January 16, 2014

James Franklin and the Branding of Vanderbilt Football

by Guest Blogger

James Franklin made headlines this week when he left Vanderbilt to become the head football coach at Penn State. Franklin spent the last 3 seasons in Nashville as the Commodores' head coach, where he turned the perennial SEC doormat into a powerhouse. Franklin's accomplishments were historic: he guided the Commodores to 3 straight bowl games and as many wins over a 3-year period as any coach in school history. In the last 20 games, Vanderbilt is 16-4, which is a record that is only surpassed in the SEC by the University of Alabama.

[caption id="attachment_1138" align="aligncenter" width="480"]

James Franklin1

Coach Franklin with my son and I in happier times[/caption]

Franklin's departure for Penn State has not been without controversy. Since taking the job at Penn State, Franklin has lured 3 verbal commitments away from Vanderbilt, according to the Nashville Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge. Franklin has defended his actions by arguing that players commit to coaches, not schools. This has resulted in Franklin being given the nickname "Poach Franklin" (or worse).

Setting aside Franklin's questionable recruiting tactics, the fact remains that the Vanderbilt football program achieved incredible success during his tenure. So how did he do it? One reason is that he built a strong brand by focusing on certain core values. Franklin alluded to these core values during the press conference introducing him as the Vanderbilt head coach. He later set them out as follows:

1. Have a POSITIVE attitude

2. Have an unbelievable WORK ETHIC

3. COMPETE in everything you do

4. SACRIFICE what the common man won't to have the things you want

These core values became the foundation upon which Franklin built the Vanderbilt football program. He insisted that his players be "all in" with these values, and they were. This changed the culture and mentality of the team, and ultimately lead to success on the football field.

With the recent scandal at Penn State and subsequent NCAA penalties, James Franklin has his work cut out for him. Not surprisingly, he intends to rely on the same core values to rebrand the tarnished Penn State football program. Franklin discussed these core values at the press conference introducing him as the new Penn State head coach.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest challenges for the next Vanderbilt head coach will be to maintain the core values instilled by James Franklin. With talented candidates such as Derek Mason and Chad Morris interviewing for the position, the odds are that Vanderbilt football will continue to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.

[Author's note: Derek Mason was named the new Vanderbilt head coach on January 17, 2014]

The James Franklin experience at Vanderbilt contains branding lessons for more than just football teams. If your organization is struggling, you should consider getting back to basics and focus on core values to rebuild your brand. By embracing certain core values, you can change your organization's culture and mentality. As James Franklin would say, "the results will then take care of themselves."

But enough James Franklin. For the other Vanderbilt fans out there, here is a glimpse at new coach Derek Mason, who is working to continue building Vanderbilt football's brand. #intellectualbrutality

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