InsideVandy: With the win over Wake Forest, you’ve now put together back-to-back 8-4 regular seasons. With more of your recruits receiving minutes, did your success this season feel different?
James Franklin: No, I wouldn’t say that. We really took the approach that all these guys are our guys. That’s from the day we arrived on campus. I never really understood that approach. Obviously it’s a little different with the recruits that you’ve brought in yourself because you’ve been in their homes, and you’ve gotten to know them a little bit different from the time in high school.
But no, we’re just so proud of the whole team, how they’ve all worked together and the chemistry and all the hard work that’s been put in. There’s no doubt about it. So, that’s really our focus more than anything — not who we’re doing it with but the whole concept of team.
IV: Can you quantify the extent of the culture change in Nashville or at Vanderbilt?
JF: I don’t know if you really can. I think it’s more of a feel thing than something that you can quantify. I think, you know, it’s all the little things. It’s the type of attention that we get with the media. It’s going to the airport and seeing people wearing Vanderbilt black and gold everywhere and got the “Star V” on and throwing the VU up to people and saying “Anchor Down.” It’s how the other teams and the other schools look at us now. It’s all those things that factor into it.
It’s not one thing; it’s recruiting, it’s the work ethic that the team has put in, it’s how the community’s started to rally behind us, it’s how the students interact. I remember when I first got up here, I would go up to the Student Union and ask people to come to the games, and they didn’t even know what game I was talking about. They didn’t know who I was, and that’s changed.
It’s different now. There’s an excitement, there’s a buzz about what’s going on, there’s an appreciation. So it’s not one thing. Obviously, we put out a lot of statistics and things like that that I think are dramatic, but it’s more just the overall feel of the program, and how people view it.
IV: It’s obviously a lot easier to change the culture when the team is winning, but you also believe that changing the culture can help the team win. If this is the case, do you think any school could create a winning program?
JF: Yeah, I think you can win anywhere, anywhere in the country. Are some places easier to do it than others? Yes. I mean, history shows that to you. I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, and I think as we all know, we have some challenges at Vanderbilt that other schools don’t. It’s difficult to win in the first place, and then we have some challenges; the size of the school creates a challenge. And there’s advantages. Academic reputation and academic requirements create some challenges, but it also creates opportunities as well. I think it’s like anything else. It’s just how you view the situation you’re in and how you can get people to buy into your plan and your vision.
With the right plan that is specific to that institution or organization, I think you can have success anywhere, but it takes a lot of really, really smart people and a lot of people who are committed to what you’re trying to do, all pulling the chain in the right direction or in the same direction.
IV: One of the main stories of the second half of this season has been the defense. Can you explain how they improved so drastically?
JF: To be honest with you, I don’t know if it was drastic. It’s a combination of things we were just talking about with culture. We didn’t do anything a whole lot different in practice; we didn’t do anything a whole lot different in schemes. We tweaked a few things here and there. We’ve been pretty successful defensively the last couple years. None of those things really changed. We just kind of stuck with our plan and kept believing in one another, and opportunities came, and guys made plays.
That’s what I would probably say more than anything is just the overall commitment to believing in who we are and what we could be, and it wasn’t really anything more than that. Obviously there are a lot of things that play into it like anything else. We had some injuries and some guys not playing for a number of different reasons. Two out of our three starting linebackers weren’t playing. That had a big impact on us early on.
IV: Has anyone surprised you on offense, defense or special teams?
JF: No, I would say I have very high expectations for everyone, and I think our kids have done a really good job of approaching their preparation as if they were a starter. We talk about that all the time. Whether you’re a starter or not, you should approach it that way. A lot of people say that, but a lot of people don’t necessarily do it. I think our kids do a good of a job as anyplace I’ve ever been of preparing as if you’re the starter, so if your number is called you’re ready. And our guys have done that.
The Tennessee game was a great example of that, when you lose all four guys in your secondary and other guys come in and do their job. Saturday against Wake Forest was a really good example because at one point we were on our fourth team offensive tackle … in the game. With injuries we’ve had over the last couple weeks on the offensive line and injuries we had during the game, we just found ways. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was effective.
IV: At times, punting has been an issue for this team. Does punter Taylor Hudson struggle with consistency in practice too?
JF: I think early on, he was punting really well. Richard Kent the year before, everyone thought he had a really, really good year, but on average (Hudson) was punting better than Richard had the year before. It felt really, really good, then he had some consistency problems after that, and we’re still working through that now. Colby (Cooke) came in and did some nice things on Saturday, but that’s really still a work in progress to be honest with you.
IV: You’ve used both quarterbacks Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette very well recently, but has it been difficult for the offense to adjust?
JF: No, we have some issues and concerns that we’re working through that I don’t want to make public. It’ll come out at some point, but we end up playing with two quarterbacks to give us an advantage in some areas and hide some deficiencies that we have, and I thought it worked out extremely well for us. It also gave us an opportunity to get Patton Robinette some experience, which is also important. You’re able to do that at a lot of positions, and sometimes it’s hard to do it at the quarterback position. I think it’s been a positive for us, I really do, and you look at the production we’ve gotten from it.