Everybody needs a catchphrase.
They’re memorable. They’re inspirational. Never mind that they are not always accurate.
Take the case of Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin.
There probably haven’t been enough fingers and toes inside Vanderbilt Stadium on any of the past three Saturdays to count the number of times Franklin has said “change the culture” in the months since he was hired.
It sounds good. It’s what a lot of Vanderbilt supporters wanted to hear. It just does not accurately assess the situation.
Make no mistake, Franklin has effected plenty of change in his first season on the job.
He has altered the schemes on offense, defense and special teams. He has changed the positions of any number of players — more than once, in some cases. He has changed the approach to practice and to conditioning. He even has changed the uniforms.
At this point it is safe to say that all of those changes have been for the better. (I’m actually not a big fan of the black helmets, but that’s just personal taste).
Not only is Vanderbilt more entertaining on offense than it has been in years, it is more productive. It puts pressure on opposing defenses and shows more big-play potential than at any time in recent memory.
The defense is dynamic and opportunistic, as evidenced by the fact that it has been at or near the top of the national rankings for takeaways all season.
The special teams are unpredictable, the way they once were under Woody Widenhofer. Only now, fake punts and kicks are much less likely to end up in blooper compilations.
Perhaps most important, the Commodores have avoided the devastating accumulation of injuries that was so detrimental the past two seasons.
All of those things are details that have benefited from a fresh approach. They don’t strike at the core of the program.
Stop and think about it. There is a group of seniors and redshirt juniors on this team that experienced a bowl victory. Those players expected to contend — as is the case this fall — for more such postseason appearances before the end of their careers.
There’s a group third-year players that signed letters-of-intent a couple months after that triumph over Boston College in the Music City Bowl. Certainly they did so with the sense that they would be a part of such contests during their careers.
Other than running back Jerron Seymour, none of the members of Franklin’s first recruiting class have made much of an impact on the field. The players already on hand clearly were good enough to compete at the SEC level.
It’s not as if the academic standards or expectations for football players could or would be raised.
Plus, anyone who ever saw and/or heard Bobby Johnson rail against officials, opposing coaches and the like for indignities and inequities — real and perceived — know it has been some time since the program has not wallowed in its underdog status.
In short, a significant — and much-needed — cultural change took place during Johnson’s tenure, which effectively included the 2010 season under Robbie Caldwell. The program Franklin inherited was decidedly different from the one Johnson or Widenhofer or Rod Dowhower or Gerry Dinardo or Watson Brown did.
Franklin’s task, therefore, was to inject a fresh attitude and to make changes that would “continue” the momentum that was generated a decade ago.
Change the culture.
It lacks just enough specificity to stir the imagination. Plus it has much more panache than saying, “Change all the things that need changing to take advantage of the solid foundation laid by the previous regime.”