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NCAA Football Vanderbilt Commodores

5 Candidates for Next Head Coach of Vanderbilt Commodores

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5 Head Coach Candidates for Vanderbilt Commodores

james franklin
Marvin Gentry - USA TODAY Sports

James Franklin has officially been named the new head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, leaving the Vanderbilt Commodores looking for a new head coach. Unlike the last time that they were in the market for a head coach, though, Vandy is a program with a strong foundation and a roster that has started to find some success in the SEC. Athletic director David Williams has vowed to find a coach that will continue the work that Franklin put in to turn an SEC doormat into a successful football program.

Between 2000 and 2010, Vanderbilt posted a 36-114 record and posted just one winning season between 1982 and 2010 when they finished 7-6 in 2008. But in Franklin's three seasons at the helm, things have turned around, as Vandy has gone 24-15, including a 16-4 mark over the last 20 games (second best record in the SEC to the Alabama Crimson Tide over that span). The Commodores have been to three straight bowl games, a school record, and their 9-4 record in 2012 was the program's best since 1915. In 2013, Vandy beat the Georgia Bulldogs, Florida Gators, and Tennessee Volunteers in the same season for the first time in school history. Vandy's top-25 finishes in 2012 and 2013 were the first top-25 finishes for the school since 1948.

In short, this isn't the same old Vandy job. There is a change in culture going on at the school right now and there will be coaches happy to keep that culture-shift rolling in 2014. Williams has already said that as many as 20-25 coaches have contacted him about the position, many of whom turned down interview requests the last time that Vanderbilt was in the hunt for a coach. There is something brewing at Vandy and they need a coach who can take it to the next level.

So as Vanderbilt prepares to move on from Franklin, they will move quickly to try and keep their top-30 recruiting class intact heading into the home stretch of the recruiting season. So here are five of the top candidates for the Vanderbilt head coaching job to keep the Commodores trending up in 2014. Will Vandy get the right guy to make them a perennial SEC contender?

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5. Chad Morris, OC Clemson Tigers

chad morris
Joshua S. Kelly - USA TODAY Sports

Chad Morris has made quite a name for himself as the offensive coordinator of a high-powered offense with the Clemson Tigers over the last three seasons and has been linked to just about every opening this offseason. Clemson has released a statement that they are optimistic about Morris staying with the program in 2014 which could throw a wrench in Vandy's plans to lure him away if that is what they want to do. Still, Morris is a hot-name right now and appears ready to take over his own program. Will he want the challenge of the SEC in his first go as a head coach?

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4. Kirby Smart, DC Alabama Crimson Tide

kirby smart
Matthew Emmons - USA TODAY Sports

Another name that gets attached to a lot of job openings, Kirby Smart has been the defensive coordinator for Alabama under Nick Saban since 2008. He has obvious experience against the SEC and brings with him National Championship experience as he has helped build the Tide into one of college football's most consistent winners. He's got a great coaching pedigree and has obviously put in his time, but will he want to jump ship from Alabama only to face the Tide every year in conference play?

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3. Jim McElwain, HC Colorado State Rams

jim mcelwain
Chris Nicoll - USA TODAY Sports

Before becoming the head coach of the Colorado State Rams, Jim McElwain was the offensive coordinator for two BCS National Championships with Alabama. He has proven experience against SEC competition and led CSU to a bowl win in his first season at the helm, showing that he is capable of leading his own program. Will he jump ship to return to the SEC and take the helm at Vandy?

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2. Matt Wells, HC Utah State Aggies

matt wells
Christopher Hanewinckel - USA TODAY Sports

Matt Wells is a high-energy coach who did a great job in his first season as head coach of the Utah State Aggies. The long-time Utah State assistant led the Aggies through their first season in the Mountain West Conference and took them all the way to the conference title game (which they lost) and an impressive bowl win over the Northern Illinois Huskies. The 40-year old Wells may not be the best known name on the coaching market, but his passion and leadership would make him a great fit for Vanderbilt. Is he ready to make the leap from MWC to SEC?

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1. Derek Mason, DC Stanford Cardinal

derek mason
Kirby Lee - USA TODAY Sports

Few programs understand the academic standard that Vanderbilt holds its student-athletes to quite like the Stanford Cardinal. The two-time defending Pac-12 Champions have built a nationally ranked program that competes at the highest level while still maintaining their rich academic reputation. Derek Mason has been a key part of that as the defensive coordinator over the last three seasons and would bring that experience of balancing football and academics with him to make a smooth transition at Vandy. However, Mason has been outspoken about only leaving Palo Alto for the "right job" so the question for the Commodores is whether or not they can sell Vandy as that job to Mason.