Franklin figured to be the head coach at Maryland now — not Vanderbilt — after being named the Terrapins’ head coach-in-waiting in February 2009. But with no guarantee of ever being the Maryland head coach after the arrival of a new athletic director, the Terrapins’ former offensive coordinator last December accepted what may be the toughest job in major college football.
During his first year, Franklin has been so passionate on the field that he threw himself into practice without pads and cried multiple times in front of his players. He has been so relentless in promoting his program that he visited every fraternity house and made impromptu telephone calls to sports-talk radio shows.
All this has translated into a dramatic culture change at Vanderbilt (6-6), which is a Liberty Bowl victory away from just its second winning season in the past 29 years.
In the team meeting, Franklin used the PowerPoint presentation to break down the strengths of his team’s opponent on Saturday, Cincinnati (9-3), and to set the tone for practice by underscoring what is at stake in what will be just the fifth bowl game in program history.
“Liberty Bowl!” Franklin announced, allowing players to absorb the words before continuing.
“Rings? Big difference between being bowl participants and bowl champions. How do you want to look down on that ring the rest of your life?”
“Champions!” his players hollered in unison.
Franklin was not finished.
“Be one of only three teams ever — ever! — in Vanderbilt history — 121 years of playing football — to call yourself [expletive] bowl champions! Got me?
“Let’s prepare our [butts] off. Any questions?”
‘It was a hard situation’
At Maryland, Franklin sold players not only on playing for the Terrapins but also on eventually playing for him. He was expected to take over the program from longtime Coach Ralph Friedgen no later than after the 2011 season, but as the 2010 season progressed, two roadblocks emerged:
Friedgen had no interest in retiring anytime soon, certainly not after a 9-4 season and his second ACC coach of the year award. And new Athletic Director Kevin Anderson had given no indication that Franklin would be named the head coach whenever Friedgen did depart, even though Franklin was due to receive $1 million if he wasn’t named Maryland’s head coach by January 2012.
“It was a hard situation,” Franklin said about the circumstances that final season.
The Vanderbilt job — which Franklin accepted in December 2010, shortly before Friedgen was fired after 10 seasons — offered a fresh start and security for his family. But it was a difficult move for Franklin, who felt he let down the players who committed to play for him, just as it was difficult for many of the Maryland players themselves, including quarterback Danny O’Brien, who helped clean out Franklin’s office the day he left.