HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt’s football program is usually pretty quiet during most offseasons, but nobody told that to James Franklin.
The Commodores’ first-year head coach has made waves with his early recruiting efforts, pulling public commitments from prospects in both Tennessee and Georgia.
“I really believe,” Franklin said Friday morning at Southeastern Conference media days, “there’s very few schools that are going to be able to compete with us when it comes to recruiting, because we have an opportunity to offer things that very few schools can.”
Vanderbilt signed just 21 players in February, but Franklin has received 12 commitments for 2012 in the last three months. Those dozen prospects include seven players out of Georgia; 11 three-star players according to Rivals.com; Tennessee’s top-rated prospect, four-star Memphis running back Brian Kimbrow; and Baylor School offensive lineman Barrett Gouger.
“He’s a guy that you never see down, you never see him tired,” senior linebacker Chris Marve said of Franklin. “He is a very, very passionate and enthused and charismatic guy. All the things that you would want a great coach to have, he has it. He’s committed to every small detail. Everything that we needed as a team, Coach Franklin brought it.”
Franklin is the Commodores’ third coach in less than a year following Bobby Johnson’s abrupt retirement last July after more than eight years as coach and Robbie Caldwell’s resignation after last season. The Commodores have won just four games total and one conference game since winning the 2008 Music City Bowl, but that hasn’t stopped Franklin from recruiting aggressively.
He’s used Vanderbilt’s “world-class education,” the strength of the SEC, the city of Nashville and early playing time as his main selling points.
“There’s going to be very few schools that have all three aspects that I think people are looking for: academic experience, athletic experience [and] social experience,” Franklin said. “That plan, that vision, that mentality has really been helping us. We’re selling [the] opportunity to differentiate yourself. You can name school X or school Y that a lot of young men have gone to and won, or you can come with me and my coaches and this program and you have a chance to build something with your own hands and differentiate yourself.”
While that approach seems bold coming from a program that traditionally is the conference’s worst, recruits and Vanderbilt’s current players are buying what Franklin’s selling.
“I’ve never been envious of anyone, [and] I don’t believe what I signed up for was a tough road to hoe, either,” said Marve, the SEC’s active leading tackler who aspires for a career in civil litigation.
“I believe I signed up to be [at] a great place to play football, great conference, great school, great city. You just tell [recruits] the truth. With us, I feel like you’re selling what’s there. What you see is what you get with us. [Losing’s] been aggravating and disappointing and all those things, but we’ve put that in the past and we’re looking forward.”
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...