Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Don't hold Bobby Johnson and the Vanderbilt football team to the same standards as Kevin Stallings' squad
Another gutsy win for the Hoopodores Tuesday night. Some people wonder why we don't post more about basketball and that's because we're a blog about Vandy football/angst and we're more than happy to leave coverage and analysis of the Hoopodores in the capable hands of people like VSL and Anchor of Gold and even "Loblaw" at Anything But Gatorade when he's in the doghouse and needs to write something nice about Vandy (you know, because his wife was a cheerleader there).
Believe me, I'm watching and enjoying this basketball season as much as any other Vandy fan. Just don't say that we should study the basketball team's success and apply the same lessons to the football team. It doesn't work. Here are some obvious reasons:
• A winning basketball program is much easier to build at an academic school than a winning football program. Sure, Northwestern and Stanford occasionally have good seasons on the gridiron, but they never challenge for the national championship. Duke's football team stinks. Its basketball team does not.
• Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium isn't Rupp Arena, but it's not noticeably smaller than other NCAA facilities, and it's unique, and it's a tough place for opposing teams to play, even when we're having an off year. I still remember my freshman year when we had an NIT team but beat eventual national champion Indiana in Memorial. I can't even fathom beating football national champion Florida in Nashville and neither could the Gators fathom losing there. Commodore Stadium at Dudley Field or whatever it's called seats a good 15-20,000 fewer fans than the next smaller stadiums, at Ole Miss and Miss State.
• Our basketball team fills the gym... with our own fans.
• The basketball team can actually attract a five-star local recruit (John Jenkins) and plenty of four-star local talent nationally (Jermaine Beal, A.J. Ogilvy, Jeff Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Steve Tchiengang, Lance Goulbourne). We've had one four-star recruit (part-time starter John Stokes) on the football roster in the past four years. Meanwhile, four-star local guys like James Stone automatically pack their bags for Knoxville, where the stadium seats more people than the fifth-largest city in Tennessee — unless the head coach there is a jerk and then they wait for him to leave before packing their orange suitcases.
• Oh yeah, and it takes a heck of a lot more football players to play a game. So not only does Bobby Johnson have six fewer highly regarded recruits than Kevin Stallings does, he needs about five times as many players just to field a team.
I cringe when I hear people talk about giving Bobby Johnson one more year before we fire him. If Kevin Stallings goes winless in the conference and wins less than 20 percent of his games then, yes, he's on the hot seat if he's still around at all. His job's not easy, and I don't want to take away from the great job he's doing, but Stallings is more or less competing on an even playing field with the other basketball programs in the SEC. He doesn't have an advantage, but he's not handicapped. And if the other programs in the SEC have a disadvantage, it's because their administration puts way more time, energy and resources into its football program.
Johnson has put together a collection of increasingly solid recruiting classes, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that many of those kids chose Vanderbilt after visiting Nashville and sitting among 35,000 fans — many of whom were wearing opposing colors — and also visiting places like Athens and Knoxville and sitting among 100,000 fans, nearly every single one of them wearing the home colors and screaming their heads off.
Everybody has been praising this latest Vandy football recruiting class, for which Johnson and his staff had to scratch and claw and hold their collective breath at the last minute. But even with Rajaan Bennett, where did that class rank in the SEC? Last place. Or maybe if you're generous, in eleventh place ahead of Kentucky.
So why exactly should Johnson be fired if he doesn't return to a bowl?