James Franklin showed up in Nashville in December 2010 and seemed uninterested in joining in the sorrows of Vanderbilt football history. He seemed wonderfully ignorant to the gloomy shadows that have hovered over the program for most of its history.
Coach Franklin didn't care what Vanderbilt football had been before his arrival, but he took great interest in what it was to become with himself now in control of the beautiful, old shipwreck that everyone loves to feel sorry for.
At times, Franklin's post-game press conferences seemed more like a fed-up father scolding a group of spoiled children who had had been feeling sorry for themselves, and they were directed at the entire Vanderbilt community, not just his team.
Under Franklin, the 2011 Commodores started the season strong, winning three in a row, including an SEC victory over Ole Miss. A three-game skid brought the squad back to reality, but in their defense, the losses were at the hands of 12th-ranked South Carolina on the road, the eventual national champion Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa and the eventual SEC East champion Georgia Bulldogs in a game that came down to the wire.
Vanderbilt would split the rest of their season, winning three of their last six. All three of those losses were decided by six points or less, including an overtime loss in Knoxville. Their three final wins would all be by double-digit margins.
Six wins on the season could have easily been closer to nine with a field goal here and a missed assignment there, but Vanderbilt would finish bowl eligible, something the program had only done twice before since 1982.
James Franklin aimed to change the culture in Nashville, and he has gotten off to a fantastic start but unless the Commodores build upon last year's success this season, the 2011 run will be called a fluke.
The question will linger until the Commodores compete on a consistent basis, and they must do so in the difficult SEC. With his team's legitimacy in limbo, James Franklin will be up for the challenge.