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Monday, December 31, 2012
Franklin building Vandy's program to last

By Chris Low

James Franklin
James Franklin led the Commodores to their first nine-win season in nearly a century.
Merely reciting a long list of firsts doesn’t do justice to what Vanderbilt’s football program has accomplished under second-year coach James Franklin.

Sure, it helps when you process that Vanderbilt -- thanks to its 38-24 beatdown of North Carolina State on Monday in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- is basking in its first nine-win season since 1915.

To put into perspective how long ago that’s been, the Titanic sank to her watery grave only three years earlier in the North Atlantic.

The Commodores (9-4) also ended the season with a seven-game winning streak, the longest in the SEC and their longest since closing the 1948 season with eight straight wins.

We could sit here all day and talk history.

But Franklin’s crowning achievement is that he’s made Vanderbilt relevant in the big, bad SEC, and don’t think for a minute that his work is done.

If he thought it was, he would have undoubtedly jumped on one of the numerous overtures that came his way to go elsewhere this year. Refreshingly, in an age when college coaches change jobs about as often as most of us change socks, Franklin was more interested in finding a way to enhance the job that he already has.

That’s why his new contract, which will pay him more than $3 million per year, has language in it that requires Vanderbilt to continue to upgrade its stadium, its football complex and other facilities and player amenities that are crucial if the Commodores are going to recruit at a level that will make them a consistent winner in the SEC.

Franklin has already made some serious waves on the recruiting trail. He’s bringing in four-star prospects, which was once a fantasy at Vanderbilt.

The other thing he’s done is embrace Vanderbilt’s stringent academic standards. He’s selling them rather than trying to work around them.

Franklin has also been masterful at assembling his staff, a group of coaches who’ve done as good a job the past two years as any staff in the league.

The Commodores still have a ways to go in terms of stockpiling the caliber and number of offensive and defensive linemen that it takes to be a contender in the SEC.

Nonetheless, turn on the tape and watch the way their guys play up front -- their technique, their smarts and their toughness.

That’s a credit to the coaches on Vanderbilt’s staff and their ability to develop players and get them in the right spots.

The Commodores will miss the seniors on this team. Guys like Zac Stacy, Jordan Rodgers, Trey Wilson, Ryan Seymour, Rob Lohr and Archibald Barnes were a huge part of Vanderbilt’s climb the past two years.

But so were Chris Marve, Casey Hayward and Tim Fugger the year before, and Vanderbilt still managed to take it to another level this season.

That’s because Franklin is building this thing to last, and he plans on sticking around long enough to see a few more firsts.