Mark Story: Coaching carousel could do big favors for UK football

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistJanuary 2, 2014 

ukVvandy

Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin, center, shook hands with Kentucky coach Mark Stoops on Nov. 16 after the Commodores beat the Cats, 22-6.

PHOTO BY JONATHAN PALMER — Herald-Leader Buy Photo

Kentucky football fans have not had many victories to savor these past two years. The current off-season, however, seems poised to produce results UK backers will cheer.

When Louisville star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater announced on New Year's Day he was forgoing his senior season to put his name in the 2014 NFL Draft, that was a big plus for UK.

If the swirling coaching carousel shifts Louisville's Charlie Strong and Vanderbilt's James Franklin out of their current jobs, those moves would probably be net positives for UK, too.

With Bridgewater back for his senior season at Louisville, Kentucky would have had no shot against the Cardinals in the 2014 season finale in Papa John's Cardinals Stadium. With the classy QB exiting for the play-for-pay, UK might at least stand some chance at upsetting U of L and claiming the Governor's Cup for the first time since 2010.

Media reports say Strong, 53, has interviewed for the vacant Texas position. Because of its all-but-limitless resources and its bountiful in-state recruiting base, many people regard the Longhorns position as the best coaching job in all of college football.

Simply put, it's the kind of job to which a coach does not say no. Which is why Strong maybe should hope it is offered to someone else.

At Louisville, Strong (37-15 in four years, 23-3 the past two) has not seemed an especially enthusiastic back-slapper. He's appeared to tolerate his media and public relations duties more than relish them.

In Texas, the amount of millionaires and billionaires to be stroked would be vast. Not only is Longhorns football a statewide obsession with media coverage to reflect that mania, but the school has its own dedicated cable TV channel.

Even Mack Brown, as polished a public presence as there is in big-time college sports, complained in the media about the amount of time (six hours a week, according to a 2012 Associated Press story) he had to devote to shows for the Longhorn Network.

If Strong does exit, it will be fascinating to see whether Louisville Athletics Director Tom Jurich is of a forgiving turn of mind where ex-U of L coach Bobby Petrino is concerned. No administrator in America has more experience with Petrino's roving eye for other coaching jobs — and his proclivity for not telling the truth about those dalliances — than Jurich.

Yet the Louisville AD also knows firsthand how gifted an offensive strategist Petrino (41-9 as U of L head man from 2003-06) is. Would Jurich be willing to pay the buyout it will take to get Bobby P. out of his Western Kentucky contract and bring him back for another run in The Ville?

If I were conducting the Texas coaching search, I would look carefully at Vanderbilt's Franklin. His exuberant public persona would seem a good fit in a job whose responsibilities include providing programming content for cable TV.

The on-the-field work the Vandy coach, 41, has done in three years in Nashville is just this side of miraculous. At the SEC's traditional doormat, Franklin has produced three straight Vandy bowl trips for the first time ever.

In 2012, Vanderbilt won nine games in a season for the first time since 1915. Under Franklin, the Commodores have beaten intrastate rival Tennessee in back-to-back years for the first time since 1925 and '26. This year, Vandy beat Georgia, Florida and UT in the same season.

Now, some coaches are better as underdogs than they are with "top-dog" programs. Still, if Franklin can produce those kind of results at Vandy, what could he do with the resources of Texas?

Or Penn State?

The vacant Nittany Lions position would seem a natural fit for Franklin. He was born in Langhorne, Pa. He played college football at East Stroudsburg in the Keystone State. His first two coaching jobs as an assistant (Kutztown and East Stroudsburg) were in Pennsylvania.

Bill O'Brien might have led Penn State through the worst parts of the post-Sandusky scandal tribulations, but there remains rebuilding to be done in State College. That would seem to be in Franklin's wheelhouse.

The question is whether the sexual assault charges against four (now former) members of the Vandy football team stemming from a case last summer would make Franklin a problematic choice for scandal-tainted Penn State.

From the perspective of Kentucky football, an off-season that subtracts talent and/or creates coaching uncertainty at two schools that UK must beat to succeed figures to be a boon.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: Markstory.bloginky.com.

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