HOOVER, Ala. — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin had a different experience at his second Southeastern Conference FootballÃ?Â¿Media Day Tuesday than he did a year ago.
“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,” said Franklin. “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 topÃ?Â¿25 recruiting class. Facilities, brandÃ?Â¿new Jumbotron, brandÃ?Â¿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.”
Franklin thinks Vanderbilt’s rigorous academic demands are a plus, not a minus, in recruiting.
“I think for the right kid from the right family, we can beat anybody. I truly believe that. If you have a son, he's a Division I player, he's coming to Vanderbilt. We have too much to sell. If you truly respect a world class education, there's very few schools that can compete with us,” the Vanderbilt coach told media members. “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. 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.
“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.”
Franklin said the key to recruiting for him is getting a top prospect to visit campus.
“When we get a kid on campus, we have a very good chance of getting him. It's an unbelievable campus,” he said. “If it's the right kid from the right family, it's not a real hard sell. It's a noÃ?Â¿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.
“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. 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.”
Franklin said last year the Commodores hoped they could do good things. This year he says the team believes.
“Last year, we thought we could do some nice things. This year, the team believes we're going to do some really good things,” he said.
He’s selling that message anywhere he can, too, as he tries to help Vanderbilt climb in the SEC standings.
“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,” he said.