Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin loves to talk.
He'll go on forever and ever Amen about Vanderbilt football. He has been known to show up unannounced on a sports talk show. He has never met a camera he didn't love. Franklin is a public relations extravert on steroids. He is always on stage.
It couldn't have been the real James Franklin at SEC Media Days Thursday. No way. This had to be an imposter who threw more stiff arms at the media if they dared stray anywhere near an incident earlier this month that resulted in the school dismissing four Vanderbilt football players from the team and the university.
This James Franklin wouldn't even discuss how he had been affected by the alleged incident still under investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Metro Police's Sex Crimes Unit.
He started prattling on about the team focusing on the season, how Vanderbilt had not won nine football games in a season since 1915, how Vanderbilt and Notre Dame are the only two college football teams to be members of the 20-20-20 club. That means they finished in the top 20 on the football field, landed a top 20 recruiting class while the university was ranked as one of the top 20 universities in the country.
Franklin should not shoulder any blame for whatever allegedly took place in a Vanderbilt dorm room with four football players and a 21-year-old Vanderbilt female student, who worked part-time at the university.
Senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews knows what a Vanderbilt education means. He had zero scholarship offers coming out of Madison Academy in North Alabama. No Division I offers. No Division II or Division III offers. Nothing.
He often talks to the younger players, reminding them that a lot of people never have a chance to have the Vanderbilt experience. He almost didn't get it.
“You want to be around the brightest and smartest students in the country and then play against the best athletes in the country,'' Matthews said.
“It's not something that is given. You have to take it with responsibility. Out in the community, people are watching. If you're wearing a Vanderbilt football shirt, you better act right because people are going to know and people are going to expect you to (act right).''
Matthews was adamant that Coach James Franklin frequently drills it into his players. He has their attention, but then college age students sometimes make life-changing mistakes.
“Coach Franklin does a great job of coaching us up and teaching us, showing us examples of guys getting in trouble and how he wants us to stay out of that stuff,'' Matthews said.
What happened allegedly could result in charges and arrests for sexual crimes.
Vanderbilt higher-ups have muted Franklin. He has been ordered not to say anything in public, or private.
Their entourage at SEC Media Days included Vice-Chancellor Beth Fortune, a former Nashville Banner reporter and former Gov. Don Sundquist's press secretary.
Vanderbilt is fortunate to have Fortune at this time. She knows how to handle even the worst of the worst public relations nightmares and this apparently qualifies. Fortune wouldn't just hitch a ride for an exhaustive day of media interviews about the football program.
She had everyone's mouth zipped up tighter than Fort Knox. Even the three players had the party line committed to memory. They said the same thing at every one of the 13 required stops to address different medium outlets.
No one in the media expected Franklin or anyone else in the party to slip up and say something they could regret if it became public.
James Franklin didn't disappoint. For once, he was at a loss for words.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.