There was only one thing that some of the assembled reporters in Hoover really wanted to hear James Franklin talk about: The ongoing sex-crimes investigation on campus that has led to the dismissal of four players. The names of the four players were released this week, and the investigation was the "news" when it came to Vanderbilt.
It wasn't that Franklin's bit about the "20-20-20" club (ranking-recruiting-academics) wasn't interesting, or that his recruiting pitch to reporters still isn't captivating. But we've heard that before. Reporters are taught to chase news, and the news was the investigation. And, understandably, Franklin wasn't talking.
"I can't get into any discussion about this," Franklin said the first time a reporter raised the question elliptically. "It's an ongoing legal investigation."
But the issue loomed. Franklin was asked about whether on-the-field success brings more off-the-field issues -- he said he hadn't studied the issue -- and whether the decision to dismiss the players was made by the university or the team, something that brought another non-response. But it was when Franklin was asked whether trying to win meant you had to take some risks on guys with questionable character that he made a statement that was a bit -- let's go with "tone deaf."
I can't speak for other places or other institutions, but not at Vanderbilt. It's never been that way in the past. It's not that way presently. It will never be in the future. That's not what we're all about.
I have very little doubt that James Franklin feels that way about his program. However, I doubt that three days after naming the players who had been removed from his football team because of a sex-crimes investigation was the best time for him to say that.
At the very least, Franklin managed to keep talk about the investigation from turning into a spectacle, no small feat during a week when ESPN spent hours talking about a player who slept in late. In fact, the Manziel hype might have helped Vanderbilt escape some scrutiny here. But, at some point, Franklin is probably going to have to talk about the investigation, or at least release more information than has been released so far.
Success might not mean bringing in guys with questionable character. But it does mean answering questions when some of those players that you thought had sound character turn out to be a bit more complicated than that.