Gus Malzahn and James Franklin are among the best coaches in college football, so it shouldn't come as a tremendous surprise when their names come up in virtually every discussion about a vacant head coaching gig.
To this point, most of the discussion has been rumor and speculation that nobody really expected materialize, but CBS is now reporting that Malzahn, Franklin, and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are the three finalists in the Cleveland Browns' search for a new head coach.
Gus Malzahn (Auburn) very much a top candidate for CLE. Vandy's James Franklin in the mix. One of them or McDaniels expected to get that job— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 1, 2014
It's no secret why the Browns would be interested in hiring Malzahn--he has Auburn in the BCS National Championship Game just one year after the TIgers failed to win a single conference game during the final season of Gene Chizik era--but there isn't yet any reason think that the interest has been reciprocated.
FWIW: Report is all on Cleveland's side. No mention of interest by Gus Malzahn. Cleveland putting together a wish list of candidates.— Brandon Marcello (@bmarcello) January 1, 2014
Franklin, meanwhile, has elevated Vanderbilt to unprecedented heights, leading the Commodores to a 23-15 record and three consecutive bowl games during his first three years in Nashville. Vandy had not previously made it to the postseason in back-to-back years since they started playing football in 1890.
If there's a reason that NFL franchises might balk at hiring Malzahn or Franklin, it would likely have to do with a lack of experience--a lack of NFL experience, specifically. James Franklin's year coaching wide receivers for Green Bay in 2005 gives the pair a combined one year of experience coaching the pros. Though both Malzhahn (21-5) and Franklin have enjoyed immediate success head coaching success, they've only been coaches at the FBS level for a combined five seasons.