NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt's commitment to excellence and academics and the chance to coach in the Southeastern Conference helped school officials lure James Franklin away from Maryland to become the Commodores' new coach.
Franklin, the offensive coordinator who was in line to succeed Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen, was introduced Friday as Vanderbilt's third head coach this season.
"It was obvious to me right away that this place could be something really special," Franklin said. "It was really about the people. I was blown away by the people. Really, I was in a situation where I didn't really have to take a job. I had a pretty good situation. It was going to take something really special to get me to jump on board."
Franklin replaces Robbie Caldwell, who took over July 14 when Bobby Johnson unexpectedly retired and resigned Nov. 27.
This will be the first head coaching job for Franklin, who turns 39 in February. He will be the first black coach of any major sport at Vanderbilt and only the third in the Southeastern Conference after former Mississippi State coach Sylvester Croom and Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.
The Commodores are coming off consecutive 2-10 seasons after going 7-6 in 2008, their first winning season since 1982. They've only recorded seven wins four times in the past 50 years.
Vice chancellor David Williams, who led the coaching search with help from chancellor Nick Zeppos and a private search firm, said Franklin's hire is part of an effort to instill a winning football culture at the school. The initiative includes improving the team's facilities, which don't match up to those at other SEC schools.
"We heard what the fans said. We heard the fact that this community and university and, most importantly, our players wanted us to take a different direction as it relates to football," Williams said.
Williams said he and others developed a list of 60 candidates — some of whom didn't take Vanderbilt's interest seriously until they understood the commitment officials were making to Commodores football. Four or five finalists were brought to Nashville for an interview.
Among those Vanderbilt had talked with was Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. He eventually withdrew his name and took a pay raise to stay with the Tigers.
Zeppos was impressed by Franklin's passion, recruiting prowess and ability to connect with players and their families.
"We win everywhere at Vanderbilt. We win athletically, we win academically and there is no darn reason we can't win at football," Zeppos said. "We are going to do it."
The Terrapins (8-4) ranked just 85th in total offense this season, which was still better than Vanderbilt's offensive. The Commodores not only ranked last in the SEC in points scored (16.9) and total offense (298.2 yards), but 112th and 110th in those categories out of 120 FBS programs.
Franklin, who was named by Rivals.com as one of the 25 best recruiters nationally in 2009, said he could recruit players with Vanderbilt's "world-class education and an opportunity to play in the best college football conference in America."
"To me, that is something to be really proud of, that is something you can sell," he said.
Franklin spent the past three seasons as Maryland's assistant head coach and offensive coordinator, and since February 2009 had been in line to succeed Friedgen. Franklin first joined Maryland as an assistant from 2000 through 2004, getting promoted to recruiting coordinator in 2003.
He also coached receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and Josh Freeman. Heyward-Bey was selected seventh overall by Oakland and Freeman was taken 17th by Tampa Bay in 2009 NFL draft.
Franklin also was offensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2006 and 2007 with the Wildcats ranking 20th in passing offense and 21st in scoring offense in his second season. That also was the first time Kansas State had a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher.
He coached wide receivers with the Green Bay Packers in 2005 and had minority coaching internships with the Minnesota Vikings (2008), Philadelphia Eagles (1999) and Miami Dolphins (1998).
A quarterback at East Stroudsburg from 1991-1994, Franklin started his coaching career at Kutztown in 1995 before returning to his alma mater as a graduate assistant and secondary coach. He worked at James Madison in 1997 coaching receivers before working with tight ends at Washington State in 1998 and with receivers at Idaho State in 1999.
(This version CORRECTS to Franklin is third black SEC coach.)