AD: Vandy no stepping stone for James Franklin

AD: Vandy no stepping stone for James Franklin

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Pick any school with a coaching vacancy, and James Franklin's name has probably been mentioned as a possible candidate by someone.

That happens when you win at Vanderbilt, the smallest school in the Southeastern Conference and the league's only private institution.

Franklin led the Commodores to an 8-4 record this year and in the process has seen his stock skyrocket.

Vanderbilt's athletic director David Williams is monitoring reports about the coach he hired nearly two years ago. Williams said Tuesday he brought in Franklin with the idea of turning Vanderbilt into a destination program, not a stepping stone to a better job.

``James understands if we do things that we can do to be a class program, he can win here just as he can win somewhere else, so you don't have a need to go somewhere else to win,'' Williams said.

``We went from 2-10, 2-10 to 6-6 and a bowl loss to 8-4 and a bowl trip, so yes you can win. You can win at Vanderbilt, and when you think of it we haven't done all the things that we need to, and can do, to make the experience more attractive. I think he understands this is a place he can win if we're committed, and we are committed, and he can create a legacy here absolutely.''

Franklin is 14-11 in two seasons, which wouldn't cut it at SEC schools like Alabama, Florida or Georgia. But Vanderbilt hasn't seen such success in a coach's first two seasons in more than a century - Dan McGugin arrived in 1904 and went 16-1.

The Commodores are headed to a second straight bowl under Franklin, which had never happened before at Vandy where the previous four bowls could be counted on one hand. Franklin led the Dores to their first winning record in the regular season in 30 years, and they wrapped up the regular season with a six-game winning streak for the first time since 1948.

Vanderbilt had gone 3-32 in the month of November for the 10 years before Franklin was hired. Now the Commodores are 6-2 combined in that month since Franklin's arrival.

A charter member of the mighty SEC, Vanderbilt had been seen for decades as the league's cellar dweller, an easy ``W'' in any season. Only twice has Vanderbilt won as many as nine games (1904 and 1915), and Franklin could notch the third with a bowl win. This also is just the 15th eight-win season in Vanderbilt's 123 years of football, and only the third since 1948.

Franklin, who left Tuesday for four days of recruiting, talks repeatedly of getting the Commodores past the point of checking history books every time they win a game.

``We're starting to build some of those things that I think are important when you're trying to build a program like we are,'' Franklin said after a 55-21 rout at Wake Forest last weekend.

That success is why people think a jet is waiting to take Franklin off to his new job at any minute. For Williams, it's the better alternative to fans demanding a coach be fired for too many losses.

``That means we made the right decision, and we're moving forward,'' Williams said.

Williams and Franklin are working together to turn the Commodores into a competitive SEC program. They meet weekly, and Williams rewarded Franklin's success a year ago with a new contract the athletic director said gave his coach both more money and years, though both refused to say how much because the private university does not discuss contract details.

Vanderbilt also kept Franklin happy by adding a new video board, artificial turf and turned the open end zone into a hillside berm for seating at the stadium before the 2012 season opener.

It's up to Franklin to try and keep his assistants from being lured away. How much those coaches are paid also isn't disclosed by Vanderbilt, but Williams said Franklin has control over how much his assistants receive and that giving the head coach more money to keep his staff together won't be an issue.

Right now, Franklin is focused on recruiting while Williams works to improve the football facilities that may be the biggest key to keeping the head coach around for the long haul.

Franklin's 2013 class currently is ranked 17th nationally by and seventh-best in the SEC, while the next phase of renovations will target the training room and weight room. Figuring out what to do with the SEC's smallest stadium is next, and Williams said a ``quick-fix'' isn't the solution after the last renovation increased capacity to 40,350.

``I walk through the stadium, and I would say the lines to get into the restrooms are just inexcusable,'' Williams said. ``We need to work on everything, and we should put in an option what if we have that sort of desire and demand, we could afford to do another 10,000 seats, another 15,000 seats.''

The athletic director hopes to start with trips in January to check out the new stadiums at Stanford and California along with a closer look at Wake Forest's decision to simply renovate its stadium with Vanderbilt ready to make a move by summer.

``When you're out and you're fundraising for a team like we have now, it is a little easier than other times,'' Williams said. ``But nevertheless, it's important that we get this done.''

It's also the cost of trying to compete in the SEC.


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The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there. 

One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00. 

So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13? 

The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback. 

The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense. 

Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position. 

But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year. 

Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.

The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.

Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.

So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.

Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.

But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.

Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.

Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.

Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.