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James Franklin knows his football. In two seasons the Vanderbilt head coach has taken what is an historically unremarkable program, save for producing the most TFTC quarterback of all time, and given it its best finish in 30 years, as well as back to back bowl appearances. In short, James Franklin is a hell of a coach, and he’s likely just getting started.
But James Franklin doesn’t just know football. He knows football fans as well, specifically college football fans. Before taking over the program, which had an understandably lackluster fanbase as a result of the team’s perpetual abortion level on-field performance, Franklin made a point to reach out to the students. Franklin knew that when you’re crafting a college fanbase, when you’re crafting an SEC fanbase, you don’t just need students in the seats, you need the proudest, loudest, drunkest bastards you can find. The kind of blindly loyal and blinding drunk fans who will give your team a real home field advantage.
Naturally, Franklin reached out to Vanderbilt’s fraternities. Well played, sir.
Before James Franklin first patrolled the sidelines at Dudley Field in 2011 as Vanderbilt’s new football coach, he made a crucial recruiting pitch — to a group of fraternity brothers at the Kappa Sigma house.
Franklin, hired from Maryland on Dec. 17, 2010, walked into a chapter meeting shortly before the start of that initial season, looked the brothers in their eyes and went into sell mode.
“We need you guys to show up because we’ve been working our (tails) off,” Franklin pleaded. “We need you guys to show up and support us.”
After Franklin finished his speech, chapter President Michael Abraham said the coach answered questions from the star-struck frat boys.
“I think it has made a huge impact in terms of getting us involved and coming to the games,” Abraham said. “Ever since he has been here I’ve been to five or six games. I think it has made a pretty big difference.”
In 2011 the Vanderbilt Commodores finished the regular season 6-6 (2-6) and played in the Liberty Bowl, losing to the Cincinnati Bearcats. They went 5-2 at home. A year earlier the ‘Dores had finished 2-10. That year they won exactly one home game.
He understood the importance of the Greek System in order to drum up loyalties. About 42% of Vanderbilt students are in fraternities or sororities. Fraternities often hold lengthy tailgate parties at their houses before games. Those parties often go through the first halves of the games and Franklin aimed to shorten them.
More like he aimed to make them worth shortening, and he did, by making the Commodores a fun team to watch. This year’s Vanderbilt squad scored 40 or more points five times, the most for a Vanderbilt team since 1915. But I like to think the Vandy Greeks didn’t shorten their tailgates so much as start and finish them earlier. They had their beer and drank it too, if you will.
In 2012 Vanderbilt went 4-2 at home, including a home win against rival Tennessee for the first time in 30 years. Vanderbilt also had more sellouts than any other season in the last three decades.
Franklin’s plan was working, and the student section was beginning to be consistently blacked out, presumably twice over.
“I can personally say that members of my fraternity have attended more games this season than in the past due to the personal relationships Franklin has made with Greek members,” Alpha Epsilon Pi President Spencer Jennings said. “In addition, not only did he come to speak to us about supporting the team and the university as well, he genuinely was interested in hearing suggestions from Greek members on what he could do for us so that we would be more inclined to support the Commodores on game day.”
To some it might seem incredible that Franklin had the idea to go straight to the fraternities and sororities, and that he knew how important Greeks were to the crowd, but should it? If I recall, Franklin seems like the type of guy who would mesh pretty well with fraternity culture. This guy is pulling TFMs left and right.
Regardless, this story speaks to Franklin’s intelligence, his savvy, and his dedication to the program.
While Vanderbilt football has a long way to go to reach the next level of SEC competition, it certainly seems to be doing its best to get there, as it’s shown with the team’s on-field performance, Franklin’s hard work, and the school’s newfound willingness to invest money in the program (a $31 million indoor practice facility will be opening in 2014).
James Franklin understanding that a student section isn’t shit without the Greeks. TFM.
[via USA Today]
Image via Bleacher Report