It was a little over a week ago, when Vanderbilt was on its way to winning the final game of the NCAA baseball regional, that superfan “Vandy Lance” stood from his seat at Hawkins Field and said the same thing Commodores fans have heard him say many times in recent years.
“We’re a baseball school.”
With that, first-year football coach James Franklin, sitting nearby, stood and playfully feigned dismay. He stretched his arms and hunched his shoulders as he struck a conspicuous “what about me” stance.
Lance promised he would be there in the fall, but noted that Franklin thus far has done nothing. He then told the coach to sit down. The encounter was good-natured, but it also drove home an important point: The start of football season can’t come soon enough for Franklin and Vanderbilt.
Since he was hired to replace Bobby Johnson, the 39-year-old Franklin has told anyone and everyone how smart he and his staff are, how they have a plan that’s going to work where others’ have failed, how they’re going to make Vanderbilt a football power. It’s the same thing Commodores fans have heard many times from others throughout the years.
To inspire players he did not recruit and fans who had never heard his name until he was hired, Franklin must create the impression that he is well-prepared and in control. Salesmanship requires confidence. We all understand that.
Still, it’s one thing when Nick Saban shows up at Alabama and declares things are going to be better. People believe him on his record.
Franklin never has been a head coach, let alone won a national championship as one. He was designated the head coach in waiting at Maryland, but it became clear in the days after Vanderbilt hired him that his former employer waited for him to leave before it fired Ralph Friedgen so it was free to give the job to someone else.
What people in this area know most about Maryland football during Franklin’s time there, in fact, is that it lost in back-to-back years (2008 and 2009) to Middle Tennessee State.
At best, Franklin is walking a fine line between confidence and arrogance. At worst, with each self-aggrandizing proclamation, he wades deeper into hubris and positions himself for a heavy dose of comeuppance.
Take, for example, his recent address at the university’s all-sports banquet. According to some who were there, he promised that football would provide the foundation of success for the entire athletics apparatus.
Of course his audience that night included members of the women’s tennis team, which just had been to the Sweet 16, the women’s golf team, which just had finished in the top 10 at the NCAA championship, the men’s and women’s basketball teams, which have been consistent NCAA Tournament participants, and many others who already enjoy significant success.
No one is asking Franklin to prop up Vanderbilt athletics. They’re asking him to keep up. And so far, no one has told him to shut up. But eventually he must.
Vanderbilt’s season — and Franklin’s tenure — begins Sept. 3 against Elon (a I-AA opponent), continues the next week against Connecticut (a solid nonconference foe) and then Ole Miss (the start of SEC play).
All three games are at home, and Vanderbilt fans can believe Lance when he says he’ll be there. After all, he’s a fixture at VU sporting venues throughout the year.
As for Franklin, his word — or words, in this case — is simply is not enough. No matter how many times he says it.