The text message puzzled David Williams.
Wrapped up all day at the Southeastern Conference’s annual meetings in Sandestin, Fla., Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor of Athletics checked his phone Thursday afternoon. In his inbox was a text message from his wife that read, “Have you heard about the statements?”
“She didn’t say what, so I was like, ‘What statement?’ ” Williams said. “That was my initiation to it. By the time I could get back to anybody [at Vanderbilt] I had received several more emails.”
Williams quickly got up to speed with the situation when he learned about remarks that Commodores football coach James Franklin made in a radio interview Wednesday.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant coach until I’ve seen his wife,” Franklin said on 104.5 The Zone (WGFX-FM). “If she looks the part, and she’s a D-I recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. There is a very strong correlation between having the confidence of going up and talking to a woman and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being fun and articulate than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him.”
Williams called the comments “inappropriate” and “offensive” and said he had a lengthy phone discussion Thursday with Franklin, who was also in Florida for the meetings.
“James understands the mistake he made. He is very apologetic,” Williams said. “I think James sort of thought he was talking in a joking sort of matter. We talked about how that’s even inappropriate in a joking sort of matter. Certainly that is not the criteria that Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt athletics or football uses or will use in their hiring.
“We had a long discussion about it, and he’s a little embarrassed and a little ashamed that he made those statements. ... That’s not what we do. That’s not who we are. That’s not what happens over there.”
Williams stressed that professional qualifications are the only criteria considered for employment at Vanderbilt.
“You’re looking at the ability of the individual and those other things aren’t a factor,” Williams said. “Sometimes people look at jobs and look at positions as it relates to how well my family will like it, how well they’ll fit. But that’s not a criteria for the job. That’s more of a personal sort of thing.”
Franklin attempted to back away from the comments, which caught the attention of multiple national media outlets, with a barrage of Tweets on Thursday, the last of which read, “I clearly used language that doesn’t reflect my views on women and I am SORRY!”
He then took to the air waves later that night in an interview with 102.5 The Game (WPRT-FM).
“I should stick to coaching football and stay away from comedy and humor because this did not go the way I intended it to go,” the second-year head coach said. “I was simply using a reference about the confidence it takes to approach a woman who eventually is going to become your wife and that same confidence translating over in a lot of different areas of your life. ... I apologize. I did not mean to offend anyone. But I was trying to be funny and have some humor and have some personality but it came off the wrong way and I did not intend to hurt anyone’s feelings and I apologize for that. I really do.”
It wasn’t the first time Franklin’s words have garnered attention.
At a pep rally following national signing day in February, he said recruits who de-committed from Vanderbilt were “not men of honor” and “not men of integrity.” The statements were ironic since Vanderbilt signee Patton Robinette had de-committed from North Carolina a month before signing day.
An emotional 40-year-old who admitted in the same radio interview on Wednesday that he was a “psycho” when it came to his nonstop lifestyle, Franklin hasn’t backed away from conflict. He was involved in a postgame altercation with Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Franklin defended the Commodores when Tennessee coach Derek Dooley insulted Vanderbilt in a postgame locker room speech after UT’s double overtime win in November.
Williams said intense passion is a factor in Franklin’s success and isn’t concerned about emotions getting the best of the coach.
“All of us sometimes make mistakes and sometimes say things we wish we hadn’t,” Williams said. “I don’t in any shape, form or fashion want to temper James’ enthusiasm and the things that make him successful. When there are things that are said that we think we need to talk about, we’ll talk about it. You kind of live and learn and I think he’ll be OK. I think this was one that really has sort of hit him hard because I don’t think he initially thought about how offensive and inappropriate it could be.
“Trust me I know he didn’t mean to offend anybody.”
By early Thursday night, Williams said he hadn’t talked to his wife, Gail, since the text message. When asked about her possible reaction to the comments, Williams began laughing.
“I’m sure she’ll tell me,” he said.