Practice ended early on Thursday night for the Vanderbilt football team – and that is an issue for first-year head coach James Franklin.
Lightning and heavy rain blew through the John Rich Practice Facility around 5:30 p.m., causing the team to rush inside for meetings. As a result, the 16th practice of fall preseason camp lasted just 40 minutes.
“Here is another example of why we need an indoor facility because [Thursday] we are losing an opportunity to practice,” Franklin said. “Tennessee State has an indoor facility. A lot of other teams in the SEC have indoor facilities. We are losing an opportunity to get better. It puts us at a competitive disadvantage.”
Tennessee State is one of six Football Championship Subdivision schools (out of 126) to have indoor practice facilities.
The university opened its $2.8 million dollar indoor practice facility earlier this summer – a project that had been in the works since 2007. Already a 7-on-7 high school tournament has been held there and the Tigers have used the facility since camp started earlier this month to conduct their afternoon walk-throughs.
The 85-yard complex (plus one 10-yard end zone) was funded by student fees.
Thus, TSU’s associate athletic director for media relations Wallace Dooley said usage of the complex won’t be limited to just the football team. Dooley said the original commitment was an 100-yard facility but that changed when the price of steel skyrocketed.
“The economy caused that,” Dooley said.
Franklin said Vanderbilt is “land-locked,” with the outdoor track, soccer and lacrosse fields, intramural fields and tennis courts all in the immediate area between Natchez Trace and 25th Avenue.
“As a coach, I’m impatient so I want everything yesterday,” he said. “That is a discussion point right now. It is really not in the plans.”
In recent years, Vanderbilt added a new weight room and practice field – the Commodores have two – along with renovating the coaches’ offices. Franklin pushed to renovate the locker room, which was finished a couple months ago.
Back in December, when searching for a new football coach, Vice Chancellor David Williams said there were plans to update 29-year-old Vanderbilt Stadium, which has a capacity of less than 40,000.
“I always say to the people, ‘It is not that I can go out there and wave a magic wand and it is done,’” Williams said then. “Unfortunately you have to get people to do it for you and they actually want to be paid. So we have to have the money to do it. We are going to get it done. We are moving on doing facilities as fast as we possibly can.”
• Play-calling: Franklin said he has not decided if he will handle the play-calling duties for the Commodores’ season opener against Elon on Sept. 3. He said he probably would make a decision that week.
The 39-year-old spent the last five years as an offensive coordinator (three at Maryland and two at Kansas State). He noted that he has been comfortable with how offensive coordinator John Donovan has led the offense during preseason camp. Donovan came with Franklin from Maryland, where he coached the running backs and quarterbacks during his six years there.
“The advantages of having your offensive coordinator call the plays is there is a lot of hats I have to wear, being pulled a lot of different directions,” Franklin said. “So it allows those guys to focus on that one specific job. The advantages of me calling the game is I have been in situations in the past where maybe you have to hide issues. You have to do some things with smoke and mirrors and make up for some deficiencies that you might have.
“I am going to make recommendations – even if John is calling all the plays – things that we should be doing and why and help. For us not to do that wouldn’t make sense. I have some experience. I think I can help there. Either way, if I was calling plays I’m going to be getting feedback from John up in the booth so we go both ways.”
• 101st Airborne stops by: Four soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division in Fort Campbell, Ky., visited with the football team on Thursday. Lt. Col. Sean Davis, Capt. Patrick Glass, Capt. Joe Thompson and Staff Sgt. Abraham Rosales attend a team meeting, watched practice and joined for the team afterwards for dinner.
Flying back from Baltimore to Nashville last month, Lt. Col. Sean Davis happened to be on the same plane with Franklin. Over the next two hours, the two discussed ways to work together. Davis plans to bring a bigger crew on his next visit to campus and anticipates several trips this season.
Davis spoke to the Commodores about mental toughness and hopes to learn from Franklin and his coaching staff.
“One of things we are instilling is we have to teach our guys how to be professional athletes,” Davis said. “What is interesting about the NCAA is that they have to be professional athletes but they also have to go to school. So it is very similar that we have that duality too. We have to know our different trades and crafts in the Army. It is not just all war fighting.
“… We sometimes get so focused on the broad training aspect of getting ready for a mission that we forget the basics. You see the fundamentals that the [Vanderbilt] coaches instill in them and the redundancy [Franklin] is putting them through. It is a powerful thing that we are going to take back and think how we can apply that.”
Davis has extended an invitation to Vanderbilt as well, with the hopes of getting the team up to Fort Campbell in the offseason. He said he would put the players through strike physical training, an obstacle course and allow them to shoot in a simulator.
“These men know how to build morale, leadership, teamwork, all those things, better than anybody,” Franklin said. “It is a tremendous resource for me. I hope we can bring something to the table that they can enjoy or learn from. I know very well that we as a staff and we as a team will learn a tremendous amount from them.”