James Franklin has pushed so many right buttons since his arrival at Vanderbilt a year ago that many folks forgot just how many buttons needed to be pushed to steer the Commodore football program from troubled waters to tranquil seas.
In 2011, he won over a fanbase that was tired of being treated like a doormat each fall. His post-game comments after last year’s tight loss to Georgia were for Vandy fans a cross between Tim Tebow’s Promise and Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. There were six wins (granted against Elon, UConn, Ole Miss, Army, Kentucky and Wake Forest) and those victories brought a bid to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Along the way, the Dores came within five points of Georgia, three of Arkansas, five of Florida and six of Tennessee. VU was giving even big-name SEC foes all they wanted.
Off the field, Franklin sold his program to starved fans, recruits and the media. Recruits responded in historic fashion for VU last February and his list of commitments is above average again this year. Media members have responded even more positively than the recruits. After a single 6-7 season at Vanderbilt, Franklin’s name was attached to much higher-profile jobs all across the US fo A. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News put the icing on the cake by ranking Franklin as America’s 25th best football coach.
But now people are starting to remember just what kind of job lies ahead of Vandy’s fiery, energetic, salesman of a coach. The Dores are 1-3. They’ve lost to South Carolina and Northwestern in come-from-ahead-to-lose fashion. And after a route over tiny Presbyterian College, Vanderbilt was dismantled on national television by Georgia 48-3 in Athens on Saturday.
Franklin has signed two classes, but only one of those did he have a full year to recruit. With losses piling up, how many of his current commitments — for his third signing class — will continue to believe in his vision and how many will begin to look elsewhere?
That’s the mess Franklin inherited. He did such a great sales job early that many forgot just how daunting the task at hand is. That’s a credit to Franklin. But the reality is there are no overnight fixes for what’s ailed Vandy’s football program for a century. Literally.
Franklin will need to keep his current squad from quitting now that their hopes of taking a step forward seem to have been dashed. He’ll need to continue to drum up fan support from folks who are probably starting to think, “We’ve seen this all before.” And he’ll need to hang on to the recruits he talked into committing to VU prior to this season’s rough start.
For Franklin and Vandy it was clearly too much too fast in terms of expectations. That’s the downside of pushing all the right buttons when starting a job. People forget just how many buttons you still have left to push.