama running back Alvin Kamara confirms his transfer decision.

6. An Auburn prediction: “Something tells me Malzahn and Auburn could be back in the national championship a time or two.”

7. Who will replace Greg Robinson at offensive tackle for the Tigers?

8. Steve Spurrier addresses the crowd at the South Carolina basketball game: “We’ve been fortunate to beat that big, orange team from upstate about five straight years — pretty convincingly.”

9. Gary Pinkel’s pitch on Missouri: “We think that, in our player development program, we do it as good as anybody in the country, and better than most.”

10. Pinkel on Dorial Green-Beckham: “I never discuss any disciplinary issues.”

11. Alabama’s defensive line line looks to be in good shape for next season.

SEC/College News

12. SEC paydirt.  Conference schools received an average payout of $20.8 million in 2012-2013 – a 2-percent jump from previous year.

13. LSU fullback J.C. Copeland earns the MVP award at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. Missouri quarterback James Franklin started for the American team.

14. Arkansas’ Zach Hocker kicks three field goals – East beats West in Shrine Game.

15. Four Alabama seniors will play in the Senior Bowl.

16. Expect the SEC and the other power conferences to be getting more autonomy from the NCAA.

***NFL releases official list of underclassmen declaring for draft.***

SEC Basketball

17. Suspended Auburn forward Chris Griffin has left the team – plans to transfer.

18. Mark Wiedmar on Tennessee coming up short Saturday at Kentucky: “At some point, if that pattern continues, Martin’s time as the Tennessee coach might also come up short, his teams just good enough to get beat when it matters most.”

19. NBA scouts were on hand to watch Kentucky’s young players Saturday - and also Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes.

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Vanderbilt Introducing Derek Mason As New Football Coach

Derek MasonThe 28th head football coach at Vanderbilt is Derek Mason.  The former Stanford defensive coordinator is meeting with the media this morning in Nashville.  Mason replaces James Franklin who left the Commodores to take the job at Penn State. Shortly before being offered the job on Friday, here’s how Mason described the position at Vanderbilt.


“Who’s not going to say yes (to the Vandy job)? I think it’s a great opportunity to be in a place that does it right. James Franklin did a wonderful job of putting this program on the map. He made it relevant. That debt of gratitude is definitely owed to him.

“It is a program steeped in the right temperament, the right acumen for success. It plays in one of the best football conferences in the country, the SEC, and I think when you put those two together between the academics and the football acumen, I think it can be a winning combination.”


Reaction to the news:

David Climer: “The fact that Mason even returned Vanderbilt’s call is an indication of how much better a job this is now than it was three years ago when Franklin was hired.”

Chris Low: “What Mason has going for him is that he knows what kind of students are going to make it at Vanderbilt.”

West Coast reaction: “Stanford suffered its most significant loss of the offseason Friday…” 

“The Commodores could not have made a better hire from a recruiting standpoint than the one they did…”

Jeremy Fowler: “This has been a landmark offseason for African-American coaches…”

Don’t confuse Derek Mason with Derrick Mason – the former Tennessee Titans wide receiver. “It’s already started.”

News conference scheduled for 10:00 a.m. Central time.  Watch a live stream here.

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SEC Headlines 1/17/2013

headlines-friSEC Coaching News

1. Looks like Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason will be the next head coach at Vanderbilt.  Reportedly had second interview this morning.

2. Georgia won’t have a single assistant coach on defense returning next season – first time that’s happened in half a century. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson apparently had some second thoughts, but is leaving for USC.

3. Turnover is the norm on almost every coaching staff in the SEC – except Missouri.

4. “Did anybody really expect (James) Franklin to keep his hands off all of Vanderbilt’s commitments? That’s naïve.”

5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier will be 73 when his current deal expires – he has the option to become a “special advisor” at the school when he does decide to retire.

SEC Football

6. Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons will miss the first three games of next season - part of the same suspension that forced him to sit out the Gator Bowl.

7. Here’s a list of SEC players to keep your eye on during the 2014 season. And some  potential Heisman candidates from the conference.

8. Who will replace Jay Prosch in the Auburn backfield?

9. And quarterback AJ McCarron at Alabama? “The race is as wide open as Megatron in a middle-school secondary.”


10. Juniors have three days to rescind their NFL draft decision and retain college eligibility.  That’s apparently what Alabama safety Vinnie Sunseri is pondering.

11. Alabama senior cornerback Deion Blue projects as an NFL talent but dealt with turf toe all season.

12. Perspective on AJ McCarron missing the Senior Bowl: “This is the biggest name from Mobile turning down his one opportunity to participate in Mobile’s biggest annual sporting event.”

SEC Basketball

13. Kentucky guard Aaron Harrison  threw a ball into the scoreboard at the end of their overtime loss at Bud Walton arena this week.  Arkansas plans to keep it there.

14. South Carolina guard Tyrone Johnson fractured his foot against Texas A&M Wednesday night – will require surgery.

15. Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson says he can’t remain calm.  ”I can’t do it anymore. I’m sorry. I’m going back to me, because we need it.”

16. Florida much better at close games this year - Gators 0-6 in games decided by single digits a year ago.

17. Is Tennessee a “desperate” team this weekend as it travels to Kentucky? UK knows it will need to stop Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon.

18. John Calipari is already thinking ahead to next year’s Christmas break and including UK fans in “Camp Cal.”

19. Suspended for Saturday’s game against Auburn, Missouri forward Tony Criswell returned to action last night.  Scored five points in losing effort.

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Franklin Defends His Decision To Swing Vandy Commits To Penn State

gfx - they said itYesterday, James Franklin appeared on Dan Patrick’s national radio show.  He was asked about his decision to try and lure a number of Vanderbilt commits into following him to Penn State.  His response?


“I don’t know what the rules are, there.  I know that I’ve been sitting in living rooms with families and kids and selling them on a dream and selling them on a vision and our relationship.  A lot of people say that the kids should commit to a school, not a coach, but the reality is, they do (commit to coaches).  Families and kids want to make sure their kids is being taken care of.  It’s about the relationship aspect.

My responsibility is to do everything in my power to make sure I put a team together that can help Penn State be successful.  The people I’ve been recruiting for the last two years that I know inside and out, know the type of men they are, type of families they come from, that’s going to happen.  My job right now is to everything I possibly can to help Penn State be successful.”


In other words, “Thanks for the millions; now kiss off, Vandy.”  Hey, at least he’s honest.

Those comments remind this writer of all the times Vanderbilt fans defended Franklin against our charges that he was a loudmouth and that he could be jerkish, even Kiffinesque at times.  I remember the many times an email or comment came in this site’s direction claiming that we “must be fans of some school that’s scared of Franklin.”

Uh, no, we just thought Franklin — a great recruiter and a good coach — was all about Franklin and not Vanderbilt.  Now those who defended him so vociferously simply because he was wearing their school colors at the time are beginning to understand what we saw from an objective point of view.  Great recruiter, good coach, jerkish.

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As Vandy’s Franklin Works Out The Details With Penn State, National Coverage Is Going Right Where We Said It Would Go

shocked20audienceFor the past month we’ve had to write about James Franklin the job candidate on numerous occasions.  And in each of those posts we’ve said that the recent rape scandal at Vanderbilt could become a drawback for him on this year’s job carousel.  Southern Cal was supposed to be interested.  Then we in the media said Washington would come calling.  Then it was going to be Texas.  But no, no and no.  There were no stories of back-alley meetings or planes flying to and from Nashville.

The Houston Texans did reportedly meet with Franklin, but an NFL team has less to fear when it comes to reputation than universities.

So when Franklin’s name popped up in connection with Penn State, we at scoffed.  If there was one school that simply couldn’t hire a guy who might have to take the witness stand in a rape trial it was Penn State.

Only Penn State has apparently offered Franklin their job anyway.  Currently, the coach is expected to accept the invitation, though Vanderbilt is working behind the scenes to give the coach everything he wants (likely even more cash for his assistants and a guaranteed start date on stadium renovations).  This delay has given national writers a chance to go exactly where we expected them to go.  Before Franklin has even signed his name to a contract, PSU is being questioned for the hire it’s apparently in the process of making.

The latest column from Dennis Dodd of is titled: “Penn State, of all teams, should have avoided James Franklin.”  Some samples:


“Penn State cannot hire James Franklin.  Can’t even begin to think about it, actually.  

The fact there is ‘baggage’ in the background of Vanderbilt’s talented, affable, accomplished coach is enough.  All you need to know is that Franklin was Vanderbilt’s coach last June 23 when police say four of his players raped an unconscious 21-year-old student in a dorm room…

Franklin has not been tied to the case, at all.  But he was the coach when it happened and that should be enough — especially at Penn State.  

Do you know why?

Penn State doesn’t need a winning football coach that bad to risk its moral comeback from NCAA hell…

Penn State has to have a higher standard than any school at this point.  The institution is still digging its moral reputation out of the mud.”


Christine Brennan of USA Today posted a similar take this morning titled: “For Penn State right now, James Franklin is wrong choice.”  A few snippets:


“What Jerry Sandusky did under the auspices of Penn State football was so horrible that one would think the mere thought of his despicable acts would guide every move by every person in a position of leadership at Penn State from now until, well, forever.  For instance, because Sandusky raped young boys, you would think Penn State definitely would steer clear of anyone involved with that awful, terrible word: rape.  That would seem to be a wise guiding principle for the search committee.

So, Penn State, who are you thinking about hiring?

A man whose tenure at Vanderbilt was marked by a rape scandal…

James Franklin is a coveted 41-years-old head coach who probably would make a fine hire for any of his other suitors.  Just not Penn State.  Not at this time…

Whatever happens in that (Vanderbilt rape) case, by hiring Franklin, Penn State will have attached itself to it.  If there’s a trial and Franklin’s a part of it, Penn State would be a part of it, too.”


Bingo.  That’s the problem with Penn State hiring Franklin.  If/when he’s forced to testify in the trials of his four ex-players, it will be Penn State’s coach testifying in a rape case.  If something ugly and unexpected comes out during that trial, it will be Penn State’s coach dealing with the fallout.

Franklin is a tremendous coach and he should not be punished for a case in which the Nashville DA’s office has cleared him of any wrongdoing in any kind of coverup.  But Penn State is not the right school to make this run at this moment due to the PR ramifications that we saw coming a month ago.  And if we saw this coming a month ago, how the heck could Penn State not have seen it coming this week — or not cared that it would come?

Any school hiring Franklin would be importing the VU sexual assault case to its campus.  One school’s recent history makes that importation almost impossible.  But that very school — Penn State — is trying to do just that, right now.

PSU officials who wanted to bury the Sandusky story and move forward from it are bringing the story back into the headlines.  And if/when Franklin testifies, the words “rape,” “Sandusky,” and “Penn State” will once again be kicked around from local media outlets to national ones.  It’s truly hard to believe that the administration at any major college or university could be so utterly and fantastically tone deaf.

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SEC Headlines 1/10/2014

headlines-friSEC Football

1. Here’s why nothing has been announced between Penn State and James Franklin (and why Vanderbilt could still have a shot).

2. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reports Franklin’s contract at Penn State should be finalized and approved on Saturday.

3. Kevin Scarbinsky writes that Alabama coach Nick Saban is smart to like Lane Kiffin.

4. Alabama director of player personnel Kevin Steele will reportedly leave to become Louisville’s defensive coordinator.

5. Gus Malzahn received an “A+” from Athlon Sports for his first-year coaching job at Auburn. How about the other first-year coaches?

6. Georgia secondary coach Scott Lakatos resigned for personal reasons, he announced Thursday.


7. Four players are leaving Alabama early, including safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio.

8. Tre Mason announced he’s leaving Auburn. He might be Auburn’s second best running back behind Bo Jackson, writes Scarbinsky.

9. That’s 23 players from the SEC who have announced they’re leaving for the NFL.

10. LSU offensive lineman Trai Turner is leaning toward returning to school, according to his high school coach.

11. Texas A&M received good news when offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi announced he’ll return for his senior season.

SEC Basketball

12. Arkansas has plenty to work on following its disappointing road loss at Texas A&M.

13. Changes are coming to LSU’s lineup as the Tigers try to break out of a two-game losing streak.

14. Florida coach Bill Donovan wants to see more intensity from his team.

15. The Gators have experienced plenty of success at home and fans have been there to see it.

16. Kentucky coach John Calipari has warned his team to be careful about slow starts.

17. It’s “50-50″ whether Tennessee freshman Robert Hubbs has season-ending shoulder surgery.


18. LeBron James texted Johnny Manziel weekly during the season as James helped mentor the former Texas A&M quarterback.

19. There are plenty of off-field questions, but Louisville brought back a winning coach by hiring Bobby Petrino.

20. Texas booster Red McCombs apologized for his public criticism of Texas coach Charlie Strong.

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Reports: Franklin To Pull Up Anchor, Leave Vanderbilt For Penn State

still-waiting-skeleton copyIt was fun while it lasted.

James Franklin’s impressive three-year run at Vanderbilt is apparently coming to an end as various sources report that the coach will soon officially be named the new coach at Penn State.  However.  Vandy defensive end Caleb Azubike spoke with Franklin today and he says his coach told him that no decision has yet been made and “he’s still pondering.”  And reports that “rumor is, Vanderbilt did in fact match Penn State’s offer that is north of $4 million a year.”

But as most outlets are calling this race in favor of PSU, just as we’ve been saying for weeks, the story is turning toward the sexual assault that allegedly took place inside Franlin’s VU football program.

If there was one school we thought would not hire Franklin, it was Penn State.  We were wrong.  Now stories like this are going to start bubbling up — “James Franklin could bring his own scandal baggage to Penn State.”  Donald Gilliland of writes:


“… that doesn’t mean Penn State wouldn’t find its brand associated once again in unflattering national headlines if it hires Franklin.  

Defense attorneys for one of the players in the case have explicitly asked for — and complained about not receiving — text messages between players and (the) Vanderbilt coaching staff regarding the incident as part of the discovery in the case.

What’s more, the defense attorneys also say they are preparing to subpoena Franklin in anticipation of his taking a coaching job elsewhere.  

‘We want to make sure if he takes a job outside of Nashville we can compel him as a witness if we desire him to be one,’ said Defense attorney Fletcher Long.”


Gilliland goes on to detail the rape allegations against four ex-Vandy football players and says Franklin’s “potential ongoing involvement in the court case itself could bring seriously unsavory details into association with the Penn State name.”  A name that’s already been dragged through the mud due to Jerry Sandusky’s sex scandal.  A scandal which resulted in NCAA sanctions, the destruction of Joe Paterno’s reputation, perhaps the old coach’s immediate decline in health and death, and all manner of other troubles.

So are we surprised at this hire?  No.  We’re shocked.  Then again, since when have schools ever cared much about reputations and black eyes?  Louisville just re-hired Bobby Petrino, proving that winning is truly the only thing that matters to most big-time programs.

And to be fair to Franklin, if he’s not been involved in any kind of cover-up — and we continue to bet that he was not — he shouldn’t be penalized because of something four miscreants in his football program did.  He should be able to move elsewhere.  We just think Penn State — given all the circumstances — is the absolute oddest fit possible.

Now, Penn State will certainly get a man who knows how to recruit and who knows how to create “attitude” within his program.  Whether or not Franklin will like being compared to Joe Paterno at every turn, well, that remains to be seen.

For Vandy, it appears AD David Williams is about to be back in the coach search business.  As we wrote earlier this morning, thanks to Franklin and a newfound financial commitment to football at Vanderbilt, Williams has a better job to sell today than the one he offered Franklin three years ago.

Also, the Dores will have to work to hold together this year’s class of commitments, if/when Franklin does indeed officially take the Penn State job.

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