The first year of the James Franklin-coached Vanderbilt football saga got off to an exciting start as the Commodores finished the regular season with a 6–6 record, two SEC wins, and a postseason bowl berth.
Franklin was named head coach of the Vanderbilt football program in December 2010 following back-to-back 2–8 seasons that produced only one SEC win. The Commodores had a fast start to the 2011 season with three home wins, including a victory over Ole Miss. They took a 5–6 record into the regular season finale at Wake Forest and emerged with a decisive 41–7 victory.
“People wanted to tell me all the things we can and can’t do,” Franklin remembers about his arrival at Vanderbilt. “It’s the same things people have been telling me my whole life, and that’s not what we’re about. We’re about having a positive attitude, working hard, and competing in everything we do, and we’re willing to sacrifice to get there.”
For the seniors, the only class in Vanderbilt football history to play in two bowl games, the season was particularly sweet.
“This senior class has been through a lot,” senior tight end Brandon Barden says of earning a bowl bid. “We’ve been through three head coaches, and we’ve worked our butts off since we got here. This is what we dreamed of.”
The AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn., matched Vanderbilt against the University of Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve. Vanderbilt fans showed their appreciation by buying up the Commodores’ ticket allotment—and more—and taking over the Bluff City. The Bearcats overcame the Commodores by a touchdown in a 31–24 nail-biter.
In December, Vice Chancellor David Williams announced that Franklin had received a new contract with extended years and a substantial pay increase. In addition, the university has committed to facility improvements at Vanderbilt Stadium and has preliminary plans to construct an expansion of the current student recreation center, pending approval from the Board of Trust, that would include a 120-yard turf field and a 300-meter track, as well as expanded areas for cardio and other sports activities.