Home > Uncategorized > Johnson being let off the hook at Vanderbilt

Johnson being let off the hook at Vanderbilt

The media and Vanderbilt fans inadvertently have made the Commodores’ football program even more irrelevant by giving Bobby Johnson a pass for retiring three weeks before the start of fall camp.

Do you know what they’d do at Florida or Alabama if a football coach quit in July? They wouldn’t be singing his praises on the way out the door, that’s for sure. They’d want to hang him, maybe or maybe not in effigy.

But because Johnson was “classy” and “gentlemanly” during his tenure on West End – which he was and that’s great, but you also can read between the lines of those words when spoken about you by other SEC programs and come away with “lovable losers” – no one is calling him out.

Some insiders believe he waited this long to hang it up to ensure the future of his coaching staff. By pondering his future until the season opener was less than two months away Johnson left de facto athletic director David Williams no choice but to name an interim head coach from the staff (offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, Johnson’s hand-picked successor) and keep the rest of the coaching roster intact.

“People retire,” Johnson said at his Wednesday news conference. “Believe me, there’s not a great time for a college football coach to retire.”

Maybe not, but there are better times than July 14. Johnson told ESPN.com, though, that had he retired right after last season it might have hurt recruiting. Really, Coach? You went 12-52 in the SEC during your eight-year tenure. Would your walking away truly have crippled the incoming class? Regardless of whom composes the class the team probably at least could go 2-10 and winless in the SEC like you did last year.

Yes, winning at Vanderbilt is difficult. Everybody gets that. Johnson had a hard time letting go of the close losses, and to his credit there were plenty of them (26 of his 66 losses at Vanderbilt were by seven points or less). But the Commodores are never going to be more than scrappy losers if moral victories are acceptable.

To give Johnson a pass is akin to taking another “attaboy” pat on the head from Florida or Georgia for having played them close. Vanderbilt ought to be tired of “attaboys.”

Universally media and fans are saying how much better off the Commodores’ football program is thanks to the Johnson era. Everyone points to the winning season in 2008 and the bowl win over Boston College. Big deal. It was a 6-6 regular season that would have been just another losing season to add to Vandy’s long history of those if it hadn’t beaten the Eagles in what essentially was a home game at the Music City Bowl. Let’s not forget the follow-up to the bowl appearance was last year’s return to bottomocrity.

Johnson indeed has been likeable and refreshing. He also went 29-66 in eight seasons. In four of those eight VU won exactly two games. He won only six games in the SEC East in his eight seasons. If that’s someone’s definition of progress they didn’t get a degree from Vanderbilt.

This would have been a perfect season for Vanderbilt to start anew. You look around the SEC East and there appears to be a chance to make some headway. Tennessee is in utter turmoil, and Derek Dooley doesn’t exactly strike fear. Kentucky has a new coach, too. Steve Spurrier at South Carolina is 65, and Georgia has been sliding for the past two seasons under Mark Richt. Heck, even Florida, whom Johnson never beat, had some touch-and-go moments with Urban Meyer after last season.

If Caldwell doesn’t do better than Johnson did last year all the former coach will have done is pushed the Commodores’ hiring of a new coach back a year. And that won’t have done the program any favors, especially at a time like this.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Daniel
    July 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    Do you really think retiring right after the season wouldn’t hurt Vanderbilt’s chances of landing a better recruiting class? There are plenty of examples of coaches leaving that causes incoming recruits switch from that school. Just look at Lane Kiffin and some of Tennessee’s recruits earlier this year.

    • July 19, 2010 at 10:34 am

      Daniel, I think it depends on whom Vandy would have hired. Typically Commodores classes don’t make an immediate impact. When they have found good players they have developed them over time, including using redshirts. Plus, they didn’t win a single SEC game last season. No matter who ended up in the recruiting class, this season can’t be any worse than the last one.

  2. Lee
    July 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Honestly, I don’t think it had to not wanting to be the head coach. I also realize that the media is wanting to be upset with Bobby Johnson. However, I think he retired for a completely different reason all together. I think there is someone like his wife, parent, or child that is dying. He knew he need to spent the quality time with them and focus on them, instead of Vandy Football. A similar situation just happened here in AZ with a HS Football coach and it turned out that it was so he could care for a HS coaching legend, namely his Dad. I am equally willing to bet that the Vandy family has let this occur as it has because they know the real reason behind the retirement and are supporting a classy coach in his time of need.

  3. Jesse
    July 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    “Typically Commodores classes don’t make an immediate impact. When they have found good players they have developed them over time, including using redshirts. Plus, they didn’t win a single SEC game last season. No matter who ended up in the recruiting class, this season can’t be any worse than the last one.” Well that’s the mistake you are making right there Bob, is thinking that the 2010 class was a “typical” class. It was the best class the program has signed since DiNardo days, if not better. I suggest you venture over to Vanderbilt right now and look at all of those freshmen. There were more kids in that class, than perhaps ever before, that legitimately chose Vanderbilt over 2-4 other offers from SEC schools. There were numerous kids in the class that had other offers from Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn, South Carolina, Ole Miss, Kentucky, Arkansas, etc. They are also on paper (and again, when you see them physically) are more immediately impactful than any class Johnson had signed before. The developing over time stuff isn’t going to be the case with this class. It was very legitimate before Johnson ever retired that there could be 12-14 kids from the class that could play this season..and not because VU was exactly lacking at some of their positions. You will learn the names Jordan Matthews, Chris Boyd, Trent Pruitt, Jonathan Krause, Logan Stewart, Grant Ramsay, Kyle Woestmann, Vince Taylor, James Kittredge, Andre Hal, Steven Clarke, Kenny Ladler, Andre Simmons and Jordan Rodgers this year, because they’ll be on the football field. And sadly the best recruit in the class, Rajaan Bennett, was murdered, something that might have also contributed to Johnson retiring. Again, there was nothing typical about this incoming class. I’m not giving Johnson a pass on his timing of his decision but his desire to keep the incoming class together should not be glossed over just because of preconceived notions of what Vandy recruits, especially not when compared to classes of the past.

    • July 20, 2010 at 1:33 am

      Jesse, it’s great that you’re a Vandy fan who believes this is a great class. The fact of the matter is it’s ranked No. 61 in the country by Rivals.com and does not include a single player ranked in the top 250 nationally by Rivals. If 12-14 kids in this freshman class play this season it doesn’t bode well for the footing of the program.

  4. gregpasq
    July 20, 2010 at 4:24 am

    After 34 years of coaching and being 60 years of age, I don’t think that Johnson has to answer to me, you or anybody. He decides when. If people don’t understand, that, oh well. He doesn’t owe anyone.

  5. William
    July 20, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    Lets say it like this…

    Him retiring when he did doesn’t allow any of the kids he signed to back out of their commentment to Vandy…that’s pretty much what Johnson was trying to accomplish…to give the current staff a chance to perform with everything they were coming into the season with…granted, the current staff isn’t stocked with Head Coaching minds, but it allows them to have complete control over how this season goes instead of thinking about what if we had such and such, or what if whatchamacallit had come…that’s why i respect when Johnson left…

  1. July 19, 2010 at 11:19 am
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