Football head coach James Franklin and select players met with the media Monday to discuss the Commodores' season opener against Elon. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday at 6:35 p.m. CT inside Vanderbilt Stadium.
James Franklin (Opening Statement)
Appreciate everyone being here. I'd like to start by doing something I probably haven't done enough of since I've got on campus and I apologize for that, we've been rippin' and roarin' since we got here, but I want to say some thank yous. I'd like to start by thanking Chancellor Zeppos for all his support, he really has been unbelievable, he and his wife, Lydia, to me and my family since we arrived on campus have been extremely supportive, have a very, very good relationship, meet with him monthly, and that's been excellent, I couldn't ask for anything more. And Vice Chancellor Williams as well, been great with my family, been so supportive of everything we're doing. And really that goes to you guys as well, the media, I'd like to thank you guys, you've given us the opportunity to tell our story and what we're doing here at Vanderbilt with this football program, and been very, very supportive. I think we've been able to start the change of changing people's perspective of Vanderbilt football and what it's all about, and you guys have been a big part of that so I appreciate that. And then really everybody on campus, that I need to do a better job of reaching out to and thanking, I think I've been running around kind of like a psycho for the last six months, as you guys could imagine with this job and all the things that we've had to do. I think everybody understands how big a job that is, but Mark (Carter) and his staff and our marketing department and the administration like Kevin Colon and everybody, there's been so many people that have had their hands in the program from the marketing to facilities to equipment to the Voice of the Commodores, everybody, so I just want to make sure I reach out and have the opportunity to thank everybody because like I've said before, we can't do it alone from the coaches' perspective, the players, we need this community to come together like it never has before so I want to thank everybody for that.
Notes that I did have that I wanted to go over, depth chart, which everybody has been asking me about, I think you guys have gotten copies of that, and I'm not going to go through every single position with that but Larry Smith will be our starting quarterback. Feel very, very good about that, Larry has earned that job very, very clearly. Really excited to see what he can do when he gets out there on the field. We're doing everything in our power, which I think is our job as coaches and as players, to support our quarterback and allow him to be successful. That's protection up front with the offensive line, that's making plays for him on the perimeter, in the passing game and the running game with the receivers and tight ends and the running backs as well, and that's our defense getting the ball back for the offense and for Larry as well. That's probably the biggest question you guy probably have, is the starting quarterback, for the most part after that I think everybody had a pretty good idea of who is going to be starting and where, but I can get into more questions about that in a minute as well. I haven't really answered and questions when it comes to injury reports and things like that as well so I'm more than comfortable answering any of those questions now. And the last thing I'd like to say is asking for everybody to come on out and support our program, I think this is a very unique time to jump on board and get excited. I think we've shown enough signs that this program is headed in the right direction. People that are maybe on the fence right now with whether to support Vanderbilt football or not, I believe we've shown enough signs that you should jump on board. Everybody I think is looking, including myself, for opportunities to spend some time with your family, there's not going to be a better experience than coming to Vanderbilt on a Saturday, being on a college campus, an unbelievable college campus with an unbelievable academic reputation, be out in the sun, be out running around, be out in the stands eating a hot dog with your kids, and enjoying a game in the greatest football conference in America, so that's how I'd like to open this and I'm more than welcome to answer any questions or comments as well.
Specifically, why did Larry win the job?
JF: I think if you just look at his body of work, the reps that he got this spring, the reps that he got all summer, how he approached the game and his preparation, like I've mentioned before, you're talking about a guy that I would recruit every year in terms of physical skills. As we all know the intangibles are so important at that position but in terms of height, weight, speed, intelligence, being able to understand concepts, does he have vision, can he make all the throws. I've coached in the NFL, I've seen what the NFL teams have drafted, there are a lot of teams that would love to have a quarterback like Larry Smith in terms of physical skills, and I think Ricky Rahne and John Donovan, our entire staff have done a great job at developing him and making sure our team understands that they need to support him. I think that Jordan Rodgers has done some good things, I think he was put at a little bit of a disadvantage not being involved in spring ball, and not having an opportunity to really compete. It's hard when you're on a new offense to not have the spring and the fall to compete but he's done some good things and shown some good things. Right now we'll have Josh Grady as our third quarterback on the depth chart for the game, and we'll see how it goes from there.
Elon's new head coach, strong ACC ties, I'm sure you coached against some of the guys, does it help you at all knowing you've coached against him as an assistant for years?
JF: I think a little bit, I have some familiarity with him, some familiarity with where he's been, I think that helps a little bit but I'll be honest with you, although we spend a lot of time game-planning and preparing for our opponent and who they are, I'm still a believer that we need to spend 75 percent of our time worrying about Vanderbilt. If we do the things that we're supposed to do from a preparation standpoint, from an attitude standpoint, from a work ethic standpoint, our schemes are such that they should be successful and have answers to Coach Shoops' defensive alignments, Coach Bankin's special team alignments and schemes and the same thing on offense. We're going to have a chance to be successful as long as we go out and execute. And then obviously, we need to make sure we're spending 25, 30 percent of the time focusing on the team we're going to play. But our focus right now is to be the best Vanderbilt we have, respect and prepare for Elon, but just go out and be the best Vanderbilt we can.
Have you decided who will call plays yet?
JF: I knew that one was coming. John Donovan will call the games this year. I'm not sure that will go the entire season, we'll see. Me and John have had a discussion about that. That does not mean that I will not call plays during the game and that I haven't been involved in the entire game plan, but John will be the one to call it on a day-to-day basis. I'm very very confident in him, like I said, if you look at the bowl game, I think he put up 52 points in the bowl game at his previous institution against East Carolina. I think he's had a great summer. I've been very very impressed with how he's prepared our offense and got them ready to play, and I think the other thing is, when I took this job, I realized I needed to be the CEO of Vanderbilt Football as a whole, holistically, so I'm not able to sit in every single meeting that they're having on the offensive side of the ball, worrying about defense, worrying about special teams. Wearing all of the hats that we've been wearing with marketing and PR, obviously there's a little bit less of that now that the season has started but very comfortable with him serving in that role.
How hard is it to relinquish that role, considering your track record of success in the past?
JF: It is, that's why I waited until earlier this week to have that conversation with John. John always had the approach as if he was calling the plays with my influence there and then we'd make that decision, but yeah, it's hard. I have some good friends in the business and I've asked their opinion as well, some head coaches are calling the plays on offense or defense, some haven't, and what are the pros and cons to all those things. Every decision that we make is very well thought out and planned. We had a walk through the other day, we went into the stadium, we went through every situation you could possibly have, we sung the fight song in the locker room afterwards, sung the alma matter with the fans in the stands. We're just doing everything we could possibly do to be prepared. So that decision, just like every decision we make, is going to be in the best interest of Vanderbilt, in the best interest of the football program, going to be in the best interest of our student athletes.
Are you more curious than anything to see how these guys react to a game situation after all the preparation?
JF: Just a little bit. I've talked a little bit about this this morning with my staff. We're going to work extremely hard Sunday through Friday, and I'm going to go to sleep very well at night and even after the games because I know we've done everything we possibly can to get our guys prepared to be successful on the field. And if you have the plan and you trust your process, the results on Saturday shouldn't change that. Whether you win or lose, you shouldn't come in on Sunday and change what you're doing, if you have the right process. Are you always tweaking? Yeah. Are you always trying to grow and get better? There's no doubt about it. But, that's what we're really trying to do.
You've talked about how your first step here was to change the mindset within. Does Saturday change to changing the mindset to the outside a little bit or is it still focused on your team?
JF: I think Saturday, our focus is on our team, because the reality is through recruiting, through developing, through coaching, through all the things we're doing, we have to change the perception of who we are first. The result of that's going to be what happens on the field and I think the results are ultimately going to affect the perception from around our program and nationally and in the state of Tennessee and the region, in the SEC, how we're perceived. I know there's going to be a portion of the public that's going to wait, they want to see it first before they jump on board and I understand that, but I think it's still going to be about us, but now we're going to have the opportunity to go out on the field and do stuff and start changing how people perceive us, and how we play. We're going to be aggressive in everything we do. Not only do we need to do that to be successful, but also we need to do that to get people excited about what we're doing here. And let's be honest, it's a game, it's entertainment, and that's what people want. They want to come and be around an exciting football team and that's how we're going to play.
I see Carey Spear listed as the first team kicker; how hard was that--Ryan Fowler having two years experience?
JF: I think Ryan has done a great job and to be honest with you I think you could flip a coin and put either of those guys in, and I think that's been one of our strengths. With Carey, what he's done, he's done a really good job, he's so aggressive in the weight room, he's so aggressive on the football field, in everything he's done, and just very very impressed with him. It wouldn't surprise me if when he kicks the ball he's the first guy down. He views himself as an athlete as well as just a kicker, you know sometimes kickers see themselves as more of a specialist, rather than a true athlete. I think he gives us a lot of flexibility and I think our team really respects his approach to the game, and I think our coaches do as well.