Vanderbilt's 2014 recruiting class once stood at 20 commitments and appeared to be headed for a top-25 ranking. Since the departure of head coach James Franklin and the loss of two more recruits Tuesday, Vanderbilt's class has fallen to just nine recruits with National Signing Day just one week away.
Kyle Gibson, a four-star defensive back from Seffner, Fla., decided to stay closer to home, de-committing from Vanderbilt to join UCF. Gibson's head coach at Armwood, Sean Callahan, said that the departure of Franklin and staff played a direct role in Gibson's decision to change his commitment. Via the Orlando Sentinel:
"In 30 years of coaching at Armwood I have never had a player decommit. He's our first kid, but he did it for the right reasons," Callahan said. "When the staff at Vanderbilt left he felt bad. He did visit Vanderbilt last weekend, but he came to the conclusion that he'd rather be with Coach Callahan coaching the DBs at UCF. It was UCF or Vanderbilt the whole time for him."
Jesse Burkett, a three-star offensive lineman from Jacksonville, flipped to Stanford, where new Commodores head coach Derek Mason formerly coached. Burkett didn't explicitly mention Franklin when discussing his decision. He visited Vanderbilt on Jan. 24 but still decided that Stanford is his academically-centered program of choice.
The losses were mitigated by the re-commitment of Florence, Ala., three-star offensive lineman Bailey Granier, also on Tuesday, but Granier's return doesn't hide the overwhelming trend of recruits defecting from Vanderbilt. Ten players from Vanderbilt's formerly top 25-ranked class have already chosen other schools. Five of those players followed Franklin to Penn State. Vanderbilt's class now ranks 79th in the country, and dead last in the SEC, according to 247 Sports' composite team rankings.
The fact that so many of Vanderbilt's recruits followed Franklin and joined the Nittany Lions is an indication of his force of personality. A look into Franklin's day by the Nashville Tennessean portrayed him as meticulous, ebullient, and in-tune with his players. It also described him as a relentless recruiter.
It's late morning and there is a visitor in the building. Kyle Gibson, a prized recruit from Seffner, Fla., is here with his family. The defensive back has scholarship offers from Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Tennessee and other notable programs.
For Franklin, who is just returning from a 10 a.m. doctor's appointment, this becomes priority No. 1. If meetings need to be delayed or scrapped, so be it. "Recruiting trumps everything," he says.
That personality helped change Vanderbilt from a 2-10 program in 2010 into a 9-4 program in 2012 and 2013. It also threatens to leave a crippling void if the Commodores return to their former lives as an SEC doormat.
There apparently isn't much confidence in the post-Franklin, Mason-led Commodores just yet. Wide receiver Khari Blasingame, a former Minnesota commit, and safety Rashad Canty, formerly headed to Appalachian State, are the only two new targets to commit to Vanderbilt since Franklin left. Both three-stars, they don't quite offset (on paper) losses like Gibson, or other four-stars like quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels to Washington or running back Mikale Wilbon to Nebraska.
Mason certainly has the potential to keep Vanderbilt afloat (at the very least). He was considered one of the best young minds in the college football ranks as the defensive coordinator at Stanford last season, and the Commodores return a lot of players off what was a stout defense last season.
The reaction of recruits to Franklin's departure is a stark reminder of his impact Vanderbilt football, however, and a sign of uncertainty surrounding what had been, up to this point, one of college football's hottest programs.