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COMMENTARY BY JOE BIDDLE: Who is James Franklin?

Vanderbilt rang in the New Year by completing its most successful football season with a Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl win over North Carolina State.


It gave the Commodores their first nine-win season since 1915.


Franklin’s man-about-town Jim East is believed to be the only living media type to actually attend the 1915 games, but I understand he is too shy to grant interviews.


Vanderbilt’s coach then was Dan McGugin. The athletics complex is named after him.


Suffice it to say, it has been a long, dry spell since those days. There have been a lot of lean years on the football field for Vanderbilt and its fans.


If James Franklin keeps doing what he has done in his two years on the job, they will be naming babies, streets, buildings and monuments after this modern day miracle worker.


The Commodores won five SEC games en route to their 9-4 record. It earned them their second consecutive bowl game, another first for Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt set other records, but Franklin promises this is the new normal for the Commodores.


Who is James Franklin? It’s hard to pin him down because he stays in perpetual motion. He has Norman Vincent Peale’s power of positive thinking down pat. He has some snake oil peddler’s blood, but that’s a good thing when you are trying to sell teenagers on playing football at a small private school in the country’s most difficult conference.


His players have bought in, 100 percent. They have seen the results when they follow Franklin. He’s like the Pied Piper with a whistle hanging around his neck.


“Our coaching philosophy is about relationships and I believe we’ve been able to maximize these guys’ experience here because how we feel about each other – about how they care about one another as a team, about how the coaches feel about them and that’s also why all year long we haven’t had any off-the-field problems as well.


“They carry themselves in a first-class manner on and off the field. Nobody wants to embarrass their brother, or their uncle, their father and we believe in that.’’


Franklin builds his players and coaches up. He will change their bad days into lollipops and sunshine just by throwing his arms around them and injecting them with positive vibes.


Franklin just doesn’t care about what they can contribute on the football field. He wants to surround himself with quality young men.

Franklin is always looking for ways to improve his outlook on life and it doesn’t take him long to pass it on to others in his program.


He believes in everyone having four core values. You need to “have a positive attitude, have an unbelievable work ethic, compete in everything you do, and be willing to sacrifice.’’


“These guys did that,’’ Franklin added. “You must be willing to sacrifice what the common man won’t, to have the things you want.’’


Franklin is not going to let his foot off the gas pedal. He’s full speed ahead. Vanderbilt should wind up in the top 25 after the bowl games. With a strong finish, they could grab a top 20 recruiting class, perhaps a top 10.


It’s unheard of. Franklin listened to three seniors (Zac Stacy, Jordan Rodgers, Johnell Thomas) answer questions in the press conference. He beamed like a proud parent.


“That’s what it’s all about,’’ he said, “is setting these guys up and preparing these guys to be successful in life.’’


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

Posted on: 1/3/2013


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