According to the Associated Press, James Franklin has already gone into “spin mode” following Vanderbilt’s 0-2 start to this season. The Commodores have suffered a pair of come-from-ahead defeats to South Carolina (17-13 in Nashville) and to Northwestern (23-13 on the road). Fans and some in the media expected more from the Dores. Now Franklin’s trying to prevent those folks from jumping ship:
“We learned valuable lessons, and we are getting better. I know there’s a frustration with our fans from years, and then the light started shining and there was hope. All that is still there. You know one game, one moment is not going to define who and what we’re going to be as a program.”
Franklin just happens to be right, of course. You can’t turn around a football program like a skateboard, it’s more like moving a cruise ship. Franklin inherited a team of redshirt juniors and seniors last season from Bobby Johnson (the previous coach didn’t get nearly enough credit for his part in VU’s 2011 bowl-bound season). He fired up that veteran squad, fired up recruits and, in doing so, fired up fans as well.
Quickly, many, many media members fell right in line over-inflating the coach’s reputation. Matt Hayes of The Sporting News, for one, wrote this offseason that Franklin — who has a single 6-7 season under his belt as a head coach — is already the 25th best football coach in the country.
Whoa, pardner. Let’s just slow all this stuff down a bit.
Vandy’s team is faster this season thanks to a bevy of three-star recruits Franklin has brought onto his West End campus. For years, the Dores had been dealing mostly with two-star guys. But getting speed on his team is just Step One.
There’s still an issue of depth. In the SEC, you can’t just be one-deep, you better be two- or even three-deep at most positions. It will take Franklin more than two recruiting classes and 15 games to reach that point.
Also, as the coach himself has admitted, he still needs to win a tight game to get his team over the mental barrier of being the “same ol’ Vanderbilt.” Trust me, if you hear something long enough, you start to believe it. As Northwestern roared from behind to tie and then win last Saturday night’s game, it was if VU players knew the script, hung their heads, and sadly agreed to play their parts. That mentality — which has been part of the program for nearly a century — will have to be changed. It will take a late-game win over a good program to get that done. Maybe more.
So what’s the verdict on Franklin? There isn’t one and that’s the point. It’s too soon to be judging him. He did a nice job on the field last season and in living rooms this offseason. That doesn’t mean he’s going to be the next Knute Rockne.
He’s now off to an 0-2 start and that will anger a lot of folks in the media who had already crowned him as the Prince of Football. In reality, his squad faced a Top 10 Carolina team in its opener and then traveled to play a program whose success VU would like to eventually emulate. The Commodores opened with two very losable games. For that reason, no one should be saying, “I told ya Franklin wasn’t special” just yet.
The jury is still out on Franklin. How ’bout we see where things stand at the end of this season? And even if Vandy suffers through a losing season, the young coach can still prove that he indeed is the man for the job if his recruiting holds. To this writer, he still looks like a good hire. Not a great one, not a terrible one, but a good one. Now he needs time to prove how good.
Franklin shouldn’t be going into spin mode now. He shouldn’t have to. Fixing Vanderbilt’s football fortunes won’t be done over the span of just 15 contests.