Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks, Coach Caldwell — now let's go get an offensive innovator

Robbie Caldwell has stepped down as Vanderbilt's head coach, effective after tonight's Wake Forest game.

A press release posted on the official Vandy athletics site
announced that it was a mutual decision between Caldwell and Vice Chancellor "I'm not an athletic director but I get to play one" David Williams.

We all know that means Williams — probably under pressure from alumni — has decided to go in a new direction but allowed Caldwell to first come to that realization himself. Caldwell said "after a lot reflection" he realized "it is time for me to step aside and let someone else pick up the hard work and efforts of our staff."

That sounds like he's saying that another head coach needs to lead this staff, but that's not going to happen.

Williams clarified: "The bulk of our coaching staff came here in 2002 and during that time our program has improved," Williams says. "Under their leadership, we won a bowl game, scored some memorable victories over formidable opponents and helped put us in a position to add new facilities. I appreciate what Robbie has done here, and we all wish this staff the very best."

It's sad to see these guys go, but I agree that it's time to start over. Under the direction of Bobby Johnson, they proved you can win big games and even bowl games at Vanderbilt. And because of the Music City Bowl victory, the new coach will start with more talent than Johnson did.

Bobby Johnson proved we need an offensive-minded coach at Vanderbilt. As we proved this season, a good sneaky defense can keep a game close — unless the offense is so bad that the defense never leaves the field.

Unfortunately, we'll probably never see another season when Florida, Georgia and Tennessee had so many problems. If we could have moved the ball, we'd have at least avoided losing to those three in such embarrassing fashion.

I'd like to see us hire either a successful D1 coach from a non-BCS conference or a top BCS offensive coordinator.

That would include the head coaches at Nevada, Hawaii, Northern Illinois and SMU, as well as Gus Malzahn at Auburn.

Beware a quick fix. A lot of fans will start throwing around big names. We've got to do this the right way, by getting somebody under the radar — a guy with Bobby Johnson's character but also with the kind of offensive mind that can implement an elite offensive system using solid players instead of a solid system using elite players.

Because, you know, we're not going to get many of those.

In closing, I'd like to thank Coach Caldwell. He was given an impossible situation. He wanted to win, not to lose games by a narrow margin. If UT wins today and he beats Wake tonight, every one of his losses would have been to a bowl team. We were not and never were going to be a bowl team.

Would Bobby Johnson have lost nine games by such great margins? Probably not.

But would he have won more games than Caldwell did? I don't think so.

Four months ago, Bobby Johnson knew that (1) this team was going to fall hard and (2) his staff didn't deserve to lose their jobs. In leaving when he did, he just prolonged the inevitable. Yes, Caldwell should and probably would have gotten the job full-time if he'd won five or six games. But that wasn't going to happen.

So thanks, Coach Caldwell. You had an impossible job, but you kept your sense of humor. Furman would do well to hire you now as its head coach and to bring along the rest of your staff.

Well, Coach Hand can stay in Nashville and assist Coach Malzahn. At least, that's what I'd like to see.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

No, Vandy-Wake is not the worst game this weekend

I'm sure you've realized by now that if you weren't a Vandy fan there's no way you'd even think about watching Saturday's Wake Forest game. After all, the Dores and the Demons are each 2-9 on the season.

And like me, you may have wondered if there's a worse game scheduled for this weekend.

Why, yes there is, and I'm glad you asked.

On Saturday, Buffalo (2-9) travels to Akron to play the winless Zips. Buffalo lost to Eastern Michigan, which got manhandled by Vandy earlier this season.

So yes, there is a worse game.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

For Vandy redshirt juniors, if you play, you stay

Going into senior day, it's always interesting to see which players with eligibility remaining are being honored.

Vandy has 15 players who are academic seniors but have at least one year of eligibility remaining. Of those, eight are returning:

• Brandon Barden, TE: 36 games, 29 starts
• Kyle Fischer, OG: 36 games, 24 starts
• Udom Umoh, WR: 36 games, 21 starts
• Chris Marve, LB: 35 games, 35 starts
• Tim Fugger, DE: 30 games, 17 starts
• Jamie Graham, DB: 27 games, 15 starts
• Larry Smith, QB: 22 games, 21 starts
• Austin Monahan, TE: 20 games, 7 starts

These guys have all started at least two-thirds of the games, after their redshirt year, in which they've been healthy enough to play. The guys with the fewest starts, Jamie Graham and Austin Monahan, have battled injuries throughout their careers. All of these guys fit into our plans for 2011, either as starters or major role players.

Here are the guys who are leaving a year of eligibility on the table:
• Ryan van Rensburg, FB/TE: 30 games
• David Giller, SN: 30 games
• Tray Herndon, WR: 15 games, 1 start
• Reece Lovell, RB: 11 games
• Duane Vaughn, DB: 1 game
• Charlie Byrge, WR: No games
• Elvio Tropeano, S: No games

Ryan Van Rensburg and Tray Herndon are the only scholarship players in the bunch. RVR never fit into the Commodores backfield but became a valuable special teams performer and backup tight end. Herndon is the only one of these guys to start a game. Neither of them played more than Giller, a walk-on who became a fixture at long snapper.

Here are the guys with no remaining eligibility who are being honored on senior day:

Redshirt Seniors:
• Kennard Reeves, RB: 45 games, 3 starts
• Nate Campbell, LB: 39 games, 7 starts
• Adam Smotherman, DT: 37 games, 23 starts
• Teriall Brannon, DE: 34 games, 2 starts
• Turner Wimberly, WR: 32 games, 4 starts
• Joey Bailey, OL: 29 games, 11 starts
• Jared Funk, QB: 17 games, no starts
• Chris Aaron, OL: 11 games, no starts

True Seniors:
• John Stokes, LB: 47 games, 23 starts
• Theron Kadri, DE: 44 games, 11 starts

While we're on the subject of senior day, here are some scholarship players who might leave a year of eligibility on the table this time next year:
• Taylor Loftley, DT: 7 games, no starts
• Al Owens, S: 13 games, no starts
• Akeem Dunham, WR: 15 games, no starts
• Micah Powell, LB: 17 games, no starts
• Josh Jelesky, DT: 22 games, no starts

They've all gotten minimal playing time this season, though some of them play in every game on special teams, and will be getting major competition from redshirt freshmen next year.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tennessee-Vanderbilt lineups dominated by true freshmen

If the pregame depth charts hold up, a whopping 11 of the starters in today's Tennessee-Vanderbilt game will be true freshmen.

• WR Jonathan Krause
• WR Jordan Matthews
• C Logan Stewart
• FS Kenny Ladler
• NB/CB Andre Hal
• KO Carey Spear

• QB Tyler Bray
• FB Channing Fugate
• C James Stone
• OT Ju'Wuan James
• S Brent Brewer

Who should be Vanderbilt's football coach next year?

We've had some good, spirited debate lately about the coaching situation. There are several schools of thought which stem from our general frustration as we appear headed to, at best, a 3-9 record:

1. We're playing terrible because our coaches are terrible, and they must go.

2. We're playing terrible because our players are terrible, and the coaches need time to get better players or we need to find some coaches who can.

3. We're playing terrible because our best players are young and inexperienced and they just need to be developed, either by these coaches or some new coaches.

So the consensus is that we're playing terrible, with the majority of fans seeming to want a new coach and a new start ("Wipe the slate clean," comments Ex-Player), while some think Caldwell deserves a full year, including spring practice, to show what he can do, while others say we should wait and see how the season plays out. (Though it seems to have played out enough already.)

Everybody seems united in the opinion that we need an overhaul among offensive coaches.

As for a new head coach, we could go in one of several directions:

1. The big name head coach. Yep, many fans are convinced we could get Jon Gruden, Tony Dungy or maybe a reincarnated Knute Rockne. Why don't we add Nick Saban to the list?

2. A former big-time college coach who's fallen out of favor with the establishment. Think Mike Leach, Terry Bowden or any other Bowden.

3. A coordinator from a hot college team. Think Gus Malzahn from Auburn.

4. A head coach from a so-called lesser FCS team (is there a lesser FCS team than Vanderbilt?) or a head coach from a successful FBS team. Some names bouncing around are Ken Namemimolulu (my spelling not his) from Navy and some Mickey McMickey guy from James Madison which isn't having a great season but did beat Va Tech.

5. Some people have even suggested Mr. Hand, our offensive line coach. There's an original idea. Hey, let's wait till the last minute and then give the head job to our offensive line coach.

What do you think?

Oh, and I think we really get blasted today by Tennessee. Hope not, but I think we do. It will be interesting to see the comments to this post pre-blowout by UT and post-blowout by UT.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

For Vandy coaches, there's losing and there's losing

Does it matter that these days Vanderbilt is losing every game by four or five touchdowns instead of one?

I think it does, and apparently so does David Williams, Vanderbilt’s Vice Chancellor of Athletics But Not An Athletic Director Because We’re Too Progressive for Those Sorts of Things.

"There's losing and there's losing," Williams told the Tennessean recently. "To be down 41-0 at halftime (to Florida last week), that wasn't one of my happiest days."

Williams has also said he’s evaluating Coach Caldwell based not only on his win-loss record but how his team plays in games they lose.

Um, that’s not so good for Caldwell.

This season Caldwell has had the good fortune to face the worst Florida and Georgia teams in recent memory. But whereas Bobby Johnson and even Woody Widenhofer would barely lose to the Gators and Dawgs when those schools had Top 10 teams, Caldwell has lost to much weaker versions by a combined score of 98-14.

Oh, and on Saturday Vandy plays one of the weakest Tennessee teams in recent memory. Can’t wait to see how that turns out.

Remember back in 2002 when Bobby Johnson inherited a terrible team and lost his first game 45-3 to unranked Georgia Tech? He finished that season 2-10, but if you spotted him seven points in his losses, he would have finished 6-6. Spot Robbie Caldwell seven points in his losses and Vandy would be 3-7 right now instead of 2-8.

Johnson finished his career with a winning percentage of 30.5%. But spot him just three points and that jumps up to 47.4% and bowl eligibility in five of his eight seasons. Spot him seven points and he wins 59% of his games and has only two losing seasons, his second and his last.

I can hear some of you screaming right now that a loss is a loss is a loss. But wouldn’t you feel better about the future and about Caldwell if the Dores had lost by a field goal to Georgia and a touchdown each to Florida and Arkansas?

I sure would.

Here’s how Vandy coaches since Watson Brown rank in winning percentage, and, just for kicks, if you spot them a field goal and a touchdown:

1. DiNardo: 19-25 (43.2%), never bowl eligible
2. Johnson: 29-66 (30.5%), bowl eligible once, one bowl victory
3. Widenhofer: 15-40 (27.3%), never bowl eligible
4. Caldwell: 2-8 (20%)
5. Dowhower: 4-18 (18.9%), never bowl eligible
5. Brown 10-45 (18.9%), never bowl eligible

1. DiNardo: 22-22 (50%), twice bowl eligible
2. Johnson: 45-50 (47.4%), bowl eligible five times
3. Widenhofer: 23-32 (41.8%), bowl eligible once
4. Brown 17-38 (30.9%), bowl eligible once
5. Caldwell: 3-7 (30%)
6. Dowhower: 4-18 (18.9%), never bowl eligible

1. DiNardo: 27-17 (61.4%), four times bowl eligible (in four seasons)
2. Johnson: 56-39 (59%), six times bowl eligible (in eight seasons)
3. Widenhofer: 26-29 (47.3%), bowl eligible twice (in five seasons)
4. Brown 25-30 (45.5%), bowl eligible twice (in five seasons)
5. Dowhower: 8-14 (36.4%), never bowl eligible
6. Caldwell: 3-7 (30%)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

At least we're using our weapons

I like the fact that we gave the ball to Eric Samuels on our first drive of the first half and just gave it to him again early in the second half. I like the fact that Brandon Barden, a high school quarterback, just threw a pass. It shows we're trying to use all our weapons.

But we just surrendered a long TD to Randall Cobb.

Samuels just got another nice gain. You know, Eric was more highly rated as a high school running back than either Zac Stacy or Warren Norman.

Vandy offense looking good at halftime

In the preseason, I predicted Vandy would beat Kentucky 20-14. Looking good right now, because we're winning at halftime 13-10.

We've had a better half offensively than most of our games this year. Consider this:
- 242 yards total offense
- 9 first downs
- Zero turnovers
- Kennard Reeves, filling in for Stacy and Norman, has 53 yards on nine carries.
- True freshman Jonathan Krause has 110 yards on three touches, including a 52-yard reception, a 45-yard run and a 13-yard reception.
- Larry looks pretty good running and passing.
- The offensive line is actually holding its own.

On the downside, on our first two drives we had 2nd and goal on the 1-yard line and 1st and 10 on the 11 and we came away with six points instead of 14.

But as the second half begins, there's a big "if." We can win this game if we make second half adjustments.

And that's a mighty big "if."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Derek King commits to Vanderbilt: Commodores keep losing games and gaining athletes

I was just about to post my weekly don't-kill-yourself-if-we-get-blown-out-on-Saturday piece. Though we're not facing a team with the talent of Florida or Georgia, we could get ours handed to us this week by Kentucky. After all, we'll be without our top two playmakers, running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, and maybe even their backup, Wesley Tate.

Of course, our strength was our running game, and now that's gone too. If we had Kentucky's team and they had ours, we'd be jumping up and down right now.

So don't kill yourself if we get blown out on Saturday.

But you can jump up and down because Vandy just got a verbal commitment from Derek King of Brentwood, Tenn.

King, a 5-10, 185-pound athlete with a 36-inch vertical leap and a 4.4 40 time, has offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee. How often does Vandy get a player with four other SEC offers? Not often, my friends.

This was a huge get. King is a playmaker who could line up at running back or maybe even receiver but is probably best suited as a cornerback who can be a difference maker returning punts and covering on special teams. Oh, and Ted Cain got him.

King's our best recruit in this class, and frankly, it's a miracle that he's committing to us on the heels of another blowout and as fans are howling for Robbie Caldwell's firing. The big job will be to keep him in the fold until February's signing day.

Don't underestimate the job that Caldwell and his staff have done on the recruiting trail in the middle of a miserable season in which their jobs are in jeopardy.

The day Bobby Johnson quit, Vanderbilt had TWO commitments, compared to 14 on the same day a year earlier. They were Damien Fleming, a two-star dual-threat quarterback, and James Lewis, a three-star left tackle.

That's it.

Enter Robbie Caldwell and more uncertainty than you can shake a stick at. Here's what's happened since then:

1. Right after he knocked ’em dead at SEC media days, Caldwell wrapped up defensive end Conor Hart, who runs a 4.5 40 and whose grandfather won a Heisman at Notre Dame.
2. At the end of August, with Vandy predicted to win one or two games this season, Caldwell got commitments from consensus three-star players Jake Bernstein, a hulking offensive lineman, and Keith Heitzman, who can play defensive end or tight end.
3. The week after narrowly dropping the season opener against Northwestern, Caldwell landed Spencer Pulley, an offensive lineman who got three stars from Rivals.
4. The week after falling apart in the fourth quarter to LSU, he picked up a pair of promising running backs, Mitchell Hester and J.J. Keels, each of whom got three stars from ESPN.
5. The week after shellacking Eastern Michigan, Caldwell landed huge offensive lineman Alex Barr, who's got three stars from Rivals and ESPN.
6. The day Vandy played hard but lost to South Carolina, he got a commitment from Jose Valedon, another offensive lineman with three stars from Rivals.
7. Following miserable blowouts at the hands of Arkansas and Florida, Caldwell somehow manages to land Derek King.

Meanwhile, Lewis, the tackle who committed to Johnson in the spring, has gained more than 20 pounds and is pushing 300 pounds. Word is, his family's making him stick to his word. Good for them, and good for us.

Fleming appears to be having a good season in his first full year as a starting quarterback. He's an athletic, dual threat project, who's supposedly an extremely accurate passer who doesn't mind pressure in the pocket.

Last year's class, built on the strength of the Music City Bowl and then stripped down a bit after we crashed back to earth, had nine consensus three-star players. This year's has four so far, more than any in recent history.

Here are the consensus three star players (Rivals, Scout, ESPN) in the past six classes:

2011: OL Jake Bernstein, TE Keith Heitzman, CB Derek King, OT James Lewis
2010: S Karl Butler, HB Blake Gowder, CB Andre Hal, OL James Kittredge, WR Jonathan Krause, DT Jared Morse, OL Grant Ramsay, DT Vince Taylor, DE Kyle Woestmann
2009: WR Brady Brown, OT Wesley Johnson, TE Mason Johnston
2008: LB De'Andre Jones
2007: OG Kyle Fischer, FB Ryan van Rensburg, QB Larry Smith
2006: QB Jared Funk

Why do you want a bunch of these guys? Because not all of them pan out. The so-called gem of the 2006 class, Jared Funk, has zero starts in five seasons. Ryan van Rensburg (2007) is in the wrong offensive system, De'Andre Jones (2008) looks great in the airport but hasn't come close to starting a game yet, and Brady Brown (2009) plays receiver, one of our worst positions, but hasn't seen a down this season.

But the class of 2010 has already burned the redshirts off five of the nine consensus three-stars, as well as another eight guys — CB Steven Clarke, LB Chase Garnham, S Kenny Ladler, TE Fitz Lassing, WR Jordan Matthews, S Andre Simmons, PK Carey Spear and C Logan Stewart — who weren't as highly touted.

The guys who aren't playing right now — WR/TE Blake Gowder, OL Grant Ramsay, DT Vince Taylor, DE Kyle Woestmann — could easily crack the depth chart next season. Expect Taylor and Woestmann to make the biggest splash, on the defensive line.

Anyway, just wanted to give you some good news. And if we can steal a couple of victories in the next three weeks, we may get even more pleasant surprises on the recruiting trail.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things get tough before they get easier for Vandy

At the beginning of the season, we predicted Vandy would lose to Florida 31-14. No way we score two touchdowns. Call it 31-7.

Meanwhile, don't forget that Florida has one of the best secondaries in the nation. If you thought our passing game looked bad against Arkansas and Georgia...

It'll be a long night. Let's just don't lose a bunch of players before we enter the next three games, all of which we have at least a reasonable chance of being competitive in and maybe even winning.

Stay strong.

I'll be watching my brother's 10-0 Division III SUNY-Maritime team face Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. Yes, that's the deaf school, where they beat a drum so the players can feel the vibrations and know when the ball's being snapped.

Hey, it'll be more interesting than the game at Dudley Field.

Have a good Saturday, friends. Go Commodores.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Charlie Goro suspended for being a college student

We told you last week that Charlie Goro wasn't on the sideline in Arkansas.

So what happened?

"Sorriness" happened.

"Charlie Goro was suspended for sorriness," Coach Robbie Caldwell told the Tennessean.

And the definition of sorriness? "Not getting up and going to class," Caldwell said. "I apologize if that's a little strong, but there's no reason why anybody can't get up and go to class. None whatsoever."

No, actually, Coach, there are plenty of reasons a young man in his second year of college can't get up and go to class, and most of them are related to whatever he happened to be doing the night before and how late he happened to be doing it.

Such a thing may have even happened to me when I was a Vanderbilt student. But I didn't play football and so my parents didn't have to read about it in the newspaper. Which was all well and good.

So young Charlie will miss the Florida game and return for the Kentucky contest, but it sounds like he'll be in the doghouse until, oh, the middle of February.

As I said before, I certainly understand what happened. The kid's 19 years old and living on a great campus in a great city. But c'mon Charlie! Vandy was getting blown out on Saturday, Larry was demoralized, Funk had just thrown a pick-six and it was still early in the fourth quarter! Perfect time to insert the third team quarterback.

Except the third-string quarterback was apparently back in Nashville, hopefully catching up on his sleep. Hope you get another chance, Charlie.

Speaking of my days as a Vandy student, I just realized it's been 22 years since I was a junior watching the Commodores whip the Gators and Emmitt Smith, which was the last time we beat Florida.


One other thing: True freshman Logan Stewart has apparently supplanted senior Joey Bailey as our starting center. Bailey has returned from an ankle injury but is working at left guard, where we've been alternating between redshirt sophomores Jabo Burrow and Caleb Welchans. Here's hoping Stewart develops into an All-SEC center and starts 43 more games. (Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wake Forest, and the next three seasons, all with bowl games.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Warren Norman out for the season

So the Tennessean is reporting that Warren Norman has a dislocated wrist and will have surgery, and after that heals he'll have knee surgery. In other words, he's out for the season.

That hurts, of course. But let's get Warren healthy for next season. In the meantime, let's resist the urge to ride Zac Stacy like a rented mule. We don't won't to send him off to the surgeon too.

This means Wes Tate should get a lot more carries, which will only help us next season. And let's not forget Kennard Reeves, who's been running hard and has earned the right to tote the rock.

Warren's injury just reinforces what we've been saying for the past two years: It doesn't matter how good our running game is if we can't throw the ball. Maybe this will force us to figure out the passing game.

November always unkind to Vanderbilt football

For the past month or so, I've been saying we should keep Caldwell if he wins two games in November. That would probably mean beating Wake Forest, which looks at least as bad as we are, and then beating either Kentucky OR Tennessee.

Some people don't like this. Some people think we should win our last three games and probably beat Florida too.

People, do you know the last time Vanderbilt won two games in November?

It was 1995. That was 15 years ago.

Bobby Johnson won three November games in eight seasons as Vandy's head coach. Why should we expect Robbie Caldwell to do the same thing in one season?

In a great post from earlier today, Andrew04, wrote this:

"All you can expect from the coach is to put out the best and most ready team he has, and all you can expect from the players is that they give a maximum effort."

If we win two games in November — and yes, finish 4-8 — then Caldwell indeed put out the best and most ready team he had and all our players gave maximum effort.

And if they do that next season, then we'll have more than four wins.