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To keep things as brief as possible – because this list could go on and on – here are three things Vanderbilt has been able to achieve under third-year coach James Franklin: win nine games in a season for the first time since 1915, reach back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history and beat Tennessee two years in a row for the first time since 1925-26.

It's all in a few years' work for Franklin, who has totally reversed the program's decades-long period of irrelevance to lift the Commodores into annual SEC contention. Perhaps no one game speaks more to the changing tides than Saturday's 14-10 win against Tennessee – since the Commodores beat their long-standing bullies while playing an entirely imperfect game.

In all, Franklin enters the final weekend of the regular season with a record of 22-15, 11-13 in SEC play. In comparison, Florida is 22-15, 13-11 in the SEC, during the same span; Tennessee is 13-21, 3-20.

PREVIOUS COACH'S CORNERS: UCLA's Jim Mora | Texas Tech's Kliff Kingsbury | Tulane's Curtis Johnson | Arizona State's Todd Graham | Fresno State's Tim DeRuyter | Ball State's Pete Lembo | Maryland's Randy Edsall | Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald

Franklin spoke by phone with USA TODAY Sports national college football writer Paul Myerberg about last weekend's win against Tennessee, what he thought about Vanderbilt before taking the job in 2011, keeping things fresh after three seasons and what senior wide receiver Jordan Matthews has meant to the program.

Q: Vanderbilt has now beaten Tennessee twice in a row for the first time since Coolidge was in the White House. It's been a while. The wildest thing about Saturday, to me, was that I don't think you played very well. Does it say something about what's been done that you don't have to bring your perfect game anymore to win games against SEC competition?

A: Well, we want to bring our "A" game every week, but it doesn't always work out like that. But I do think the important thing is this team has figured out how to win. The three years we've been here now, all the investment that the players have made and the ownership that the players have taken in this program, they've figured out how to win. Sometimes it's because of the offense, sometimes it's because of the defense, sometimes it's because of the special teams. But whether it's ugly or pretty, they find ways to get wins.

Q: Have you had an opportunity to sit back and consider what it means for Vanderbilt to beat Tennessee two times in a row? In the big picture, it's an enormous idea to consider – the thought that the program has flipped the script on the Volunteers.

A: We'll do that after the season. Obviously, our sports information director is always putting out great stats in our press releases and things like that. Really, our focus each week no matter what is to focus on our next opponent. We play Wake Forest this week to close out the season, and that's the Super Bowl for us – that's the most important game on our schedule, because it's the next game. We really don't get caught up in those other things. At the end of the season, if people want to list out the accomplishments or the things that are going on, then wonderful. But right now we're going to keep our focus on the task at hand, which is Wake.

Q: Let's think back five years or so, maybe to your first year at Maryland in 2008. If someone had asked you for your thoughts about Vanderbilt then, what would you have said? Interested in your own perception of the program when you were an assistant.

A: I think it's a combination of a lot of things. Number one, I think it's the respect everybody in the country has for the SEC. And then you're talking about a school that has the academic standards of a Stanford or Northwestern, things like that. So you're talking about one of the top academic institutions in the toughest conference. So the reputation was that this was the toughest job in all of college football. And it would be a tremendous challenge but also a great opportunity. So that's kind of how we viewed it.

Q: It's my theory that you changed the mindset for a lot of people. Basically, reversing things at Vanderbilt proved two things: one, that history is not a strong barometer of future success, and two, there's nothing more important than a seat at the table – because Vanderbilt might have been a tough job, but it was also in the SEC, remember. You can't ask for a better built-in advantage than that, in a sense.

A: I think the thing that we've done a pretty good job of here is embracing it. I think in the past, people have used the challenges here as an excuse. We're using it as our greatest strength. Everybody's looking for a way to differentiate themselves – individually, collective, businesses, organizations. You go in for a job interview, you're trying to differentiate yourself from your competition.

And at a place like Vanderbilt, when you can sell world-class education, you can offer an opportunity to play in the SEC, you talk about an opportunity to live in a great city like Nashville and early playing time, there's a lot of things that we can offer. If someone is looking for one specific trait or characteristic, than yeah, we probably won't compete. But for a combination of things, I think we've got a tremendous opportunity to offer someone.

I think it's just about like anything in life. It's how you approach it, how you perceive the situation you're in and embracing it. And that's what we've done. We've embraced these kids. Everybody asks all the time, "What is our philosophy?" Well, our philosophy is about relationships. I believe that when you have great relationships, not only us as coaches in this building, but also the relationship with players … when you love someone hard, you can coach them hard as well. That's what we do here.

Q: You're a pretty enthusiastic guy, I'd say. Is there a concerted effort on your part to keep things fresh, maybe keep things a little more spontaneous, now that you're three years into your time at Vanderbilt?

A: I think when I first got here, there were a lot of things that were planned out ahead of time and messages that I wanted to get across, really trying to sell our brand and trying to create a culture. Well, now we're at a point where this is a family, and I get up and talk in front of the team and I speak from the heart – whatever I'm feeling at that time, whatever I think the team needs to hear or see.

So I think that's probably when we're at our best, when it's not something that's planned out ahead of time but it's from the heart, it's from the gut, it's genuine, it's real, and I think that's kind of who we are and what we've been. It's been a big part of our success.

Q: So it stands to reason that you're much more comfortable today than you were three years ago, right?

A: I don't think there's any doubt that you kind of have a plan before you get here, and it's based on all your experiences. Things that you've seen other people do well that you want to add to your repertoire, things that you just believe in – your core values.

The biggest difference is the trust and relationship with have with the players. I'm not afraid to get up there and show them how I truly feel, with my emotions, my feelings, my passion. I think that's been very, very important. But it's probably my trust in them as much as it is their trust in me, in allowing us to have that type of relationship with one another.

Q: Do you think that expectations are growing, both inside the program and out – and especially out, both nationally and within the fan base? That yearly, daily almost, expectations are starting to change?

A: Yeah, and it's a great thing. It's also a challenge. We have expectations now, and when I arrived here there wasn't a whole lot. Now, with the staff and the players and everybody invested, there is an expectation. Our fans, our players, our administration, our alumni, every week when we walk into the stadium there's an expectation of being successful. I think that's a great thing. That's what we're all trying to build.

That's why I'm so proud when week in and week out, we kind of find ways to be successful. That's the expectation that everybody involved in this organization has.

Q: One guy I wanted to highlight was Jordan Matthews, who continues to slide under the radar a bit nationally. He puts up numbers despite being the focus of attention every week. It's a silly question, but what does he mean to this team? I'm trying – and failing – to imagine Vanderbilt sitting at 7-4 without him at receiver.

A: Well, let me rattle off some things to you. He's going to graduate from Vanderbilt in three and a half years with a degree in Economics. He's currently caught 96 passes for 1,209 yards. He's the SEC career leader in receptions, the SEC career leader in receiving yards, the SEC career leader in 100-yard receiving games with 17. The first player in SEC history to post back-to-back 90-catch seasons, and he's four catches away from becoming the first player in SEC history have 100 receptions.

But even more than all that, what I talk to him about all the time is that he's going to be able to leave a legacy here in how to practice. You're talking about a guy who's probably your most talented player but comes to work every single day. And I don't know if there's a guy out on the field that practices quite as hard. Every ball he catches he goes 90 (yards) with. He's got a very, very charismatic personality. He's always team-first.

It's always best when your best player is your hardest worker. The guy is putting the team ahead of himself. It sets a great expectation for everybody in the program. He's been invaluable with that.

Q: So you're saying he's pretty good? He's OK, I guess.

A: Yeah, he's pretty good. And every week, everybody knows that our offense is designed to get him 12-15 touches a game. Everybody's defense is designed to stop him, and he does it. I think that's a credit to him, and I think that's a credit to our coaches. To our offensive coordinator, our wide receivers coach, Josh Gattis. I think that's a tremendous credit to all of those guys.

Q: One thing that stands out is Matthews' work ethic, as you noted. Looking down the road, do you think guys like Jordan, offensive tackle Wesley Johnson and former running back Zac Stacy are going to be players you continue to hold as role models? Sort of like, "This is how we do things here."

A: I don't think there's any doubt. That was part of our conversation in talking about Jordan coming back and not leaving early for the NFL. Obviously, the degree was a big part of it. But the other thing was, "Look, the stats are going to be nice and they're going to be in the book, but you've got a chance to be the guy a year from now, everybody's telling the new freshmen that arrived, 'This is what Jordan did.' " Two years from now, three years from now, four years from now, "This is how this guy practiced. This is what this guy did. Look at how successful he's being now, and it's because of the foundation being laid here."

We've all been places, we've all been at businesses and organizations or teams where they're talking about a guy that played there 10 years ago. Kind of a legend on that campus or in that community. That's what we're trying to create. We're trying to create young men that can go on to become highly, highly successful in everything they do as leaders in society. It starts with the work ethic they put in on this campus.

Q: Did you have a favorite college team growing up?

A: I'm kind of a psycho now, and I was kind of a psycho as a kid. I wasn't a guy that sat down and watched a whole lot of TV. You know, I'm a hometown guy. I grew up in Philadelphia, and I grew up rooting for the Phillies, and the 76ers and Flyers, the Eagles. But more than anything, I was out playing. I was out running the streets all the time, playing sports. Playing football, playing basketball, playing baseball. I didn't sit around watching a whole lot of stuff on TV. I was out, you know, doing it.

Q: People who spend a lot of time watching sports on TV as kids go on to become sportswriters. Final question: When you look back on your career, are there certain coaches that pop in your head as mentors, folks you still think about or crib from today?

A: I don't really have one specific person. It's all the different people I've worked with or been around. I was always actually taking either actual physical notes or mental notes on things that I liked, thing that I thought were really good.

There's Denny Douds, the head coach at East Stroudsburg (Franklin's alma mater), who's been there like 48 years, was my head coach. Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, who taught me preparation and work ethic. All the different coaches that I've been involved with at all the different places have had an impact on my career. We work very hard at trying to build on the foundation that they've laid.

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