Vanderbilt will start its 2013 college football season Aug. 29 by hosting Ole Miss on ESPN, and the Commodores will begin preseason camp next Thursday.
For coach James Franklin, his assistants and his support staff, their season really began Tuesday in Chattanooga.
Commodores coaches were holed up the past three days at the Mariott Downtown, where they began mapping out plans to match or surpass last year's 9-4 season that culminated with a 38-24 victory over North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl. Vanderbilt's nine wins were the most for the program since 1915.
"We kick off five weeks from today, so you definitely realize that summer is winding down," offensive line coach Herb Hand said Thursday morning, a couple of hours before the Commodores contingent headed back to Nashville. "We basically have this weekend left with our families, and then it's six or seven months of living with these guys around the clock."
As part of their Chattanooga getaway, Vanderbilt coaches gathered for breakfast from 7 to 8 before holding meetings until 1 in the afternoon. At that point, they enjoyed activities such as golf or jumping from a 40-foot cliff into Chickamauga Lake before going to dinner at a downtown restaurant.
Having won the last seven games last season to enhance the Vanderbilt football brand across the Deep South and nationally, Franklin and his staff were spotted frequently by unsuspecting admirers.
"I've had a chance to meet a bunch of Vanderbilt people who wanted to get their picture taken," Franklin said. "The other thing is that there is so much pride here in the SEC, so it hasn't necessarily been Vanderbilt fans stopping us. It's been SEC fans.
"That has been cool, and it's kind of a neat opportunity to network and continue to build relationships throughout the state. We appreciate everyone here allowing us to spend some time in their great city."
As for the business portion of the trip, Franklin said the offensive, defensive, special teams and recruiting philosophies were hashed out or, in this case, revisited. Vanderbilt has the only SEC football staff that did not experience any turnover.
"What happens in a lot of organizations is that you have people leave and you bring new people in, and you don't take the time to really train them," Franklin said. "You just want them to figure it out, so what happens over time is that your message gets watered down. What this allows us to do is to force every single year that everybody in our organization understands our philosophy, concepts and culture.
"When you're grinding each week of the season with game plans or with recruits coming in, you don't have a lot of time to talk philosophy, so this is a real comfortable environment for that."
The Commodores return seven starters on each side of the ball, but every assistant will have a challenge of some magnitude when camp starts next week. For Hand, it will be finding the best five linemen to protect a new starting quarterback and provide holes for a new starting tailback.
Among his linemen is redshirt freshman Barrett Gouger of Baylor School, who ended spring practice as the first-team right guard.
"Barrett came in with a great group of freshmen, and we're excited to see those guys in a role now where they are ready to contribute," Hand said. "Last year, Barrett was one of three of those freshmen who traveled with us to every game. He was ready to play and was a second-teamer last year, and we were fortunate to get through without having to play him.
"You can't redshirt them twice, so now we want to have a plan to use all those guys from that class."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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