Franklin Must Learn from Saban Shot
By Matt Smith
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James Franklin will never lose his edge, as Vanderbilt would be nowhere near where it is without it.
The day was Nov. 21, 2011. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin was holding his weekly press conference. The Commodores were less than 48 hours removed from an overtime loss at rival Tennessee. Franklin was asked if he had seen or heard of a Tennessee locker room video that had leaked out, in which Volunteers coach Derek Dooley was heard yelling, “The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the [expletive] out of Vandy.”
“I heard about it,” Franklin said. “It’s a wound we’ll leave open. We’ll talk about it next year – a lot.”
52 weeks later, after Vanderbilt’s convincing 41-18 win over the Volunteers that led to Dooley’s firing the next morning, Franklin publicly revisited that wound. Sort of.
“The one thing Vanderbilt always does,” Franklin declared, “is focus on being 1-0 each week.”
It’s one thing to make a chide remark about a coach who won has won four SEC games. It’s something completely different when it’s a coach who has won four national titles.
Speaking at a Central High athletics banquet in Macon, Ga. on Monday, Franklin referred to Alabama head coach Nick Saban as “Nicky Satan”, and said “I’m going to outwork him.” See the full clip here.
This kind of brashness isn’t unprecedented in the dog-eat-dog world of SEC football. Four years ago, then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin incorrectly proclaimed at a speaking engagement that then-Florida coach Urban Meyer committed a recruiting violation by contacting eventual Tennessee signee Nu’Keese Richardson while Richardson was on an official visit.
Did Franklin, who apologized to Saban via phone on Wednesday, cross the line with his not-so-original nickname for the best coach in college football?
Franklin has taken an “all publicity is good publicity” approach when it comes to building his program. He’s been on every radio show imaginable, opened all of spring practice to fans and media and says more in 140-character tweets than seems possible. After taking Vanderbilt from 2-10 to 6-7 to 9-4, with a goal of an SEC East title still on the table, why should he change that approach?
Until it comes back to bite him, he probably won’t. However, has it already done just that? It’s safe to say he’s not on Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s Christmas card list, stemming from a postgame skirmish in 2011. The one team Vanderbilt was non-competitive with in 2012? Georgia. The Bulldogs blasted the Commodores, 48-3.
Was that simply due to Georgia being the best team on Vanderbilt’s schedule, or because the Bulldogs, Grantham’s defense particularly, were playing with some added motivation this fall after the way the 2011 meeting ended? We’ll never know for sure, but grudges don’t just fade away in the SEC. That’s one of many lessons Franklin has learned in his short time in Nashville.
It’s nearly impossible to rebuild a program without some level of edginess, especially given the increasingly competitive nature of recruiting, which has become a sport in and of itself. At some point, however, success should simply speak for itself.
Franklin is nearing that point with the Commodores, with the program currently in a transition phase as it attempts to firmly stake its claim as a major player in the college football landscape. The fact that this story made the rounds as quickly as it did is in large part due to what Franklin has done in 26 months at Vanderbilt.
Eventually, brashness leads to diminishing returns. It’s acceptable to a degree, but the act eventually grows tired. Franklin needs to limit these types of remarks to within the Vanderbilt locker room. Although, as we learned from Dooley, even the locker room isn’t the fully-sheltered place that it once was.
Franklin will never lose his edge, as Vanderbilt would be nowhere near where it is without it. Just don’t expect to hear any more zingers from him in the near future. After all, the one thing Franklin always does is learn from his mistakes.