James Franklin and Vanderbilt won their last seven games last season to finish 9-4. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE — For the first hour of Vanderbilt’s second spring scrimmage, the only noise echoing across Dudley Field at Vanderbilt Stadium was the constant barking of coaches in between the buckling of helmets and pads. There was defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, throwing his arms in the air and yelling, “Don’t make excuses! Make a play!” There was offensive coordinator John Donovan, bellowing from the opposite sideline, challenging the Commodores’ defense to step up against his attack. Then there was head coach James Franklin, watching the 95-play scrimmage carefully from midfield. He motioned his arm up and down, like one might do to an 18-wheeler on the interstate, as a tremendous blow horn vibrated from the stadium speakers to signal the end of each series.
But the energy changed in the second hour, as did the noise level. Before each play began, rap music blared from the P.A. system, adding an element of fun to practice while also providing a distraction similar to the crowds that might hound Vanderbilt in SEC road games. The music, like Franklin, can’t quite be ignored. It’s become a staple of the coach’s spring practices. “Franklin absolutely uses noise,” said Larry Leathers, Vanderbilt’s sports information director in charge of football since 2001.
The tunes are just one of many representations of change at Vanderbilt during Franklin’s tenure. While his first two seasons at the helm were described with words like potential, this year, there’s a need for of fulfillment. “There isn’t anything easy in the SEC,” Franklin said. “But there’s no doubt there’s an expectation [this season]. In the first year, we thought we could win. Last year, we believed we could win. Now there’s an expectation, not only externally, but internally in our program.”