HOOVER - James Franklin isn't the first Vanderbilt coach to come to Southeastern Conference Media Days and insist that the Commodores can do big things.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin
Bobby Johnson did. And Woody Widenhofer. And Rod Dowhower. And Gerry Dinardo. And Watson Brown. And George MacIntyre. Even Robbie Caldwell, who served as the interim coach in 2010, said it.
Since 1985, they've all said it. Vanderbilt offers a world-class education and the opportunity to play college football at the highest level. Vanderbilt can compete.
And they've all been wrong.
"The sky's the limit with us," Franklin said Tuesday. "I truly believe that. I think for the right kid from the right family, we can beat anybody. I truly believe that."
The problem for Vanderbilt has been that there haven't been enough right kids from the right families who agreed that Vanderbilt was where they wanted to go.
But Franklin is convincing. He's convinced Vanderbilt's administration to upgrade facilities, something for which his predecessors pleaded and never got. There's a new jumbotron at Vanderbilt Stadium. Locker rooms and offices have been upgraded. Construction will soon begin on an indoor practice facility.
Auburn will get its first look at Vanderbilt football, Franklin style, in Nashville on Oct. 20.
Last season, Franklin's first, the Commodores went 6-6 and made it to a bowl game. When all was said and done, they were 6-7, another Vanderbilt team with another losing season. It was only three years earlier that Johnson did better, winning his bowl game and going 7-6.
But Franklin says it's a new day. He's convinced a lot of other people to agree with him, including his players. And he has some good ones.
Running back Zac Stacy broke the Vanderbilt single-season rushing record last season. Fifth-year senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers, the younger brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, locked down the starting job down the stretch.
Rodgers said Franklin has changed everything about Vanderbilt football, but he also said shedding the image of perennial loser will take time.
"I think that’s going to be there for while," Rodgers said. "One bowl game is not going to change what people have perceived about us for decades. It’s going to take winning and winning on a constant level for years, but we are changing that. That’s for sure.”
Even the ever-enthusiastic Franklin admits much remains to be done.
"I think we've taken some steps," Franklin said. "I really do. That goes back to talking about, like I talked about, all the facility things we have done, how we played. It wasn't just the games we won last year that affected the perception of us, but it's the play week in, week out. It's the excitement, the buzz about Vanderbilt football."
COMMODORES AT A GLANCE
Last season's record: 6-7 overall, 2-6 SEC.
Returning starters: 16, 9 on offense and 7 on defense.
Offensive statistical leaders: RB Zac Stacy 1,193 rushing yards, 14 TD. QB Jordan Rodgers 1,524 passing yards, 9 TD; 420 rushing yards, 1 TD. WR Chris Boyd 31 catches, 473 yards, 8 TD.
Defensive statistical leaders: Chris Marve 91 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 3 sacks; Chris Hayward 62 tackles, 7.5 TFL; 7 interceptions.