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Left behind: Vanderbilt begins search for Franklin's successor

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams already can tell a difference in how the Commodores are perceived now compared to the last time he went searching for a football coach.

More people are willing to talk to him about the job now.

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''This time already - and don't ask me any names because I'm not going to tell you - there's already a list of 20-25 people who've reached out to us,'' Williams said Saturday at a midday news conference. ''And at least five of them are people who we asked to talk to us last time and said no.''

The Commodores' athletic director says they plan to hire someone who can build on the progress of the past few years after James Franklin left the Southeastern Conference's smallest school for Penn State. Williams said Franklin called him Friday night telling him he was leaving after three seasons with Vanderbilt.

The athletic director let Franklin meet Saturday morning with his former players before leaving for Pennsylvania.

Williams called Franklin's decision to leave after three seasons ''disappointing'' and wished the coach well. The athletic director met with the Commodores after Franklin left, and Williams said Vanderbilt is ready to get on with business.

''Coach Franklin and his staff have set the foundation for that, but we plan to take it to the next step,'' Williams said.

Junior defensive end Kyle Woestmann appeared with Williams and said the players trust their athletic director to bring in someone even better for their new head coach.

''The goal is still to win SEC championships and bring Vanderbilt to a top tier SEC team,'' Woestmann said. ''That will never change since what coach Franklin has started. That's the belief and mentality, and it will be that way forever now.''

Vanderbilt did not name an interim coach with assistants under contract until March 15. Williams said the assistants know their responsibilities and school officials will be making sure recruits in a class estimated between No. 25 and 33 know that Vanderbilt remains committed to them.

In Franklin's three seasons, Vanderbilt is 24-15 with three straight bowl berths for the first time in school history and a 16-4 mark over the past 20 games second only to Alabama in the Southeastern Conference.

That's a stark contrast with Vanderbilt going 4-20 in the two seasons before Williams hired Franklin over a field of candidates in 2010 that also included Gus Malzahn, who this season won the SEC championship and lost in the BCS national championship game in his first year as Auburn's head coach.

Vanderbilt's last search for a coach was for a program that had played in only four bowls in its history and went 36-114 between 2000 and 2010. The Commodores posted only one winning season between 1982 and 2010 in 2008.

Williams said Vanderbilt's program now is stronger in every way than just a few years ago. Vanderbilt opened an indoor practice facility in November that the football team used to prepare for the BBVA Compass Bowl the Commodores won on Jan. 4. Renovations also have been going on around the football offices and locker room with the training room next up.

Officials also have been studying what to do with the football stadium for the past year.

Vandy's 9-4 record in 2012 was the program's best since 1915, and in 2013 the Commodores beat Georgia, Florida and Tennessee in the same season for the first time in school history. Vanderbilt also finished in the final Associated Press rankings each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 in the poll released Tuesday.

Vanderbilt hadn't finished in the final AP poll before Franklin arrived since 1948 under Red Sanders. Vanderbilt will be using a search firm just like 2010, and Williams said he was busy on the telephone Friday night after Franklin informed the athletic director of his decision getting the process underway.

''We're going to move as quickly as we can, but we're not going to move quick in such a way to make a mistake,'' Williams said.

Tagged: Alabama, Vanderbilt, Missouri, David Williams, James Franklin

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