NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Critics said Vanderbilt coach James Franklin would never win in Nashville. When he did, they said he would take the first big job to come his way, but the coach said he enjoys proving the critics wrong.
Franklin declined interest in other jobs during the off season and signed a contract extension to stay at Vanderbilt.
The doubters still think he's crazy.
Franklin has had so much success in his first two seasons it is easy to wonder why the highly regarded 41-year-old hasn't left Nashville for a bigger job.
Franklin's reasoning: He is in a too good of a situation.
''I think more than anything you see a commitment at Vanderbilt right now,'' Franklin said. ''Not only from the head coach and the players, but from the administration and the boosters and the fan base and everybody else, probably more so than it's ever been at Vanderbilt. To me, that's exciting.''
The Commodores have been to two straight bowl games and are coming off a 9-4 season. It was Vanderbilt's best record since 1915.
In Franklin's third year as head coach, Vanderbilt has been picked fourth in the SEC East by the media. That might not seem like much, but for a team that has often finished near the bottom of the division, the pick is high praise.
The division includes traditional SEC powerhouses like Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and in-state rival Tennessee.
The ambitious head coach believes the Dores can do even better than fourth, and that's what keeps him going.
"To me there's something very, very attractive and sexy about doing something that's never been done before," said Franklin. "We're selling that to recruits. Our coaching staff believes that. We believe that."
Franklin has gone about changing the expectations of the entire Vanderbilt community.
"That's a powerful message that you have a chance to sit there and say, ‘we were able to do something and build something that's never been done before,'" he said. "For generations afterwards people are talking about what you achieved. "
A big reason for the excitement for the 2013 season is return of Jordan Matthews. The record breaking receiver caught 94 balls for over 1,300 yards last year. He had a chance to go pro, but chose to return to school hone his craft for the next level.
''As a freshman to be 2-10, bottom of the SEC to where we are now and to know that I'm going to have another year with these guys is crazy and is really exciting,'' Matthews said.
The respect Vanderbilt received in Thursday's preseason media poll was another example of how far the program has come. Matthews earned preseason first-team All-SEC honors.
The Commodores will have a tough test in their opening game when they face Mississippi in Nashville during a Thursday night game on August 29. Franklin and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze are friendly and both have drastically improved their respective programs.
''It's two programs that are on the rise,'' Franklin said. ''There's a lot of excitement nationally about what's going on. So I think it's going to be a great opportunity.''