James Franklin witnessed good programs getting burned for looking ahead.
So he vowed he would never let it happen when he was in charge — even if it meant overwhelming the media with coach speak.
And in year two as Vanderbilt’s head coach he is starting to get creative with his answers. Well, as creative as he can without saying anything.
During Wednesday’s Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference a reporter asked Franklin about whether chatter of playing in another bowl game had surfaced around the locker room.
Silly national media.
“I’m not even sure what you mean when you talk about bowl games,” Franklin said. “We’re playing this week. We’re trying to beat UMass. If we get a win this week, we keep doing that, at the end of the year if they tell us about these things that you describe as bowls then maybe we’ll go to one. But we’re just focused on winning this week.”
More than halfway through the season, Vanderbilt (3-4) is halfway to bowl eligibility.
Five games remain, starting with Saturday’s homecoming game (6 p.m., FSN) against winless Massachusetts (0-7). After that, the Commodores play three of their last four games on the road. But three are against SEC teams with a combined 1-11 mark in league play.
Franklin doesn’t allow himself to go anywhere near that discussion or what it would mean for Vanderbilt to reach back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history.
He continues to take it one game at a time and insists his team approaches the season as 12 one-week seasons. Every week the Commodores start 0-0.
“I’ve always heard coaches say that my whole career and I thought it was a really good approach. But then we didn’t live it,” Franklin said after practice on Wednesday. “I just always said when I got my job that we would live that way. You hear about the media talk about it, and I’ve just seen way too many teams say, ‘Well, in two weeks they’ve got a huge game and this is one of those trap games that can get you in trouble.’ I’m not saying we won’t ever get caught like that but it won’t be because we’re looking ahead. I’ll tell you that much.”
As much as Franklin pounds the media with the same line over and over again, he hits his team with the same message twice as hard. Throughout the season 19- and 20-year student-athletes morph into Franklin clones and spit out the company line.
“I just hammer it with them over and over,” Franklin said. “This isn’t just come up to the media and put on a show for you guys. It’s really what we do all the time. It is what we live. You guys hear it from our guys too when you talk to them. It’s what we talk about in meetings every day as a team. It is what we talk about when we break up into units and it is what we talk about in individual meetings as well.
“We talk about reinforcing the message.”
• Recruiting Klein: As Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein emerges as a frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy, two of his former coaches glow with pride hundreds of miles away.
While at Kansas State, both Franklin and current Vanderbilt quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne recruited Klein to Manhattan, Kan. Rahne was mentoring the running backs and Franklin served as the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator. Franklin remembers a strong, high-character Klein who wasn’t recruited by many, including schools in his home state of Colorado.
Five years later, Klein has accounted for 24 touchdowns, completed 70 percent of his passes and rushed for more than 500 yards. The Wildcats are ranked fourth and off to a 7-0 start after demolishing West Virginia 55-14 last week.
“His character was through roof,” Franklin said. “You spent five minutes with Collin Klein and his family and you know you’ve got a winner. It’s almost like recruiting somebody from 1950. His values, his morals — it was refreshing. Anything that Collin went on and did would not surprise me one bit.”
• Youthful Minutemen: Massachusetts is transitioning into its first year in the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Minutemen are taking their lumps.
They’re also playing young. The UMass two-deep features 21 true or redshirt freshmen, including seven starters. This youth movement has contributed to a forgettable debut season in the Mid-American Conference (MAC). UMass ranks last in the league in several statistical categories, including scoring offense (11.9 points per game) and scoring defense (40.7 ppg).