Commitment unwavering for Johnson and staff

April, 2, 2009
4/02/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bobby Johnson's commitment to making Vanderbilt an upper-tier program in the SEC was never more apparent than last offseason when he said no thanks to Duke's lucrative overtures and stayed in Nashville.

His football team responded with a historic season.

The Commodores (7-6) put together their first winning season in 26 years and won their first bowl game in 53 years. That's after starting out 5-0 and garnering all sorts of national attention.

If ever the iron was going to be hot enough to strike at Vanderbilt, it was last season.

And sure enough, several of Johnson's assistants -- some of whom go all the way back with him to their Furman days -- became hot commodities.

That's what happens when you start winning at Vanderbilt.

South Carolina came after offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell. Oklahoma State showed interest in defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler, and new Bowling Green coach Dave Clawson tried to hire secondary coach Jamie Bryant as his defensive coordinator.

All three are still at Vanderbilt, a telltale sign that this is a staff that not only believes in Johnson, but believes there's much more out there for this program.

Johnson said there's no way to put a value on the staff continuity that the Commodores have enjoyed.

"It's extremely important, especially to me," Johnson said. "They're friends, too. I don't want to see them leave. They're good coaches and have invested a lot into this program. I think that's probably been the biggest thing that's held us all together. We were here when we were struggling just to win one or two. It's gotten a little better and a little better and a little better.

"When they've got that kind of investment into the program, it's harder to leave. Hopefully, we can reward them with some more good years."

For all the academic restraints that Vanderbilt faces in recruiting players and keeping them eligible, Johnson said the pluses far outweigh the minuses when it comes to the kind of kids the Commodores have been able to attract.

And that might be the most refreshing part of coaching at Vanderbilt.

"We've got great kids to work with," Johnson said. "They're motivated young men. They're motivated to be good in school. They're motivated to be good in football. You don't have to sit there and drag 'em every place they need to be and what they need to be doing and how they need to do it.

"Believe me, that's worth a lot of dollars."

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