James Franklin might be the most popular man in Nashville… and the least popular man in the state of Tennessee. Vanderbilt fans love the man who’s taken the school’s football program to back-to-back bowls and locked up a nine-win season. They also love him because he had the Commodores go toe-to-toe with the rival Vols — losing in overtime — in Knoxville two years ago… and because his team mopped the field with Tennessee 41-18 last year on the West End.
Tennessee’s fanbase hates Franklin for pretty much those exact same reasons. Well, that and Franklin also has no problem stepping on the occasional toe. From the Todd Grantham dust-up during his first season to the “Nicky Satan” episode earlier this offseason, Franklin hasn’t been afraid to do what he feels needs doing or to say what he thinks needs saying. Love him or hate him, you can’t question his fire. Fire that most believe burns hottest when it comes to the Vandy’s chief rival.
But in a short Q&A with The Tennessean, Vandy’s coach quickly shot down the idea that he had a “disdain for all things orange.”
“That’s not really accurate. I’m trying to build our pride in the black and gold, and in the Star V, and in Vanderbilt. I have tremendous respect for the University of Tennessee, their history, their traditions, the state as a whole.
I’m trying to fight for the respect of our program. So it’s really not about anybody else’s colors. It’s about me demanding respect for Vanderbilt, the Commodores, the black and gold, the Star V and for our football program. That’s it.
I’m trying to get everyone in our stadium to wear black and gold. I’m trying to get everybody in Nashville to wear black and gold. I’m trying to get all of our alumni and fans all across the entire country to be proud to walk around wearing their black and gold and wearing the Star V and throwing the VU (sign) up to each other.
It’s a sense of brotherhood. It’s a sense of pride. I hear it all the time. I hear people tell me all the time that I see more Vanderbilt gear in stores. I see more Vanderbilt gear walking around in the community.”
The more Franklin has won, the more pride Vanderbilt fans have taken in their program. Granted, Tennessee was at a low point when the Volunteers traveled to Nashville last season, but the stadium still featured more black and gold and less orange than anyone had seen in decades.
Moving forward, Franklin knows that the Commodore fanbase will have to continue to prove itself if VU is to land in better bowl games:
“… There’s no doubt that bowl games and cities at locations that want to sell tickets to their game, sell the place out, and bring people in that are going to bring revenue into their town, so teams that travel well (are considered).
That’s why I’m constantly talking to people about how we’ve made great strides, but the next step is we have to show everyone through our support and our fan base and our alumni and our students that we love our program and that we support our program. That’s why we’re going to sell out every single game next year. I think that’s going to be a good statement to the country of what’s going on here, and also to the bowl people about what’s going on.”
Franklin is only stating the obvious. And hey, if we wrote it on Tuesday it had to be obvious, right?
The 41-year-old coach has Vanderbilt on the uptick. From on-field results to recruiting wars to comments that sometime rub opposing fans the wrong way, Franklin is the first Vanderbilt football coach in years to elicit real emotion from the Dores’ rivals. And that wouldn’t be the case if he weren’t doing something right.
You swat an annoying gnat. You moan, scream, and complain about a bee that stings.
Franklin has given VU a stinger.
UPDATE – Speaking of stingers… Franklin was taken to task on Nashville radio yesterday for suggesting in a tweet last month that players who don’t sign with Vanderbilt “want 2 settle in life.”