By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
BRISTOL, Conn. – James Franklin may be one of the most skilled storytellers to have descended upon the ESPN campus in Bristol.
For four hours last Monday, the third-year Vanderbilt head football coach weaved his way through various studios and sets articulating the narrative of one of the greatest turnarounds in college football. His visit came as part of the Southeastern Conference Car Wash that brings each of the league’s 14 football coaches to ESPN annually each summer.
“I think we’ve got a great story to tell,” Franklin said in an exclusive interview with the SEC Digital Network. “The more opportunities we have to get out on a national stage and do that, the better. Where better than to do that than ESPN with the SEC?”
What is obvious from afar is that Franklin is an outstanding football coach. A year ago, the Commodores won nine games – their most since 1915 – and enter the 2013 season on an SEC-best seven-game winning streak. Vanderbilt has won seven league games over the past two seasons combined. Franklin’s athletes play with passion and heart, and play with commitment for both their school and their head coach.
What is apparent after spending a day with Franklin is that, most importantly, he is genuine. He may come across as a salesman for his University and his program – and that is certainly the case – but it is also evident that he truly believes what he advocates.
Franklin went from studio to studio championing his program, inviting First Take to broadcast its show from the school’s Nashville campus and taking pictures with ESPN staffers doing the VU hand sign.
“We’re trying to build a program, we’re trying to build a fan base and we’re trying to build traditions,” Franklin said. “At a lot of other schools in the SEC, the head coach doesn’t have to focus on that because those things have been going on at those institutions for 80 years.”
But Franklin doesn’t mind. He is asked countless times throughout the course of his rotation through the campus why he remains at Vanderbilt. The answer is always the same – he finds, he says, something very appealing about the opportunity to build a program.
The reality is, that is a construction job that is never truly complete. With completion would come complacency, something for which Franklin has never been accused.
“The past is nice and we’ve done some decent things, but those seven wins in a row that we had last year are not going to get us one win this year,” he said. “We’ve got to recreate ourselves every single year. We’re on the path that we’re supposed to be on and we’re just going to keep working to improve every single day. The more days we win in the offseason, the more Saturdays we’ll win in the season.”
Franklin is keenly aware that wins don’t just come on the gridiron each Saturday, and he also knows that all victories don’t take place on the practice field either. He is about molding young men – making them successful in life. As far as he is concerned, he has the best platform to do so.
“At Vanderbilt, you have an opportunity to get a world-class education, which is what it’s supposed to be all about,” Franklin said. “You have an opportunity to play in the greatest football conference and the opportunity to live in a great city. Your education is more than what you learn in the classroom – it’s a combination of a lot of different cultural experiences. Nashville can provide that. I think that’s part of these young men’s opportunity for growth from an educational perspective.”
The Commodores have the opportunity to be one of the first teams in the SEC to kick off the 2013 season, playing a Thursday night conference game vs. Ole Miss Aug. 29 on ESPN.
The game excites Franklin, and he is confident it will lead to the penning of another chapter in the history of a new Vanderbilt.
“We have a great thing going on at Vanderbilt and we want to showcase that,” he said. “We love to play early games against SEC opponents, especially when we have the opportunity to grab the attention of the entire country. I think it’s good for the SEC and I know it’s great for Vanderbilt.”