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AD: Vandy no stepping stone for James Franklin

AD: Vandy no stepping stone for James Franklin

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Pick any school with a coaching vacancy, and James Franklin's name has probably been mentioned as a possible candidate by someone.

That happens when you win at Vanderbilt, the smallest school in the Southeastern Conference and the league's only private institution.

Franklin led the Commodores to an 8-4 record this year and in the process has seen his stock skyrocket.

Vanderbilt's athletic director David Williams is monitoring reports about the coach he hired nearly two years ago. Williams said Tuesday he brought in Franklin with the idea of turning Vanderbilt into a destination program, not a stepping stone to a better job.

``James understands if we do things that we can do to be a class program, he can win here just as he can win somewhere else, so you don't have a need to go somewhere else to win,'' Williams said.

``We went from 2-10, 2-10 to 6-6 and a bowl loss to 8-4 and a bowl trip, so yes you can win. You can win at Vanderbilt, and when you think of it we haven't done all the things that we need to, and can do, to make the experience more attractive. I think he understands this is a place he can win if we're committed, and we are committed, and he can create a legacy here absolutely.''

Franklin is 14-11 in two seasons, which wouldn't cut it at SEC schools like Alabama, Florida or Georgia. But Vanderbilt hasn't seen such success in a coach's first two seasons in more than a century - Dan McGugin arrived in 1904 and went 16-1.

The Commodores are headed to a second straight bowl under Franklin, which had never happened before at Vandy where the previous four bowls could be counted on one hand. Franklin led the Dores to their first winning record in the regular season in 30 years, and they wrapped up the regular season with a six-game winning streak for the first time since 1948.

Vanderbilt had gone 3-32 in the month of November for the 10 years before Franklin was hired. Now the Commodores are 6-2 combined in that month since Franklin's arrival.

A charter member of the mighty SEC, Vanderbilt had been seen for decades as the league's cellar dweller, an easy ``W'' in any season. Only twice has Vanderbilt won as many as nine games (1904 and 1915), and Franklin could notch the third with a bowl win. This also is just the 15th eight-win season in Vanderbilt's 123 years of football, and only the third since 1948.

Franklin, who left Tuesday for four days of recruiting, talks repeatedly of getting the Commodores past the point of checking history books every time they win a game.

``We're starting to build some of those things that I think are important when you're trying to build a program like we are,'' Franklin said after a 55-21 rout at Wake Forest last weekend.

That success is why people think a jet is waiting to take Franklin off to his new job at any minute. For Williams, it's the better alternative to fans demanding a coach be fired for too many losses.

``That means we made the right decision, and we're moving forward,'' Williams said.

Williams and Franklin are working together to turn the Commodores into a competitive SEC program. They meet weekly, and Williams rewarded Franklin's success a year ago with a new contract the athletic director said gave his coach both more money and years, though both refused to say how much because the private university does not discuss contract details.

Vanderbilt also kept Franklin happy by adding a new video board, artificial turf and turned the open end zone into a hillside berm for seating at the stadium before the 2012 season opener.

It's up to Franklin to try and keep his assistants from being lured away. How much those coaches are paid also isn't disclosed by Vanderbilt, but Williams said Franklin has control over how much his assistants receive and that giving the head coach more money to keep his staff together won't be an issue.

Right now, Franklin is focused on recruiting while Williams works to improve the football facilities that may be the biggest key to keeping the head coach around for the long haul.

Franklin's 2013 class currently is ranked 17th nationally by Rivals.com and seventh-best in the SEC, while the next phase of renovations will target the training room and weight room. Figuring out what to do with the SEC's smallest stadium is next, and Williams said a ``quick-fix'' isn't the solution after the last renovation increased capacity to 40,350.

``I walk through the stadium, and I would say the lines to get into the restrooms are just inexcusable,'' Williams said. ``We need to work on everything, and we should put in an option what if we have that sort of desire and demand, we could afford to do another 10,000 seats, another 15,000 seats.''

The athletic director hopes to start with trips in January to check out the new stadiums at Stanford and California along with a closer look at Wake Forest's decision to simply renovate its stadium with Vanderbilt ready to make a move by summer.

``When you're out and you're fundraising for a team like we have now, it is a little easier than other times,'' Williams said. ``But nevertheless, it's important that we get this done.''

It's also the cost of trying to compete in the SEC.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

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MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

LAS VEGAS—One of the more intriguing storylines of this year’s Stanley Cup Final centers on a couple of men who make their living behind the scenes: Brian MacLellan of the Caps and his counterpart with the Golden Knights, George McPhee.

They’ve known each other for 40-plus years, dating back to their time as bantam teammates in Canada. And, starting Monday, they’ll be on opposing sides, with hockey’s Holy Grail at stake.  

Caps fans, of course, are familiar with McPhee’s work. He served as GM in Washington from 1997-2014 and drafted 13 players who are currently on the Caps’ roster. McPhee was also the Caps’ rookie GM the last time the franchise appeared in the Final 20 years ago.

But here’s what Caps fans might not know about the connection that MacLellan and McPhee share:

  • They were born in a few months apart in 1958 in Ontario.
  • They captured the Canadian Jr. A championship as members of the 1977-78 Guelph Platers.
  • Both were on scholarship at Bowling Green from 1978-1982.
  • They played together with the New York Rangers in 1985-86.
  • And, finally, they worked side-by-side in Washington from 2000-2014. After working his way up from the scouting ranks, MacLellan replaced his managerial mentor, who had been let go following a disappointing season.

 

“It's kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. “We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

At one point, MacLellan got choked up when talking about his relationship with McPhee, who’ll become the first GM in the expansion era to face a former team of which he served as GM.

“We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together,” he said, fighting back tears. “It was fun.”

MacLellan also acknowledged that the two weren’t as tight—for a time, at least—after he replaced McPhee four years ago. McPhee also hinted at some strain, though he said the two men had dinner at the most recent GM’s meetings.

“Not as close, I don't think,” MacLellan said of his relationship with McPhee following McPhee’s dismissal. “A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

When the two negotiated during last year’s expansion draft, which saw McPhee pluck promising you blueliner Nate Schmidt from Washington’s roster, MacLellan said the two old friends keep things “businesslike.”

“He was all business,” MacLellan said. “He wasn’t giving in on anything.”

Although McPhee drafted most of the core players who delivered the Caps to this year’s Final, MacLellan also deserves credit for getting this team over the second round hump. Among his first acquisitions were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, a pair of vets that helped shore up a shaky defense. MacLellan also added forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller via trade in recent seasons and, this year, added defenseman Michal Kempny, a particularly shrewd move that bolstered a blue line that needed a little tightening.

As weird as the next few days will be for MacLellan as he faces his old friend, it figures to even more strange for McPhee, who will look down from the GM’s suite on Monday and see not one, but two teams that he built on the ice. McPhee also pilfered a handful of current and former front office employees from Caps, including Goalie Coach Dave Prior, while building the Golden Knights.

Indeed, the history between MacLellan and McPhee runs deep. But for the next couple of weeks, they’ll put aside their decades-old friendship as their clubs battle for the NHL’s ultimate prize.
 

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