For a change, it hasn't been that long since the last time a Vanderbilt coach stood behind the podium at SEC Media Days fresh off a bowl appearance and promising more where that came from. After his 2008 team won the Music City Bowl, Bobby Johnson was able to do much the same thing. Of course, we know what happened from there.
Vanderbilt collapsed back into mediocrity the following year. By the 2010 edition of SEC Media Days, though for wildly different reasons, Johnson was gone and the assembled reporters were treated to the Robbie Caldwell Comedy Hour. Caldwell's team did no better, and the interim coach was quickly given the heave-ho in exchange for James Franklin (VU).
It was Franklin who was standing at the podium this year, even if Vanderbilt's trip to the postseason in 2011 ended with a loss. Still, Franklin faces the same challenge that Johnson faced in 2009: Given the limited talent and other hurdles that Vanderbilt faces to become a perennial bowl team and maybe more, what do you do for an encore?
Franklin, for his part, is undaunted. The trademark courage and the finely-honed recruiting pitch he's used to get players signing in Nashville who once had no business signing in Nashville -- what are you going to do after football? -- are still there, and Franklin is still one of the more intriguing coaches in the SEC.
And despite being at "just Vanderbilt" -- Franklin noted that in 2011, he was able to walk through "Radio Row" at the Wynfrey, out into the mall, and then back into the hotel without being noticed -- there's no lack of confidence in the guy who has never seemed more like the perfect man for the job.
"It's the excitement, buzz about Vanderbilt football right now. We still have a long way to go, I understand that. But we're taking steps in the right direction. That's what we have to continue to do."
You wonder if, in that respect, Franklin actually has a bit more insight than Johnson did. When the former Vanderbilt coach came to Hoover in 2009, his press conference had the feel of a victory lap. Johnson nearly bristled at a question about the sustainability of the smokes-and-mirrors approach his team took to winning that year.
This year, it felt more like Franklin was saying: First box checked. Now we've got a few more we need to mark off. And his players seemed to be going along with that approach. Just listen to Jordan Rodgers, a quarterback Franklin benched in the bowl and who admits he didn't play as well as he wanted to.
We ended with a losing record. And that's not okay. That's not acceptable at Vanderbilt.
There was a time, of course, when that was perfectly acceptable at Vanderbilt. After a 5-6 season in 2005, I recall Jay Cutler telling a radio interviewer that those accomplishments were an 11 on a scale of 1-10. And that losing season didn't even come with a bowl trip.
If the first part of solving a problem is admitting that you have one, Vanderbilt and James Franklin are well on their way. Now comes the hard part.