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AD: Vandy no stepping stone for James Franklin

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Sports Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Pick any school with a coaching vacancy, and James Franklin's name has probably been mentioned as a possible candidate by someone.

That happens when you win at Vanderbilt, the smallest school in the Southeastern Conference and the league's only private institution.

Franklin led the Commodores to an 8-4 record this year and in the process has seen his stock skyrocket.

Vanderbilt's athletic director David Williams is monitoring reports about the coach he hired nearly two years ago. Williams said Tuesday he brought in Franklin with the idea of turning Vanderbilt into a destination program, not a stepping stone to a better job.

"James understands if we do things that we can do to be a class program, he can win here just as he can win somewhere else, so you don't have a need to go somewhere else to win," Williams said.

"We went from 2-10, 2-10 to 6-6 and a bowl loss to 8-4 and a bowl trip, so yes you can win. You can win at Vanderbilt, and when you think of it we haven't done all the things that we need to, and can do, to make the experience more attractive. I think he understands this is a place he can win if we're committed, and we are committed, and he can create a legacy here absolutely."

Franklin is 14-11 in two seasons, which wouldn't cut it at SEC schools like Alabama, Florida or Georgia. But Vanderbilt hasn't seen such success in a coach's first two seasons in more than a century - Dan McGugin arrived in 1904 and went 16-1.

The Commodores are headed to a second straight bowl under Franklin, which had never happened before at Vandy where the previous four bowls could be counted on one hand. Franklin led the Dores to their first winning record in the regular season in 30 years, and they wrapped up the regular season with a six-game winning streak for the first time since 1948.

Vanderbilt had gone 3-32 in the month of November for the 10 years before Franklin was hired. Now the Commodores are 6-2 combined in that month since Franklin's arrival.

A charter member of the mighty SEC, Vanderbilt had been seen for decades as the league's cellar dweller, an easy "W" in any season. Only twice has Vanderbilt won as many as nine games (1904 and 1915), and Franklin could notch the third with a bowl win. This also is just the 15th eight-win season in Vanderbilt's 123 years of football, and only the third since 1948.

Franklin, who left Tuesday for four days of recruiting, talks repeatedly of getting the Commodores past the point of checking history books every time they win a game.

"We're starting to build some of those things that I think are important when you're trying to build a program like we are," Franklin said after a 55-21 rout at Wake Forest last weekend.

That success is why people think a jet is waiting to take Franklin off to his new job at any minute. For Williams, it's the better alternative to fans demanding a coach be fired for too many losses.

"That means we made the right decision, and we're moving forward," Williams said.

Williams and Franklin are working together to turn the Commodores into a competitive SEC program. They meet weekly, and Williams rewarded Franklin's success a year ago with a new contract the athletic director said gave his coach both more money and years, though both refused to say how much because the private university does not discuss contract details.

Vanderbilt also kept Franklin happy by adding a new video board, artificial turf and turned the open end zone into a hillside berm for seating at the stadium before the 2012 season opener.

It's up to Franklin to try and keep his assistants from being lured away. How much those coaches are paid also isn't disclosed by Vanderbilt, but Williams said Franklin has control over how much his assistants receive and that giving the head coach more money to keep his staff together won't be an issue.

Right now, Franklin is focused on recruiting while Williams works to improve the football facilities that may be the biggest key to keeping the head coach around for the long haul.

Franklin's 2013 class currently is ranked 17th nationally by Rivals.com and seventh-best in the SEC, while the next phase of renovations will target the training room and weight room. Figuring out what to do with the SEC's smallest stadium is next, and Williams said a "quick-fix" isn't the solution after the last renovation increased capacity to 40,350.

"I walk through the stadium, and I would say the lines to get into the restrooms are just inexcusable," Williams said. "We need to work on everything, and we should put in an option what if we have that sort of desire and demand, we could afford to do another 10,000 seats, another 15,000 seats."

The athletic director hopes to start with trips in January to check out the new stadiums at Stanford and California along with a closer look at Wake Forest's decision to simply renovate its stadium with Vanderbilt ready to make a move by summer.

"When you're out and you're fundraising for a team like we have now, it is a little easier than other times," Williams said. "But nevertheless, it's important that we get this done."

It's also the cost of trying to compete in the SEC.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

Updated November 27, 2012

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