Vanderbilt now "all in" for football

James Franklin (VM/Stan Jones)

It's been a special season for Vanderbilt football fans. After miserable back to back 2-10 seasons, the Commodores finished the 2011 regular season 6-6 and are headed to a bowl. On Friday Vanderbilt officials became "all in" for the Commodore pigskin program by announcing a new contract for head coach James Franklin and facility upgrades.

Throughout the season Vanderbilt pundits had predicted that if James Franklin led Vanderbilt to a bowl he would be hired away after the season. Those pundits had good reason to believe this. Previous Commodore coaches Gerry DiNardo (LSU) and Steve Sloan (Texas Tech) have been hired away after successful seasons or even hints of success as in DiNardo's case. Another coach Vandy lost that goes even farther back is Red Sanders who was hired away by UCLA following the 1948 season. The good news for Vandy fans is that the pundit's prediction went haywire on Friday when Vice Chancellor David Williams proclaimed that Franklin's contract had been torn up and replaced with a new document that included a hefty raise.

We hear again and again that Vanderbilt does not have the facilities to compete in the SEC. On Friday Vanderbilt served notice that it will do whatever it takes to be successful in the nation's toughest football conference. In addition to locking in the conference's brightest young coach, Williams said that Vanderbilt would build an indoor practice facility complete with a 120 yard field by the 2014 season. Vanderbilt also has plans for a new JumboTron in Vanderbilt Stadium, a new theater-style classroom, new meeting rooms and upgrades to the Hendrix Room (dining hall) as well as other upgrades.

At the press conference one skeptical local journalist asked Williams why Vanderbilt had waited until now to build an indoor practice facility. Williams was blunt when he said that the Commodore program was not focusing on the past but on the future, "We are going to build the damn thing," said Williams.

After years of watching the Commodores punt at opponent's 30-yard lines, it seems that Vanderbilt officials are now buying into the value of securing a solid coaching staff and enhancing facilities. Vanderbilt has too often allowed facilities to decay while allowing good coaches to take their services elsewhere but those days over and done. Indeed, after 50 years of mostly football misery it's almost understandable that the VU administration would believe that its football teams had little chance of success against the win-at-all-costs state school programs. But James Franklin has proved otherwise and has convinced the administration that investments in football will pay dividends.

Although Vandy finished 2011 just 2-6 in the conference, with a break or an officials call or two the Commodores could have easily finished with a 5-3 SEC record. Franklin's team was exciting to watch and scored more points than any Commodore team since 1948. Yes, that was the team coached by Red Sanders who the Bruins snatched away and likely for more pay. 1948 will not be repeated by the current Vanderbilt administration.

While we can question the previous commitment of the VU administration, we must also realize that the commitment in recent years has been far greater than the commitment in the 1960s or 70s. Those two decades are the years in which Vanderbilt football was almost suffocated due to the lack of resources to compete.

Indeed, Franklin has proved that the combination of good coaching and solid recruiting can produce winners on the field, even at Vanderbilt. Recruiting should get better now with the improved facilities and a stable young energetic coaching staff in place. By getting better players Vanderbilt will have even brighter results on the football field.

Vanderbilt University is now "all in" with its football program. It's got a solid coaching staff locked in place and excellent facilities are on the way as well as top notch prospects to play the games.

"We will truly be as good as we decide to be," Franklin said.


James Franklin (L) and David Williams (R) (VM-Stan Jones)

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