This week in The 'Drome: James Franklin gets a little too excited, the Predators continue to confound the stat geeks, a cameo by President Polk and more...
James Franklin vs. "Men": All right, all right, we get it. Vanderbilt had one of the best recruiting classes — by several rankings, indeed the best — in school history.
So lauded was this class — top 30 rankings from Rivals.com among others — that Sports Illustrated sent Andy Staples to Music City to document the backstory and what he produced was an excellent read.
It is clear — as has been noted — James Franklin has changed the culture on West End. There is a renewed and refreshing enthusiasm for the fall unseen in these parts in decades. National Signing Day was, for once, an event at Vandy rather than a mild middle-of-basketball-season distraction.
Franklin, though, may have let his increasingly infamous enthusiasm get the best of him Wednesday night at a campus fan event.
According to a tweet from Tennessean beatman Jeff Lockridge, Franklin said players who decommitted were "not men of honor" and "not men of integrity." The quote, for what it's worth, did not make Lockridge's round-up story in Thursday's paper.
Now clearly, some context is important here. Franklin was throwing out the red meat to a rabid and raucous black-and-gold crowd — this was a political speech in the primary, if you will — and indeed Vandy was spurned by coveted defensive end Josh Dawson after previously losing big-time wide receiver Andre McDonald.
But let's keep in mind who Franklin is calling out here. These are not "men." These are teenagers making what is likely the biggest decision of their lives. The hype on Signing Day is a little silly in the long-view. Literally millions of dollars are spent by and with recruiting websites to track the decision-making processes of 17-year-old kids. And when they change their mind — as teenagers are wont to do — they get their integrity lambasted by grown men, who then brag that they are going out in limos to celebrate their own success and talk about how attractive teenagers are with their shirts off.
For all the good things Franklin has brought to and done for Vanderbilt in his short tenure, this was a clanger. Not that he was the only coach who tripped up on Feb. 1. LSU's, um, "eccentric" head man Les Miles disparaged decommit Gunner Kiel — who verballed to about 329 different schools — by saying he didn't have the "chest" (?) to lead the Tigers.
And it's not even that signing day success is universally recognized. By and large, the legion of recruiting sites put this as Vandy's top class in recent memory, but how much better than the usual is a matter of debate. Rivals put Vandy in the Top 30, yes, but others are more bearish: Scout.com has this class at 44th (just two spots better than last season) and 247Sports puts it at 49th.
And of course, the true measure of a class comes on Saturdays in the fall, not in the midwinter.
The Week Behind
Break My Rusty Cage And Run: The Predators' first two periods and a half after the All-Star Game were flatter than old champagne. As would be the concern, the team seemed to have frittered away all the momentum they'd built up in the weeks before the break.
Trailing 4-1 in the third against the Wild, the Predators didn't even manage a shot for seven minutes. But then Brandon Yip scored his first goal as a Pred (NB: As suggested by Jim Diamond, the team should totally play this song when he scores at home) near the middle of the period.
As they've done so many times this season, the team came back, capped by Mike Fisher's prayer of a goal with 20 seconds left. The Nashville Predators: A Deadline Writer's Least Favorite Team.
The team keeps winning — for the most part: they lost in front of back-up Anders Lindback in Philadelphia Thursday night. The advanced stats crowd — like baseball's sabermetricians, but far more defensive about it for some reason — dismiss Nashville's success as "magic," a bold appeal to the irrational for a crew who prides themselves on rationality. Even the homegrown advanced stats prophet Dirk Hoag can't believe what he's seeing.
The Confounding Commodores: For a team seemingly chock full of can't-miss talent, Vanderbilt, still now, even in the first week of February, is hard to figure.
A gutty win at home against a talented Middle Tennessee team, in a game which in a perfect world would have happened in March rather than January, was followed by a diminuendoing performance on the road at Arkansas, Admittedly, the Hogs have been dang near unbeatable in the Walmartodome. Vandy, on the other hand, has proven a formidable road foe — now 4-2 in true road tilts.
That's a weird number which bucks all conventional wisdom about Vanderbilt teams across the decades. The Commodores have used the quirky confines of Memorial Gym — its bizarre benches and weird sight lines — to their advantage in the past: building a sterling home record and doing their best to hold serve on the road. Perhaps, this year, the road is a comforting mistress — less pressure to perform than at the hyped-up home cooker. For now, the 'Dores will have to wait until March to live up to the lofty pre-season hype. For now, this team looks to be good, but not great.
Garbage Time: Congratulations due to former 'Dore and Nashville native Brandt Snedeker, who used a bit of good fortune and an opponent's bad play to back in to a playoff at Torrey Pines and win the Farmer's Insurance Open. ... The Nashville Sports Council is out with the nominees for its annual awards dinner. Rinne, Franklin, Rick Byrd, auto racer Dario Franchetti and Tim Corbin are the Sports Person of the Year nominees. ... Brentwood Academy, which had been searching far and wide for a new football coach (including, allegedly, an interview with Heisman Trophy winner and mildly-above-average former New York Knick Charlie Ward), went to Texas to find their man: Cody White, who has ties to Friday Night Lights program Odessa Permian.
Ya Know, Chad Pennington Is Actually From Tennessee: A group of zealous Tennesseans and Titans fans have started a Web site urging the Two-Toners to sign Peyton Manning. Their grassroots effort is admirable and has been given some credence with sports-talk radio interviews, an AP story picked up by HuffPo , and the ultimate in artificially generated credibility: support by Clay Travis.
Sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. Someone hears "Peyton Manning's available" and immediately thinks of a two-toned 18 lighting up defenses. And usually these dreams are inspired by nostalgia — an addiction among Nashville sports fan so strong LP Field is going to add 12 new steps as part of the $25 million renovation.
Donate your money to their effort if you wish, but don't lay any bets in Vegas on it coming to fruition.
Finger-Painted Entries Encouraged: As the Predators wrap up a contest to design Genuine Pekka Rinne's mask, a new (and wholly unofficial) contest is underway to design a mask for Nashville's favorite parody goalie: Fake Anders Lindback — a model of childlike wonder in this often dark world. Check the details here.
Try The Decaf: Brentwood High public-access sportscaster Alex Dostaler makes Awful Announcing this week for his call at the end of the Bruins' buzzer-beating win against Ravenwood.
The Week Ahead
From Nashville Came A Dark Horse Riding Up: The Predators enter the weekend within striking distance of the Central Division and indeed the NHL lead.
The team's unbelievable run of form seems to have made believers of the observers league-wide, coming in 3rd on NHL.com's Power Rankings and 7th in USA Today's. Even The Onion did a quick-hitter on the team.
Another week, another chance to continue to prove the former naysayers their current yay-saying is justified: home games against divisional foe St. Louis and the sexy Canucks before a visit to the surprising Senators.
Worthless Prediction: As long as they're winning, why bet against them? Look for at least four more points this week.
Alligator Harm: Vandy sure could use a signature road win to get back in the good graces of the rankers and the number-crunchers as the SEC season chugs along towards its conclusion.
Florida is, once again, among the nation's top teams and win in Gainesville — where the Gators are pefect — could set up the Commodores with momentum for a push. It could also be Vandy's last chance to grab a quality road victory. Trips remaining on the slate include a visit to Rupp Arena and a bunch of away dates with sub-par competition. Vandy needs this one.
The 'Dores host LSU Wednesday.
Worthless Prediction: Last week's double wake-up calls spark the Black and Gold into a scrappy win in Gainesville. LSU is dispatched without error.
Up and Down The Boulevard: The Low-Mid-Major Basketball Rivalry Ever (tm) renews again tonight as Belmont hoofs it over to Allen Arena to face Lipscomb. It will be the last time the Bruins and Bison meet as conference foes in the regular season with Belmont heading to the OVC next year.
Belmont appears to be the class of the A-Sun in their victory lap around the far-flung conference. Lipscomb needs a win to get back to .500, but the Bison certainly weren't afraid to knock their ancient enemies down a peg as they upset Belmont last month at the Curb.
Worthless Prediction: Belmont takes this one this time and we all hope the teams meet up in the conference tournament.
Deconstructing Ryan: The hockey world turned into a bunch of little Jacques Derridas after Ryan Suter's pre-All-Star Game press conference in which he announced he likely wouldn't sign an extension before the trade deadline.
"I feel it would be more of a distraction than anything," Suter said of signing now. "We’ve never had a timeline or deadline. We’re just focusing on winning. Everything else will take care of itself."
"I don’t see it being a benefit by hurrying up and trying to get something done," Suter confirmed. "I’m a Nashville Predator until July. I will focus on making my team better."
Frankly, the comments should hardly have come as a surprise. It's pretty well documented that Suter wants a commitment from the team it will be do what it takes to be competitive — improving either via trade before Feb. 27's deadline or with a splashier move in the off-season. Nevertheless, the comments were bandied about on messageboards and talk radio — each word broken down to its essential elements or the quotes irresponsibly truncated to the point where it sounded like Suter had no intention of re-signing at all.
Such was the reaction, Suter sat down with ESPN's Pierre LeBrun the following day to clarify.
"I was watching TV this morning and one guy said I was definitely going to test the open market,” Suter told ESPN.com. "I never said that. So I just want people to know that I’m focused on helping our team win and I think that’s the most important thing right now."
Suter, frankly, did a disservice by leaving his original quotes open to such rabid interpretation. Sure, he could have erased all doubt by saying, "I'll get the deal done before the deadline," or, conversely, "This is my last season in gold," but he left himself wiggle room (which was borne either of savviness or obliviousness).
An optimist's reading is that Suter is concerned he'd be distracted himself by working a new contract or that he was altruistically trying to protect his team from having to constantly deal with the distraction of having to discuss his fiduciary future. A more cynical breakdown is that Suter is simply punting the question and his bags are packed already. Music City's cynics are winners either way: if Suter bolts in July, they get the self-satisfaction of being correct; if he stays, that's OK, too — because one of the world's best blueliners is here to stay.
And, of course, for the out-of-towners, the discussion became more about how quickly David Poile could trade Suter. The excellent Jesse Spector of The Sporting News rightly pointed out how idiotic such speculation is: the Predators are challenging as one of the league's best teams — somehow — so why in Gnash's name would they trade away one of their three best players, even if they think they've no chance of re-signing him?
And yet the parsers parse away. And the Predators keep winning.
Send all your full-throated, vitriolic defenses of James Franklin's misstep — as well as your notes of congratulations and admiration — to jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com.