Vanderbilt's football world was turned upside down in July when Bobby Johnson retired. The Commodores went to their first bowl game since 1982 just two seasons ago, but last season faltered to a 2-10 record splattered with the usual heartbreak losses mentioned by Johnson in his final press conference.
New coach Robbie Caldwell won his first big event, SEC Media Days, with his humor but is this guy a serious football coach? Can the Commodores surprise and make another bowl run?
To find out more about the self-proclaimed "country boy" Caldwell and his team this season, I contacted Vanderbilt Sports Line for their insight.
Q: What was your first reaction when you heard Bobby Johnson was stepping down as head coach?
A: Bobby Johnson stepping down was nothing short of shocking. Very surprising to the entire fan base, particularly since we had heard no rumbles of any kind of coaching change at the top.
Q: What are your thoughts on Robbie Caldwell? Can he be better than Johnson was?
A: We are very optimistic about Coach Caldwell. Not only did he impress on stage at the SEC Media Days, but he has also done a few subtle things in running the program that have won him points with the fan base. Namely we appreciate his willingness to hire assistants outside of the program, and we are excited with his hiring of Herb Hand from Tulsa.
Q: Can you compare and contrast Caldwell vs Johnson in terms of style?
A: It’s hard to compare and contrast them without seeing Caldwell’s hand print on the field, but it can already be said that Caldwell has a bit more of a “hard edge” than Johnson. Not that Johnson wasn’t tough, but his style was a little more quiet and focused on self-discipline than it appears Caldwell will be.
Q: Will Vandy have a down field passing game this year and who will be slinging it?
A: We sure hope so. With one of the worst passing attacks in the nation there’s only one way to go and that’s up. Larry Smith will probably regain the starting spot out of training camp, but the fan base is optimistic about transfer Jordan Rodgers, as long as he isn’t redshirted.
Q: Can we expect a heavy run offense this year with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy?
A: I think you can expect to see plenty of carries out of Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. However, with SEC defenses adapting I doubt you’ll see such a huge splash as Norman’s year last year. I expect to see run-geared defenses stepping up. Larry Smith carries the keys to this running game if he can make some defenses actually respect us on first and second down.
Q: Vanderbilt has been known for producing top notch defensive players for the NFL. Is there an heir apparent to that line this year?
A: Losing Myron Lewis is a blow, but the next big defensive stud in this crew is linebacker Chris Marve. Kid can bring the wood.
Q: How is DT Adam Smotherman progressing from his torn ACL? Will he ready for the season?
A: The coaching staff is trying to bring him back slowly, but all signs point to him being ready for the opener, something quite heartening to Commodore fans.
Q: How do Vandy fans feel when other SEC fans say the Commodores don't belong in the SEC?
A: Without entering into a tremendous tirade about the various reasons why the proposition is ridiculous, let us just say that our academic elitism rears it’s head at any moron who makes the statement that Vandy does not belong in the SEC.
We’ve struggled in football forever, but quite honestly we’re just as competitive as every other SEC team in baseball and basketball. Football may be king, but it’s a far cry to say that a school doesn’t keep pace in football and doesn’t belong in a conference.
Besides that, last year was a tough year for a team that doesn’t have near as much depth and suffered a rash of injuries. The gap isn’t as far as the 2-10 record suggests.
Q: Describe a successful season. Describe a disappointing one.
A: A successful season would be five wins with no blowout losses and with Coach Robbie Caldwell really earning that head coach label and a continuation in our recruiting. A disappointing year would be a 2-10 season, Coach Caldwell getting fired, and the program essentially having to start back over again.
Q: What is your prediction for this season?
A: The schedule is brutal. Absolutely brutal. Stanimal is going for an optimistic 4-8, but actually think it’s going to be a much longer season than that. Bobby O'Shea takes an only somewhat different view and thinks the season, and the Commodores likely success, hangs in the balance with the team's first game against Northwestern. If we beat Northwestern, Bobby thinks the Commodores can win 6 or 7; if we don't, 4-8 would be a miracle.
My Take on Vanderbilt...
It looks pretty ugly for Vandy this season. Even though the talent level has never been what the elite of the SEC have, it looks like the gap is beginning to widen again after a brief period of prosperity in Nashville.
Like Vanderbilt Sports Line said, the schedule is absolutely brutal. The 'Dores catch fellow academic elite Northwestern when they are in a upswing and they have to travel what might be toss games all on the road at Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Kentucky.
Good thing Caldwell has a good sense of humor because he will need it this season.
2-10, 6th SEC East
Thanks again to the Vanderbilt Sports Line for their insight.
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