Friday, December 3, 2010

Bobby Johnson was supposed to replace Tommy Bowden, not the other way around

So Tommy Bowden is a top candidate to become the new head coach at Vandy. Which is kind of funny when you look back to Oct. 13, 2008.

That's the day Bowden got fired from Clemson, and Tiger fans responded by immediately calling for one man to save their program.

That man? Bobby Johnson.

Here's a sample post from a Clemson fan to a Tiger message board:

BOBBY JOHNSON COMES HOME TO CLEMSON!!!! (This has to be the headline the day after Vandy's last game of the season). Former Tiger football player, graduated 1973. Turned Vandy from SEC basement dweller to the team nobody wants to play. BOBBY! BOBBY! BOBBY!

At the time, Johnson's Vanderbilt team was 5-1 and ranked in the Top 25 while Clemson was 3-3 after starting the season ranked in the Top 10. Vandy had recently beaten Auburn, a team that had handled Clemson in its last bowl game, and it had embarrassed Steve Spurrier and the cross-state SC Gamecocks for the second straight year.

We were already trying to psychologically prepare MV! readers for what seemed inevitable: Bobby Johnson was leaving us for Clemson.

Now Bobby Johnson is out of work and Tommy Bowden is a front-runner for the Vanderbilt job.

So what happened?

Bobby Johnson lost to Duke, that's what happened.

He'd just lost his first game of the season to Miss State, which was a let-down but the sort of cowbell-induced let-down that happens to even established SEC teams. Then he suffered a respectable loss to an outrageously talented Georgia team to put Vandy at 5-2. He was still a hot name. But then he got embarrassed by Duke on homecoming. And then spanked by Florida.

Now Vandy was 5-4 and, with a history of losing every game in November, desperate for a win. Fortunately, the Commodores beat Kentucky, but lost to beatable teams from Tennessee and Wake Forest to finish 6-6.

Of course, the Dores finished with a Music City Bowl victory over Boston College, scoring 16 points without a single offensive touchdown. It was a magical season for Vanderbilt fans, and while heartwarming for the rest of America, not particularly impressive to fans and officials from Clemson, which finished with seven victories including a 31-7 win over Duke, and a New Year's Day bowl bid to play Nebraska in the Gator.

So that's what happened. On Oct. 13, Bobby Johnson had five wins in six games. In his next 18 games, he had four wins, counting the bowl victory. And in the 30 regular season games Vanderbilt has played since that Oct. 13, the Commodores have won just five times.

It was unthinkable on Oct. 13, 2008, that Vanderbilt football would be in this state, and even more unthinkable that Tommy Bowden would be considered as part of the solution.

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