I know the people who vote for college football awards tend to follow college football. I know they've heard of a place called "Vanderbilt." I'd guess that 99 percent of them could tell you Vanderbilt's city (Nashville), that 99.5 percent could tell you Vanderbilt's conference (the SEC) and that 100 percent could tell you the national ranking of the SEC's difficulty (No. 1, with the next three slots blank and the next league at No. 5).
That's why I'm convinced there's a reason they've spent the last two years giving insufficient nods to one of the greatest coaching jobs ever -- that of three-year Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin. Clearly they have decided that "coach of the year" honors do not suffice for Franklin, and I commend them for this. They don't want to slight this unreasonably good coaching job with praise too faint. They must know he's the Coach of the Decade and the Coach of the Young Century, and I commend them for that.
Otherwise, I'd have to get miffed.
For full disclosure, I did not go to Vanderbilt. I am not related to James Franklin, although I do have one uncle and one cousin each named James. I have friends who went to Vanderbilt, including some from a cadre of Vanderbilt sportswriters, who do mention their Vanderbilt-ness on occasion yet who, in Vanderbilt fashion, do not rise to the level of obnoxiousness about it as do those from another school that shall remain nameless but which is barely north of Chicago.
I just know there are times when award selectors can seem to be cuckoo, and that this is one.
On Thursday night, a coaching award sponsored by a company that sells stuff for your home and makes cities uglier with huge, ghastly stores, went to Gus Malzahn of Auburn. This was understandable, I suppose. Malzahn's story does addle the brain. As recently as 2005, he coached high school football in Arkansas, and evidently you don't want to go messin' around down there. By 2013, he had taken an Auburn team that went 3-9 (0-8 in the SEC) and, in one year, had tweaked it all the way to 12-1 (7-1 in the SEC). That couldn't have been easy.
At the same time, I tried to ascertain the Auburn culture Malzahn inherited. Did the place have any sort of interest in football that might rise to the level of feverish? Having attended three games there, I carefully deduced that it did. Was there any type of championship legacy? Devouring statistics, I learned that to find a national championship you had to pore back through the pages and the numbers, painstakingly, all the way back to three years ago.
To find SEC titles -- something that can be even more difficult, as Alabama proved in 2011-12 -- you had to dig back further than that, all the way to 2003-04.
I did the hard research.
Try not to be impressed.
Curiously, I keep seeing dissimilar numbers regarding Franklin's first three years at Vanderbilt. Here's a number: 1906: Before 2011-13, that was the last time Vanderbilt won 23 games across any coach's first three years. Here's 1915: Until 2012, that was the last year Vanderbilt won nine games. Here's 1926: Until three weeks ago, that was the last time Vanderbilt beat Tennessee twice in a row. Here's 1928: Until three weeks ago, that was the last time Vanderbilt posted back-to-back eight-win seasons. Here's 1975: Until 2013, that was the last time Vanderbilt posted back-to-back winning seasons. Here's 1935: Until 2012, that's the last season in which Vanderbilt won five SEC games. Here's 1948: Until 2012, that was the last season in which Vanderbilt finished the season ranked.
Here's "never," which is not a number but a word: Until three weeks ago, that's the last time Vanderbilt had beaten Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in a season. And here's that "never" again: Until now, that's the last time Vanderbilt got three straight bowl bids.
Yet Franklin has 23 wins at Vanderbilt, which won 24 games in the 1960s, 37 in the 1970s, 33 in the 1980s, 34 in the 1990s and 34 in the first decade of the 2000s. More than changing a team, he has changed a culture, and then he has done something still harder than that: He has sustained that change of culture.
Many who do know of Vanderbilt know of its long-held, warped priorities. For decades upon decades it bizarrely has considered education to be more valuable to the country than 11-1 football seasons, even as our country believes deeply in the greater value of the latter, even though nobody but locals can remember 11-1 football seasons 20 years on. Even now, as the SEC has continued to get better and better and better at football, the league has two stadiums that seat 100,000 or more, two above 90,000, four above 80,000, two above 70,000, two above 60,000, one above 50,000 and Vanderbilt Stadium at 39,790.
We all know that, in recruiting in general, kids nowadays love playing before fewer people.
Franklin has marshaled all of this upward through the standings of the mightiest league anyway, until somehow, it's almost as if people shrug at Vanderbilt's quality, which might be his greatest honor. It certainly doesn't come from a certain insurance company, which as far as I can see (and I keep reading and reading), hasn't listed him among its nine coach of the year finalists for two years running, even as we know the integrity and vigilance of big American companies. And it doesn't come from a certain club that knows its football awards and which left Franklin off its three finalists last year, giving the award to Brian Kelly of tradition-poor, football-disinterested Notre Dame. Nor has there been enough attention toward Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews, with his SEC-record -- SEC! -- 107 catches this year, his thing for hard catches in tough spots, his good-as-any-player quality.
If you didn't know better, you'd think people were dazzled to distraction with showy programs and bright lights and huge stadiums and TV ratings.
I'm glad I know better.
I'm glad I know they're all just holding out their votes for Coach of the Century.