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COMMENTARY BY JOE BIDDLE: Vandy's Franklin to be a hot commodity

With as many as four possible coaching changes to be made in the SEC alone, search firms and athletics directors are scrambling to fill those vacancies with a coach they are convinced can elevate their sagging programs.

Don’t think for a minute those headhunters haven’t noticed what is going on at Vanderbilt.

The Commodores are 7-4 and will visit 5-6 Wake Forest as a road favorite Saturday. They haven’t been 8-4 in 30 years.

I know, I’m in danger of being chastised by Vanderbilt coach James Franklin for counting the Commodores’ chickens before they hatch.

Franklin lives one game at a time. His goal every week is to go 1-0. Pardon me, but isn’t that every football coach’s goal?

During the fourth quarter, Franklin lives six seconds at a time, the average time it takes to run a play.

Franklin has his players chugging the Kool-Aid and it is becoming infectious throughout the stands. He has Vanderbilt fans that haven’t raised their voice or stood up during a game for years, now holding up three fingers on each hand to signify the next six seconds.

Don’t think others outside the program aren’t watching. The transformation in just two short years has been something Vanderbilt fans watch other programs accomplish.

And Franklin is arguably the hottest ticket in the coaching fraternity.

Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams says he is on top of the situation. He is allegedly working on an extension, a raise and to make it more expensive for another school to sweep Franklin off his feet.

Sometimes those things work, but there are schools out there sitting on gold mines and aren’t bashful about raiding another program to kidnap someone with Franklin’s credentials. Not only has he elevated Vanderbilt recruiting to where he stands toe-to-toe against the heavyweights, he is landing recruits that look and play like SEC players.

He has energized a fan-base that has known little but heartbreak for years. The students, long known for reaching their seats on their time, now get there for the kickoff.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Franklin could coax them to do the Chicken Dance during timeouts and at halftime.

A massive marketing program has helped deliver the message that this is, indeed, a game changer.

So what if all seven teams they defeated this season have losing records? Vanderbilt is beating teams they are equal to or better than. That hasn’t happened in the past.

Either bad coaching or bad execution had done them in game after game, year after year. It has taken its toll on one of the most resistant fan bases in college football. Coaches and fans are human. Some of them can only take so much. Franklin has restored that lost confidence and more.

Pam Inman has competed in Special Olympics for years. She told Franklin last week that if Vanderbilt beat Tennessee, she would give him one of her Special Olympics gold medals.

When technical difficulties prohibited Franklin from doing his weekly radio show from the nearby Holiday Inn Commodore Lounge last week, Franklin and crew did it from the press box where Joe Fisher broadcasts the games.

Franklin treated the biggest turnout of fans this season to a guided tour of their facilities.

He is a magnet for all of those fans that come aboard. Taking him away won’t be easy for those who would try.


Sports Columnist Joe Biddle is a four-time sports writer of the year in Tennessee. He can be reached at


Posted on: 11/20/2012


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