The following is a transcript of comments by Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin at 2012 SEC Media Days in Hoover, AL, as provided by the Southeastern Conference:
Really appreciate the opportunity to be back here in year two. It's amazing the difference year two compared to year one. The last year when we arrived, I wanted to get a feel for the place. Walked right through Radio Row. Ended up in the mall. Walked back. Not one person said one thing to me. Things have changed a little bit since then.
There's a buzz about Vanderbilt football right now that there hasn't been for a long time. I think our fan base and the community is really excited about where we're going, what we're doing.
It's amazing if you think about the 18 months since we've been here, been able to go to a bowl game in our first year, been able to have a top‑25 recruiting class. Facilities, brand‑new Jumbotron, brand‑new lights, new meeting rooms, $31 million indoor that we're about to break ground on. A lot of really positive things going on. Highest GPA as a team that we've had in a long time. So many positive things going on right now.
We also know we have a long way to go as a program and we continue to take it one step at a time. The attention we've been able to get from the media, fans, high school coaches has been unbelievable. We couldn't be more excited about being here and representing the SEC and representing our community, Nashville and Vanderbilt.
I'll open it up for questions and appreciate the opportunity to be here with you.
You have a guy returning who sent the Vanderbilt single season rushing record. What are your thoughts on Zac Stacy? What's amazing about Zac is as good of a player, he's a better person. I can say that about a lot of our guys. Zac gets a lot of credit, but we play ultimate team football at Vanderbilt. I think anybody that watched our team last year from the beginning of the year till the end, I think our offensive line improved as much as any unit in the SEC.
Also the fact having wideouts that people have to respect on the outside is going to help them as well. The development of our quarterback as well.
I think Zac could have a great year. The other factor is getting Warren Norman back, SEC Rookie of the Year, as well, creates more depth and weapons for us.
I couldn't be more pleased with Zac's development, how he comes to work every single day with a blue‑collar mentality. I think he's got a chance to have a really, really good year for us, and we need him to.
Alongside Zac, there's nine returns on offense and eight returners on defense. How big is that for your program going forward? Yeah, I think the continuity is very, very important. I think for us the fact that this is not going to be the first year of learning an offense, learning a defense, learning a special teams, understand the expectation of how we do things. I think that's as valuable as anything.
I've always been a believer that replacing starters on defense is a little easier than on offense. What I mean by that is if you're a defensive lineman that was in the two‑deep, you played a lot of football. If you were a defensive back who was a corner or safety or a nickel or a dime, you played a lot of football and rotated in.
Being able to replace a guy like Chris Marve, one of the more natural leaders that I've ever been around, got accepted into Vanderbilt law school, that leadership is what I'm most concerned about. To think one guy is going to come in and fill that role, I don't think that's going to be the case. We have to spread that leadership throughout our whole team and specifically the defense.
I know our guys are excited with the fact we were able to have some success last year. We had probably just enough success that it whet their appetite and we're going to just continue building on that.
Pretty remarkable first year at Vanderbilt, going to a bowl game. Talk about how you see where you can take this program. Do you think you could potentially win the SEC East in the near future and the rivalry with Tennessee? The sky's the limit with us. I truly believe that. I think for the right kid from the right family, we can beat anybody. I truly believe that.
If you have a son, which I don't know if you do or not, he's a Division I player, he's coming to Vanderbilt. We have too much to sell. We have too much to sell. If you truly respect a world class education, there's very few schools that can compete with us.
I know what Vanderbilt can do for your son for the next 40 to 50 years of his life. An opportunity to play in the greatest football conference in the America.
If you're truly the best and the brightest, where else would you go? You have an opportunity to chase both of your dreams at the highest level.
The third factor is Nashville. When I got the job, the administrative staff showed me the city. There was an electricity to the city. I'm a huge believer that your education is more than what you learn in the classroom, a combination of cultural experiences, and Nashville can provide that, and the fourth thing is playing time.
We have the support of the administration and resources. When you have those things, you have a chance to be successful.
I think the sky's the limit for us. The fact that we can sell all these things. You're going to find certain institutions that might have one or two things better than us, but there's very few schools in the country that have the combination of traits that we do.
I think the sky's the limit and we're really, really excited about it.
You also asked about the rivalries. I understand how important that game is to the people in our state, especially the Vanderbilt community. Our focus is on South Carolina. We have a Hall of Fame coach coming into our stadium with a top‑10 ranked opponent. What an unbelievable venue it's going to be. ESPN Thursday night, national television on our campus, being able to have a top‑10 opponent. What a tremendous challenge and a bigger opportunity that is for our program, so that's our focus.
Can you talk about Jordan Rodgers' improvement as a quarterback? I thought he did a lot of things last year, made a lot of plays with his feet. From the time the season ended till now, it's night and day. You guys have all been following the game long enough. You know the difference between a quarterback's first and second year, it's not even close.
I just see his work ethic that he's putting in. He's going to be graduating in December. He's in there watching film all the time. As we all know, he has a tremendous resource to make a phone call and ask questions. It's kind of like recruiting a coach's kid, I've always believed in that, because that player has learned more football being around it his whole life than he even realized.
It's the same thing with Jordan. With Jordan, it's specific to the quarterback position, which I really think is going to help him. He's been so much more open. He's always been driven. He's always been competitive. But I think last year we were able to lay a foundation and this year we got a chance to build on it.
Had a conversation with him the other day. Having that conversation with him, I could tell that he's getting to the point where he feels like he knows the offense so well that the defense can't be right. When you get a quarterback that feels that way, you have a chance.
I'm looking forward to working with him here in the next couple weeks and I really can't wait to watch him play this year.
You just talked about Jordan a little bit. I know you focus on your team. When you look around the league, especially in your division, do you see the level of play at quarterback being a little bit better this year than last year? Yeah, very much so. I've been in this game long enough to know whether it's little league, high school, college or the NFL, if you have a quarterback, you have a chance.
I think the league as a whole, there's much more experience at the position and there's a lot of guys coming back that have played extremely well. That's going to elevate the entire league as well as those individual teams. I think that will help us. It should make for some great games, really good competition. I'm interested to see how this whole thing plays out.
But we're very aware of the quarterbacks in this conference and what we're facing.
You said earlier that the sky is the limit for you. How difficult is it to sell to these kids that have had in their heads that Vanderbilt has been a dormant program for a while? You'd be amazed. Maybe you understand that. Maybe you've seen that. But these kids, they don't look at it like that. Especially after having success this past year, getting some of the recruits, those types of things.
When we get a kid on campus, we have a very good chance of getting him. It's an unbelievable campus. We have so many things to sell.
If it's the right kid from the right family, it's not a real hard sell. It's a no‑brainer, to be honest with you. I think a lot of times we spend, as adults, focused on the past and the history. That's not important to them. They want to know what the future holds and who's going to care about them and put them in positions so they can be successful for the next 50 years of their life, not the next four. That hasn't been a real issue. I think every year it's going to get easier and easier for us.
Last year, how far did you go in terms of changing the culture? I think we've taken some steps, I really do. That goes back to talking about, like I talked about, all the facility things we have done, how we played. It wasn't just the games we won last year that affected the perception of us, but it's the play week in, week out. It's the excitement, buzz about Vanderbilt football right now.
We still have a long ways to go, I understand that. But we're taking steps in the right direction. That's what we have to continue to do.
There's also an understanding that it can't just be the coaches, the players, it's got to be the administration, the students, it's got to be the community and our fans and alumni as well. Everybody has to be pulling the rope in the same direction so we can create and put a product on the field that people can be really excited about and embrace and take a lot of pride in the black and gold, in the 'Star V,' who we are, what we represent.
That's what we're trying to do, we're trying to build traditions, a program. That's why whenever we get an opportunity to brand, throw up of the VU, talk about anchor down, which is something we talk about all the time as well, all these different things that we're trying to build, it's all a part of it, it's all a part of it, every step.
Can you talk about the new kickoff rules, how it may change not only what happens on the field, but the way you coach. I've heard coaches talk about the pooch kick being a bigger factor. Could we see an end to the kickoff at some point down the road? Once again, I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking and worrying about things that are outside of my control. I focus on the things that are more specific to Vanderbilt.
But I do think it's going to affect some things like on side kicks. You're not going to have the lobs anymore. I do think the squib kicks, things like that, are going to keep the ball on the field of play. Coaches know how valuable every inch is, how valuable that real estate is. If you can pin them inside the 10 or 15 with some kind of kick or coverage, you want to do that, no doubt about it.
It's going to be interesting to see how each coach uses these rule changes to their advantage, what coaches maybe aren't prepared for the significance of some of these rule changes as well.
The most important thing is that we're making decisions in the best interest of the student‑athlete and for the SEC and college football as a whole.
Did you see Trey Wilson having the type of year he had last year and what does he bring to your team for this season? Very much so. From the time we arrived on campus, everybody was talking about Casey, but Trey really jumped out to us as well. Strong, physical, very smart, plays the game, really an intelligent football player. Plays the game with passion and pride, the way we're going to do it at Vanderbilt. It didn't surprise me one bit. He believes in himself, the direction of our program. I think Coach Shoop, our defensive coordinator has done a really good job of being creative with our defense and maximizing how our guys learn, how they can take all the information that we put on their plate, use it on the field.
I'm really looking for big things out of him this year. Was really able to make some plays last year, game‑changing type plays, be a well‑rounded player. I know he's worked really, really hard since the season ended to continue to develop his game. I'm expecting big things from him. If you have any more like him down there, send them because we love him.
When you go out to recruit, obviously with the academic standards of the school, you automatically are getting kids in there who are already adapted at learning. At that point in the process, is there a specific aspect you look at, like physical development, game learning, character and leadership? Is there anything particular that you look at at that point? Well, I think what you're asking is we are recruiting the whole student‑athlete. We really do. We're not going to be a team or a program that gets intoxicated by talent alone. It's going to be the whole package. We want guys that obviously are great football players, but are really good people, tremendous character, that really care about getting a world class education. Because the NFL stands for 'Not For Long,' and we want to make sure these guys, we put them in a position to be successful for the next 50 years of their life.
I don't do a lot of selling of the NFL. It's my job that these men leave here educated and prepared for life. I want them to maximize their football experience for as long as they can, but that's going to come to an end. There's no place in the country that can prepare them for that like Vanderbilt.
It is so important to us to get to know the whole student‑athlete. I want to bring guys that are going to enrich our campus and bring value to our program in so many different ways, not only talent, but leadership, character, work ethic, all those types of things.
I hope that's what you were asking.
I know you were asked about the rivalry with Tennessee earlier. Any coach wants to take ownership of their state, whether it be recruiting, media, fan attention. In terms of the growth of your program, where does that aspect stand? I think we as an organization, as a team, take a lot of pride in the state that we're in, the great state of Tennessee, the people that have been unbelievable to us.
Once again, our focus is not on any certain game or rivalry. To be honest with you, I don't really consider it a rivalry. It has to be a lot more competitive before it becomes a rivalry. It's been one‑sided.
We have tremendous respect for that program, for the state that we're in. What we're trying to do is just develop our program so that we can consistency go out and compete with any team.
But our focus from the time the season ended has been on South Carolina and Coach Spurrier, those great players, that great program that he's built there. That's our focus.
A lot of coaches, you guys hear it, will take one game at a time, but we really live it. We actually boil it down even further and go six seconds at a time, which is the average length of a college football play. We are very process oriented, not goal oriented at Vanderbilt. That's how we have approached it from day one.
You're starting with South Carolina. I know you don't make the schedule. Would you prefer to have a non‑conference game before getting into SEC play? With the monetary commitments that the university is showing to athletics with the Jumbotron, is that surpassing the commitment they were saying they were going to make to athletics when they were recruiting you to come to Vanderbilt? First of all, the scheduling, there's advantages and disadvantages to it. I think the advantages, our kids are unbelievably motivated all off‑season knowing the type of game we're going to open up with. It allows you to spread your out‑of‑conference games throughout your whole schedule, so that you might not have to go down a gauntlet like you normally would. You can spread those out‑of‑conference games a little bit.
I don't think there's any doubt being able to start your season with four out‑of‑conference games that you feel you have a chance of winning.
The best way to teach kids how to win and have confidence is by having success. There's a fine line, no doubt about it. I think another thing is an opportunity for Vanderbilt to be on national television, get that type of exposure. We're excited about it, we really are.
From a scheduling perspective, we got to continue to grow there. We have probably the most challenging out‑of‑conference schedule in all of the SEC playing two BCS opponents on the road. I don't know if there's another team in the conference that's doing that. That's an area we're going to have to continue to improve for the long‑term of our program, making sure we have the right type of out‑of‑conference schedule as well.
The commitment, it's about what I expected. When I met with Chancellor Zeppos and Vice Chancellor Williams, who has always been our athletic director, the perception has been different, but has always been our athletic director, we had a plan. They had a very, very specific plan before we started talking.
Obviously we've been able to sit down and talk about specific to my experience now, the things I think we need to be doing and where we're going. But Vanderbilt had a strong commitment to what we were going to do and how we were going to do it. But I've been very, very pleased with how we've gone about our business for the last 17, 18 months and where we're going in the future. Through the support of the administration of our students, our fans, our supporters as well.
It's going extremely well, but we still have a long way to go.
Could you talk a little bit about the bad blood, if there is any, between Vanderbilt and Georgia? At the end of the game last year there was a bit of a scuffle. We have tremendous respect for all the programs in this conference, all the coaches, all the players. Our focus is on South Carolina. That's who we're opening the season with, that's who we're playing, and that's all we're really going to talk about, myself as well as our players.
I will tell you this. You play Vanderbilt, you better be ready to play from the beginning of the game till the end. That's whoever it is. I think that's one of the biggest changes that you're going to see, is how we're going to compete, how we're going to play the game. That's from the beginning of the game till the end. That's with tremendous respect for everybody in this conference.
Do you feel that your arrival at Vandy has been at an opportune time perhaps because of your in‑state rivals have taken somewhat of a step backward? Again, I can't speak on that. All I can control and focus on is what happens at Vanderbilt, what we're doing on our campus.
I spend all my energy, my staff does, my team does, waking up every single morning and just trying to maximize that day to be the best James Franklin, to be the best Vanderbilt as a university as a whole, best football program that we possibly can. I believe the more days we have like that in the off‑season, the Saturdays will start taking care of themselves.
Everything else going on in the SEC, rules changes, that's outside of my control. I might have some influence on some of those things, but we spend our time focusing on Vanderbilt solely, completely.
Can you talk about Jared Morse's development, how you see him fitting in this year. We love Jared. What a positive kid, enthusiastic kid. Every time I see him, he's got a huge smile on his face. He's a guy we thought had a good year last year, but when we went at the end of the year last season and studied the tape, he was the most productive per rep.
The amount of plays he's had have been good. His speed is up, his strength is up, so I'm expecting him to have a really good year and build on the success he had last year. Us as a staff, we want to make sure he has enough reps as a starter or backup that he can impact the game in a positive way like he did last year.
Last year at this time it was about trying to get your guys to buy in and believe what you were doing. Now that you've had some success, where are you now? What phase of the program are you in now? It's interesting. I'm glad you brought that up.
Last year we thought we could do some good things. I thought I had a good plan. I thought it was detailed and organized.
This year we believe. Our kids believe. I believe. The coaching staff believes. The things we're doing, how we're doing, the commitment our players have made, the commitment the administration has made, how we've invested in our futures, what we're trying to do, that's the difference.
Last year, we thought we could do some nice things; this year, the team believes we're going to do some really good things.
Jordan Rodgers played so well most of last year until the bowl game. Talk about how he reacted from not having a great game, something he learned from that game, or something that you learned about each other?Whenever a quarterback gets pulled, and I played the position, you're not happy about it. Jordan wasn't either. To me, if you get pulled out of the game and you're not upset about it, that's the problem.
Me and Jordan have probably had 40 to 50 conversations since that game. I actually think it's been a positive. He's been so much more open, very coachable. He's always been really driven and competitive. I think what's interesting is talking to Jordan the other day, he's been watching a lot of film. What's amazing is he's watching the film right now and getting frustrating because he's saying, I can't believe I did this, I can't believe I didn't see that. The light has really gone on for him.
We couldn't have a better relationship. I couldn't have more confidence in him than I do. I think all those things that we went through last year together was an opportunity to grow and to learn. I think because of those experiences, all of them, the good and the bad, Jordan is really going to be able to grow, and because of that we're going to be able to grow as a team.
I know you don't want to look past South Carolina, but when it comes to the Missouri game, any trouble going after the quarterback? Cousin, Cousin Franklin? We're going to leave him alone. Like I told you, last year I walked through the lobby last year and nobody knew who I was. I was very appreciative that Coach Pinkel didn't bring him this year because once again I would take the backseat to the other James Franklin.
I wish Missouri, Texas A&M all the success in the world. I think they're going to have a lot of success this year. They're great coaches, great programs, and I wish those guys a whole lot of success.
You mentioned people not paying attention to you last year. Was it different this year? A little bit different. Last year I walked in with Coach Saban. People were throwing babies to him to autograph and everything else (smiling).
It's just different. I think the fact that they've had an opportunity to get to know me, my staff, our players, we've allowed a lot of access to our programs, and then I think just how they played. Whether they like everything we've done or not, they've respected how we've gone about our business, how hard we work, how hard we played.
So proud of my kids in how hard they play the game. I think we played as hard as anybody in the conference last year. When you do that, I think you have a chance to be successful.
It's just changed.
But we also know you're not going to earn everybody's respect in one year. You have to do it day in, day out, week in, week out, year in, year out, and on a consistent basis. Take a lot of pride in our football in this part of the country and in our conference.
Steve Spurrier was very complimentary of your team, talking about how much energy you played with. What kind of goes into changing the perception of Vanderbilt? You know, I think when you take the Vanderbilt job, you have to understand it's going to be about so much more than just the X's and the O's and the fundamentals. It's about marketing your program. It's about changing perceptions.
I have not said no to a speaking engagement yet. If it's going out and talking in the community, at a rotary club, if it's going and speaking to a leadership group in the community, if it's going to a little kid's birthday party and blowing up balloons in the backyard, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get our message out there and sell our vision for our football program.
No different than today. This is an opportunity for me to get up and talk to you guys about our program so you guys leave here and say, You know what, I'm pretty comfortable with the direction of that program, the leadership, they're doing some good things at Vanderbilt, it's going to be exciting to watch that program grow.
It's just understanding you're going to have to wear a lot more hats than just the baseball hat and a whistle. You have to try to sell season tickets, marketing. Don't get me wrong, we have all those things there at Vanderbilt, but I'm right there supporting them with everything they do.
Thank you so much. Really appreciate being here.
Copyright 2012 WBRC. All rights reserved.