Louder than Words: Grantham, Franklin bring passion to playing field

Long before the finger-pointing and the face-to-face won’t-back-down confrontation that jolted a ho-hum Southeastern Conference series, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin and Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham showed they were two guys that didn’t need to have their batteries recharged.

Louder than Words: Grantham, Franklin bring passion to playing field
Marc Weiszer

“He would come early and stay late,” East Stroudsburg coach Denny Douds said of Franklin, the MVP quarterback for the Division II Pennsylvania program in 1994 who started his coaching career there working with the defensive backs. “He was very close to our staff. In fact, he lived with me for a summer.”

Franklin doesn’t have to sleep in an extra bed anymore.

He coaches in the powerhouse Southeastern Conference — albeit at a football program that historically has lost more league games than any other in the conference.

Grantham came aboard in 2010 at one of the elite programs in the league — Georgia — the third winningest in the conference behind Alabama and Tennessee.

Mark Richt hired him after hearing about his fiery nature in his 11 seasons in the NFL. He talked to former Bulldogs safety Sean Jones, who played for Grantham when he was defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, and from Brad Johnson, Richt’s brother-in-law, who was quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys when Grantham was on staff.

“I wanted that,” Richt said. “That was one of the things I wanted in the guy who was going to lead the way for us on defense. Defense is played with a lot on emotion. You certainly had to have good schemes…but it’s an emotional game. It’s about playing hard. It’s about just getting after it. When the guy in charge of that group is that type of personality, it tends to bleed over into the way his players play.”

Paige Grantham saw it at Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium in the early 1990s when she watched Todd with his players on the sidelines. They had started dating when Todd was in his first year as a full-time coach with the Hokies, the program where Grantham played on the offensive line.

They’ve been married for 13 years, so Paige knew well the kind of intensity that Grantham brings to his job.

She was watching last year’s Vanderbilt game on television at home in Georgia along with her mother, who was visiting, when the postgame incident happened.

She had just walked back into the room where the game was on television.

“I was like, ‘What? Is that my husband?’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Oh, no.’ I only had that one angle that everyone else had so I was like, ‘What is going on?’”

Franklin was pointing at Georgia safety Shawn Williams after the game while the Commodores coached walked across the field. Grantham turned back, saw Williams and then yelled at Franklin, who thought Williams was talking trash after the 33-28 Bulldogs victory that came down to the wire.

The coaches exchanged words while Richt, assistant coaches and Vanderbilt police tried to separate the teams on the field.

Grantham says the two coaches haven’t crossed paths since then, but their teams meet tonight in Sanford Stadium.

“They’re passionate about what they do; we’re passionate about what we do,” Franklin said this week. “Those things are not going to give any one of us points on the scoreboard on Saturday. We’ve just got to go out and play.”

‘Fiercely competitive’

Josh Dawson and his family hosted Franklin at their home in suburban Atlanta for dinner during a recruiting visit. They talked numerous times on the phone and he made several trips to Tucker High, where Dawson played.

The outside linebacker had pledged to Vanderbilt before switching and inking with Georgia on signing day this past February.

Now his position coach is Grantham.

“Both big competitors, fiery guys, excitement every day,” Dawson said. “Love their jobs.”

How competitive?

“I’ve always been fiercely competitive in everything I do,” Franklin said. “It’s funny because my wife is the same way and now my two daughters are the same way. It’s probably a little bit about how I was raised and a little bit of who I am.”

Playing a board game or pick-up basketball, it doesn’t matter, Franklin wants to win.

It carries over to his family.

“My daughter was playing little league soccer at her elementary school,” he said. “I guess it was kindergarten or whatever. At the end of the game my daughter, Shola, wanted to know who won and the coach said, ‘Oh, we all won. We’re all getting trophies. We’re all getting smiles.’ My daughter said, ‘No, I want to know who won the game.’ Winning matters in our house and in this program.”

It matters to Grantham, too.

Bulldogs inside linebacker coach Kirk Olivadotti, who Grantham hired from the Washington Redskins, put it this way:

“Todd enjoys competing, he enjoys football,” Olivadotti said. “We all have different personalities and that’s what makes this profession great, this sport great. We can all go from zero to 60 pretty quick at one point or another and certain things can set you off. We all have a little bit of that in us. I love him for it.”

Zero to 60, perhaps, but Grantham and Franklin might be better suited to speeds on the Autobahn.

That’s what made Franklin’s joking reference to how he and Grantham spent vacation time this summer with their families at Disney World, floating in the water and drinking Mai-Tais, humorous.

Grantham actually can be found in the water in the offseason with a fishing rod in his hand at the family house on Lake Oconee.

“As soon as school’s out, I kind of take the kids and we head down there,” Paige Grantham said of son Corbin, 11, and daughter Olivia, 8. “He kind of goes back and forth some until camp breaks. We spend the majority of our summer at the lake house. He loves to fish. He loves to fish with his kids. That’s his favorite thing to do. He would fish all day. Get up early and stay all day.”

Todd and Paige both went to Pulaski County High in Dublin, Va., but they didn’t know each other until after high school. The 46-year old Grantham (who got a cake, a couple of gifts and the family singing “Happy Birthday” to him last week) is four years older than his wife.

It was at Pulaski County that legendary coach Joel Hicks and offensive line coach Randy Flinchum instilled in Grantham the toughness needed for a winning program.

Todd’s parents, father Gale and mother Linda, taught him that “when you do something, you finish the task and don’t ever quit.”

Those are traits that Grantham says he wants his players to have.

“There’s a certain way you have to play the game and I think you have to show them the importance or the passion you have,” he said. “I think it’s important that they see your passion, that they understand your passion because what you’re trying to do is your trying to change habits.”

A building process

Grantham molded Georgia into a top-five defense last year.

The enraged Grantham on display in the postgame scene at Vanderbilt didn’t exactly surprise players who are around him on a daily basis.

“I enjoy how intense he is on game days,” defensive back Sanders Commings said. “Every day, it doesn’t matter whether it’s Florida or FAU. He’s always intense. That’s what we love about him.”

Even the offensive players can’t help but take notice of the way Grantham works.

“He’s crazy,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “We like to listen in when he throws a board or breaks something or flips a chair. He does some crazy stuff. It’s funny, but I know our defensive guys respect him and they’ll listen to whatever he says.”

Said defensive end Abry Jones: “Coach Grantham he has a good sense of things and he felt that something was going wrong. He was definitely going to defend one of his players.”

Both Grantham and Franklin have been in some hot water before the incident at last year’s game.

Grantham flashed a choke sign on the sidelines before a Florida kicker attempted a field goal in 2010. Franklin told a radio station this offseason that he wouldn’t hire an assistant coach until he saw if he had a good-looking wife because there was a correlation between confidence talking to women and recruits.

Franklin, 40, was the youngest Vanderbilt coach hired in nearly two decades when he took over on Dec. 17, 2010 after three seasons as Maryland’s offensive coordinator under Ralph Friedgen. His other stops included Kansas State and the Green Bay Packers.

As recruiting coordinator at Maryland, he landed top-25 classes in 2003-04.

Bringing top talent to Vanderbilt, a school known for its brains but not its brawn on the football field, would be a challenge.

“If it was a great job, he wouldn’t be there anyways,” Douds said. “He’s one of those guys. He thinks he can climb Mt. Everest.”

After the Georgia game last year, Franklin declared: “We are not going to sit back and take stuff from anybody. Those days are long gone, and they are never coming back.”

The Commodores went 6-6 in the regular season last season before losing in the Liberty Bowl, but they boasted the SEC’s most improved offense and defense.

There are signs of progress on the recruiting trail. The 2013 class is ranked 16th nationally with 21 commitments.

“More than anything, this is a process,” Franklin said. “We’ve had a long ways to go. There have been programs in this conference winning and recruiting for a very, very long time and that’s what we’re trying to build. If you look at season ticket sales, you look at how well we’ve been recruiting, you look at how competitive we’ve been over the last year and a half on the field week in and week out, that competitive aspect is great. We’ve got to figure out how to take the next step as a program and be able to win some of these games.”

Vanderbilt lost to a top-10 South Carolina team by four in its opener this year and by 11 at Northwestern.

“There’s progress being made,” Franklin said. “Is it fast enough for what some people would like, including myself? No. What we’re trying to do is look at this from 10,000 feet.”

Vanderbilt will try to take another step tonight.

No opposing coach who has come to Sanford Stadium other than Steve Spurrier probably will feel as much as a persona non grata as Franklin likely will.

“I have not played on the road at Georgia,” he said. “I think we’re going to get a really warm welcome. I’m looking forward to that.”

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