“Isn’t this awesome?” “Really, where else would you rather be?” “Does it get any better than this?” The enthusiastic words rolled across the practice field and over Vanderbilt’s returning football players at the close of their first spring practice in March under new Head Football Coach James Franklin.
“The energy is contagious,” Franklin said of his team. “They know we’re going to put them in position to be successful. They know we’re going to push them extremely hard, but in a positive manner, and we’re going to have fun doing it. I think the players are embracing what we’re doing and have bought into it.”
Franklin, a renowned recruiter and coach out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, has taken a strong grip on the helm to navigate the Commodores through the treacherous waters of collegiate football at its highest level. He comes to Vanderbilt from the University of Maryland, where he was assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, and is the 27th head coach and first minority head coach in Commodore football history.
“The hiring of Coach Franklin represents a new day for Vanderbilt football,” says Chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos. “He has my full support and commitment that we will help him create an environment where the successes on the field equal the university’s extraordinary successes off the field. Coach Franklin will have an immediate and positive impact on our students, alumni, faculty, staff and broader Vanderbilt community, and I welcome him to Vanderbilt.”
Chancellor Zeppos and Vice Chancellor David Williams have given Franklin the green light to seek out and hire his staff. “We said to James, ‘Get the best staff that you need, and you have the resources for that.’ I think that is a big change,” says Zeppos. “I don’t expect an academic department to be successful without a great team, and I don’t expect him to be successful without the budget to get a great staff.”
Franklin and his staff have assembled a pool of prospects that rivals any Vanderbilt signing class in more than a decade, including a couple of four-star recruits, Parade All-Americans and All-State players. Several signees from that 2011 recruiting class and a few veteran players watched from the sidelines in March as Franklin put the ’Dores through their paces. They worked in competitive one-on-one and seven-on-seven segments, playbook installation, and fought through “Dore Wars.” Dore Wars marked the first full-contact practice with a three-on-three drill pitting offensive players making individual blocks against defenders who are pursuing a ball carrier in a confined space. “I thought everybody really competed,” Franklin said. “The attitude was excellent.”
That attitude spilled over to the crowd at practice’s end when the team ran en masse to the stands to thank fans for attending the scrimmage. “I think positive energy is very, very important,” Franklin said. “I want positive energy. I’ve talked to them about this, that football is different. You only get 12 to 14 opportunities, so when they come, you better make the most of them. Run around. Enjoy the experience, and have fun with one another. That’s our coaches’ mentality, and I think our players are starting to take on that identity, too.”
A native of Langhorne, Pa., Franklin spent eight years on the coaching staff at Maryland. The Terrapins finished last year with an 8–4 regular season record and a victory in the Military Bowl. Before joining the ’Terps, he was offensive coordinator at Kansas State University and helped lead the Wildcats to their first bowl bid in four years. He also spent a year as a wide receivers coach with the NFL Green Bay Packers. During his playing days he was a four-year starter at quarterback for East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
Franklin and his wife, Fumi, have two daughters, Ava and Addison.