Nearly eight months have passed since Vanderbilt’s last football game.
Still, the Commodores — more specifically coach James Franklin — have managed to stay in the news.
The fiery 40-year-old has taken to Twitter to defend recruiting techniques. In February, he said those who de-committed from Vanderbilt were “not men of honor” and “not men of integrity.” That same month, Maryland accused Vanderbilt coaches of improper contact with Danny O’Brien, a former Maryland quarterback and pupil of Franklin.
However, the biggest reaction came from his comments on a Nashville radio show in late May in which he said, “I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife.”
Perhaps, these incidents were premeditated in an attempt to draw more buzz around the Commodores?
“I know that would be a much sexier story if it was, but no,” Franklin told a reporter two weeks ago before preseason camp began. “We’re just trying to get better every single day and you’re going to get some of that. But, no, there are no premeditated thoughts with those types of things. We’re just trying to get better every single day and represent this community and this university the right way.
“There is nobody more critical on themselves than me — I can tell you that.”
Dwight Galt agrees.
Vanderbilt’s strength and conditioning coach, has known Franklin since he arrived at Maryland in 2000. The two are close friends — so close that Galt left Maryland after 27 years to join Franklin when he was hired as Vanderbilt’s head coach in December 2010. Franklin refers to Galt as his Zen master and often leans on the 55-year-old as a resource.
A couple months ago, when the remarks about assistant coaches’ wives — which he says were intended to be a joke — sparked a negative firestorm, Galt saw a concerned head coach.
“Obviously he was very concerned about it because he never wants to do anything that would put Vanderbilt or himself in a bad light,” Galt said. “He is a sharp guy and he’s excellent with the media and I think more than anything it got taken out of context. I think it definitely has gotten his radar up that, ‘Hey, you’ve got to be really careful.’ I think he has learned a little bit from that.”
With his second season around the corner — Vanderbilt opens at home against South Carolina on Aug. 30 — Franklin believes he has drawn from the valuable lessons his first year provided.
Most notably, he said, he’s trying not to rush the process.
“I think sometimes as a young guy or as a young coach, you want it all at once and you’ve got to have some patience,” Franklin said. “That’s really not my personality. ... My greatest strength is probably my passion and drive. My greatest weakness is probably my passion and my drive. It’s just understanding that all good things come with time and hard work and preparation and the right attitude.”
Five years ago, when Franklin was an assistant coach at Kansas State, he walked up to Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams to introduce himself because he wanted to be a head coach one day.
“He wasn’t asking for anything,” Williams recalled last fall. “I just remember the confidence he had and where his directions were.”
At 37, Franklin was named the coach-in-waiting at Maryland. Less than two years later, he was hired by Williams and Vanderbilt.
While he has one season in the Southeastern Conference under his belt, Franklin is still one of the youngest coaches in the nation. Subsequently, he continues to show he is learning on the job — on and off the field.
“It’s all about growth,” Franklin said. “It’s all about growth as an organization. It’s all about growth as a coaching staff and players. I think the other thing is there is more focus on things that we’re saying and things that are going on. But we’re all growing. We’re all trying to get better and make sure we make great choices and represent this university the right way. We’re very, very proud to do that.”