James Franklin isn’t the superstitious type.
He doesn’t have a pair or lucky socks – or lucky underwear – that he wears on game days. So don’t expect that to change when he takes the field this weekend for the first time as Vanderbilt’s head coach.
“I’m an S.O.P. guy,” he said Wednesday afternoon.
For those not up on the lingo, that’s short for 'Standard Operating Procedure.' Franklin likes to stick to a routine and that will be the case when the Commodores host Elon on Saturday (6:35 p.m., Vnderbilt Stadium Comcast Sports Southeast) in the season opener for both teams.
But for the first time in his 15 years as a college coach, Franklin will be calling the shots.
“It is going to be different,” he said. “I am an emotional guy. I’m a passionate guy. I’m a scream and holler guy. But I think what is important for our team as well is that they see poise, that they see confidence but I also stay true to who I am. ... In the past this team hasn’t handled adversity real well. That is what we want to do. We want to make sure this team sees confidence and poise from our coaching staff and help them get through the tough times.”
There have been plenty of difficult moments over the last two years, which produced consecutive 2-10 marks. The Commodores ended last year on a seven-game losing streak.
The crux of the problems began with the offense, which ranked 110th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Franklin, who spent the last five years as Maryland and Kansas State’s offensive coordinator, is hopeful his new offensive scheme will fix that. The offense will mirror a West Coast style with multiple-set formations.
It should be a drastic change from the no-huddle offense the Commodores used the last two years. In 2010, they ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in time of possession.
“I feel this offense has an answer for pretty much any defense that our opponent intends to throw out at us,” fifth-year senior and starting quarterback Larry Smith said. “Our determination has been at another level that I have seen in the past. We are just really hungry.”
The first quarter of the Commodores’ 12-game schedule could play into their favor. After Elon, which went 6-5 in the Southern Conference (Football Championship Subdivision) last year, they’ll host Connecticut and Ole Miss in successive weeks. Connecticut won the Big East in 2010 but also has a new coach. The Rebels were 4-8 last year and finished last in the SEC West.
From there, it gets tougher as Vanderbilt travels to defending SEC East champ South Carolina and No. 2 Alabama for consecutive contests (with a bye in between).
Franklin believes the Commodores are more apt to handle whatever awaits them.
He stresses little details like game preparation. That includes learning new schemes; running a productive scout team; piping in crowd noise and rap music over the loud speakers to prepare for life on the road; perfecting the fight song and alma mater.
“We are going to work extremely hard Sunday through Friday and I am going to go to sleep very well at night – and even after the games,” Franklin said. “Because I know we have done everything we possibly can to get our guys prepared to be successful on the field. If you have the right plan and trust the process, the results on Saturday shouldn’t change that.”
Wins, of course, don’t hurt. Franklin understands that. But he said, at least initially, he doesn’t want his team to be judged alone on wins and losses.
“I want people to come our games, I want people who are reporting on our games to say, ‘You know what that program is headed in the right direction,’” Franklin said. “Winning plays into that. It is a fine line between the two of them. But I think also that people understand that this isn’t a light switch. We’re not just going to walk in and flick a switch and solve all our problems. It is going to be a process. I want people to be comfortable with the process and the direction of the program.”
• Elon junior Thomas Wilson is listed atop the quarterback depth chart.
Wilson has played in 12 games over the last two years but has made just one start. He is 39-of-63 with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He edged out redshirt freshman Tyler Smith, who transferred from Maryland and was mentored by Franklin last year.
Wilson succeeds Scott Riddle, who was the Southern Conference’s all-time leading passer.
• The Phoenix’s biggest offensive weapon is All-American wide receiver Aaron Mellette.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Mellette caught 86 passes for 1,110 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2010. He had a school-record 18 receptions for 195 yards against Elon.
“He is a big bodied kid who has tremendous ball skills. He is athletic and has been very, very productive,” Franklin said. “So we just have to be ready to defend him. And if you look at it, he has also done it against [FBS] opponents.”
• Vanderbilt’s offensive line will have a familiar feel to it – but just at different spots.
Center Logan Stewart just began practicing with the team this week after sitting out the first three weeks of camp with an undisclosed injury. Sophomore Wesley Johnson has taken the snaps with the first team during practice and is projected to start at center. He played left tackle last year so offensive line coach Herb Hand moved junior Ryan Seymour there from right tackle – where senior Kyle Fischer takes over. Filling his void at right guard is sophomore Mylon Brown. Junior Jabo Burrow will stay at left guard.
“The experience factor alone should lead to better results for us and certainly that is the expectation,” Hand said. “We didn’t provide a winning performance [in 2010]. As a unit we were young and inexperienced – there are all kinds of excuses you can have. ... The lumps they took last year should pay big dividends for us this year from an experience factor.”
• The Commodores still have $12 tickets available for Saturday’s game.
To purchase seats, call (615) 322-GOLD or visit the Vanderbilt box office, which will be opened up to four hours before kickoff. A fireworks show will immediately follow the game.