SEC: Bobby Johnson

Commodores keep Bennett's memory alive

November, 29, 2013
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Four years later, it's still heartbreaking to think about what might have been with Rajaan Bennett.

One of Vanderbilt's highest-rated signees ever under former coach Bobby Johnson, Bennett was gunned down in February 2010 before he ever had a chance to attend a class at Vanderbilt or play a down of football for the Commodores. A four-star running back from Powder Springs, Ga., Bennett died in a murder-suicide while trying to protect his family from a former boyfriend of his mother's.

On Saturday, Vanderbilt will honor Bennett along with 20 other current players during its senior-day festivities. I'd invite everybody to read Jeff Lockridge's excellent piece in The Tennessean.

It's obvious the seniors in this class, the guys Bennett would have come in with -- such as Jordan Matthews, Kenny Ladler and Andre Hal -- have done their best to keep Bennett's memory alive.

Matthews told Lockridge, "To this day, I wear a rubber band that I never take off for Rajaan. It's Philippians 4:13: 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' It says, 'Don’t be scared,' and it has RJB on it for Rajaan Bennett. I always keep that kind of close to my heart. He was a part of that family with us."

Franklin's edge just what Vandy needed

November, 14, 2012
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James FranklinStacy Revere/Getty ImagesJames Franklin has helped change the culture around Vanderbilt's football program.
James Franklin isn’t much into history.

He respects it and understands its importance. But when it comes to his Vanderbilt football team, he’s not too keen on delving into what’s happened in the past.

The only thing he’s less interested in is what lies ahead, which is why getting Franklin to even acknowledge that the Commodores are on their way to a second straight bowl appearance for the first time in school history is a lost cause.

“For us, it’s always going to be about this week and getting better as a football team,” Franklin said. “I know some in the media don’t really buy that, but that’s our approach. We don’t even have any schedules up in our building. That’s because each game stands on its own. We’re going to do everything in our power to be 1-0 this week.”

This isn’t just any week, either. This is Tennessee week, and while Franklin has done his best to downplay it publicly, nobody in the Vanderbilt camp has forgotten about the video that surfaced last season of the Vols’ celebration in the locker room following their 27-21 victory over the Commodores in overtime.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley boasted to his team, “The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the [expletive] out of Vandy.”

At the time, a grim-faced Franklin said he would discuss those comments as much as anybody wanted to discuss them when the Tennessee game rolled around this season.

But he wasn’t biting earlier this week and maintained that he made that video off limits to his players.

“I’ve matured dramatically since that day. As you guys know, we have one of the best hospitals in the United States, so that wound has healed,” quipped Franklin, adding that the Commodores didn’t need any extra motivation to be ready for this game.

Perhaps so, but beating Tennessee would be another significant step in this program’s maturation. The Commodores last beat the Vols in Nashville in 1982 and have only beaten them twice in the last 30 meetings overall.

Plus, a win over Tennessee would give Vanderbilt (6-4, 4-4) five SEC wins. The last time the Commodores won five SEC games was 1935, which was the SEC’s third year of existence. Georgia Tech, Sewanee and Tulane were league members at the time.

“After every game, I go over the different firsts with the team and some of the things we’ve accomplished,” Franklin said. “But we plan on getting to a point with our program where we move past all of these firsts and there’s a culture of winning here at Vanderbilt that everyone expects.

“That’s why all the talk about making it to a bowl game doesn’t really register with me. Our goals are to win a national championship and an SEC championship. We’re not going to limit ourselves by settling for anything less.”

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Chris Marve’s first impression of his new coach wasn’t necessarily on the money.

Marve, Vanderbilt’s All-SEC linebacker, rode to the airport back in December with vice chancellor of university affairs and athletics David Williams to pick up James Franklin the day he was introduced as the Commodores’ head coach.

“He was so mild-mannered, almost laid back,” Marve recalled. “But when we got on the field this spring, it’s like he flipped a switch. He was on top of you every minute and every practice and didn’t let up.

“I was like, ‘This is the same guy?’ There’s an energy about him, an enthusiasm and the kind of charisma this program hasn’t had. The guys on this team responded, too, because nobody wants to go back to where we’ve been the last two years.”

Not that anybody at Vanderbilt needs to be reminded, but that would be 2-10 each of the past two seasons with only one SEC victory along the way.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireJames Franklin feels Vanderbilt's acacdemic reputation and being in the SEC are selling points for recruits.
That’s after the Commodores manufactured their first winning season in 26 years in 2008, which was capped by their first bowl victory in 53 years.

Bobby Johnson had proved that you could indeed win at Vanderbilt in this era, albeit for one season, but Johnson abruptly resigned just prior to the 2010 season.

Franklin, 39, is determined to prove you can win at Vanderbilt and continue winning.

It’s a daunting challenge, maybe the toughest job in all of college football when you consider Vanderbilt’s stringent academic requirements and the strength of the SEC, which has produced the last five national champions.

Franklin doesn’t flinch.

After all, Stanford has found a way to make it work in the Pac-10, and Northwestern has had its moments in the Big Ten.

“The reality is that you can take what they’ve done at Stanford and you can take what they’ve done at Northwestern, and you can take general philosophies and plans,” Franklin said. “But you better have a plan that’s specific to that institution you’re at, and Vanderbilt is a very unique institution. A lot of people say, ‘You’re in the SEC,’ and compare that to the Big Ten or compare it to the Pac-10,’ and people look at that as a negative. I look at it as a positive.

“We have a chance to attract student-athletes from all over the country who can say they have a chance to get a world-class education and play in the greatest football conference in America. So if you’re really as good as you think you are and you’re a guy who doesn’t want to settle in life and wants the best of everything, Vanderbilt’s the choice for you.

“You can spin it anyway you want. I’m an optimist, so I spin it from a positive perspective.”

One thing Franklin isn’t spinning is how much the Commodores need to upgrade their speed and depth at all positions if they’re going to compete in the SEC.

The lack of depth and experience in the offensive line is particularly frightening, but the Commodores do have 20 of their 22 starters from a year ago returning.

So it’s not like Franklin is inheriting a group of guys who’ve never played in this league.

They just haven’t won in this league, at least not on a consistent basis. But as senior defensive end Tim Fugger points out, there’s still a nucleus of players remaining -- quarterback Larry Smith, cornerback Casey Hayward, safety Sean Richardson, defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, Marve and Fugger -- who were around for that 2008 season when the Commodores broke through to finish 7-6.

The trick is regaining that confidence and keeping it this time.

“The year we went to the Music City Bowl, we got all the way to No. 13 in the rankings and our confidence was really high,” Fugger said. “But then we hit a skid and kind of felt like it was the same old Vanderbilt and here we go again.

“It was the same way these past two seasons, but Coach Franklin and his staff have brought in so much energy and we’ve been working so hard that I think that confidence is finally coming back. You could see it in the way we practiced this spring. Practices have been a lot more competitive, and it’s been a real fun experience watching the turnaround.”

Franklin, previously the offensive coordinator at Maryland, realizes that he’s hardly the first new head coach to show up at Vanderbilt proclaiming that he has a vision to take the Commodores places in football they’ve never been in this league.

And down deep, Franklin doesn’t mind that there are so many doubters.

“To me, this is no different than the rest of my career,” he said. “You don’t get from East Stroudsburg, a Division II school in Pennsylvania, to being a head coach in the SEC by always taking the safe choice. We have a chance to do something really, really special, a way to differentiate ourselves.”

As far as what has or hasn’t been done in the past at Vanderbilt, Franklin offers a confident shrug.

“We want to study our history and have respect for our history,” Franklin said. “I have tremendous respect for the coaches that came before me here, but I also have the mentality that that part of Vanderbilt football -- although we respect it and appreciate the former players that have been here -- that’s done. That’s over. All the negative memories we’ve had in the past are gone.

“It’s a new day, and because of this administration’s support, we’re able to do things that are going to allow us to get where we want to go.”

SEC predictions: Week 8

October, 21, 2010
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Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Go ahead and throw me in the SEC’s Eastern Division.

That’s about where I belong with my mediocre record for picking games to this point.

I might have to pull an Urban Meyer and do an extensive self evaluation to see where it’s going wrong. Then again, I’m not ready to say I’m struggling as much as the Florida offense.

At least, not yet.

Anyway (as the Head Ball Coach would say), I was 4-2 last week and am now 43-13 (.768) for the season. I missed Kentucky’s win over South Carolina and Mississippi State’s win over Florida.

I need to start taking more chances if I’m going to get back to that .800 plateau. The tricky part is knowing when to take those chances. Where's Les Miles when you need him?

To get some of that Miles karma working this week, I had my hat sitting directly on top of my head in Miles-esque fashion when I made my picks. I can assure you there is a sincere want to achieve victory this week, but I will hold in abeyance any braggadocios chatter about what my record will be once we cease competition.

Here goes:

Auburn 28, LSU 24: This one was perhaps the toughest of the season so far to call. LSU is terrific on defense. Auburn is terrific on offense. Both teams have made a ton of clutch plays to get to this point. In the end, I just don’t see LSU being able to score enough points to keep up with Auburn, which has been a juggernaut in the fourth quarter this season. They're already stocking up on toilet paper at Toomer's Corner.

Alabama 27, Tennessee 10: It’s not the Third Saturday in October this year, and it hasn’t been much of a rivalry since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. The Crimson Tide have won three in a row, although Terrence Cody’s blocked field goal saved them last season. Cody won’t be around to save them this season. But it won’t matter. The Vols simply don’t have the horses and will be fortunate to even keep it close.

Georgia 35, Kentucky 31: The last time Georgia ventured up to the Bluegrass, it was a track meet with the two teams combining for 80 points. This one has that same feel. The Bulldogs are a different offense with A.J. Green in the lineup, and the Wildcats have playmakers all over the field. Kentucky has been awfully resilient this season, but Georgia looks like it’s hitting its stride at just the right time and finally starting to put it all together.

Arkansas 38, Ole Miss 28: The Houston Nutt Bowl III doesn’t have quite the drama the first two did. It’s sort of become old hat now, although I’m not sure Nutt and Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino are exactly pen pals. Nutt has yet to lose to the Hogs since he left, but this will be the best Arkansas team he’s faced. In the end, the Rebels won’t be able to slow down the Hogs defensively.

South Carolina 28, Vanderbilt 17: The Commodores have been hard on the Head Ball Coach. In fact, Bobby Johnson sort of owned him these past couple of years. Johnson’s retired now and playing golf, and the onus is on Robbie Caldwell to figure out a way to get this game into the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks are still smarting from their loss at Kentucky last week, but they’ll find a way to snap their seven-game SEC road losing streak.

Mississippi State 31, UAB 14: There’s a lot of momentum right now in the Mississippi State program. The Bulldogs are playing well, playing with confidence and getting a little national love with their first appearance in the Top 25 polls in nine years. They get a chance to run their winning streak to five straight games Saturday. There might be a little bit of an emotional letdown coming off such a big win, but not enough to lose this game.

SEC lunch links

September, 28, 2010
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Making the rounds in the SEC on a Tuesday:

Winning one for Robbie Caldwell

September, 21, 2010
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Ever wondered what the emotion of a locker room is like after a big win?

Here's a clip from the Vanderbilt locker room that lets you inside following the Commodores' 28-14 victory over Ole Miss last Saturday to snap their 10-game SEC losing streak. It's a reminder that every game in this conference means something to somebody, and to see how this team has rallied around first-year coach Robbie Caldwell is really neat.

He got his first game ball in 34 years of coaching.

Not only that. But guess who was one of the first people to greet the team when the Commodores arrived back at the McGugin Center on Saturday night?

Former coach Bobby Johnson was there along with his wife, Catherine.

Lunchtime links: Hanging with Larry Munson

August, 11, 2010
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A check of what's making headlines in the SEC:

Opening camp: Vanderbilt

August, 6, 2010
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Schedule: Practice starts Friday at 7 p.m. ET. The first day in full pads is Tuesday (Aug. 10).

What’s new: Bobby Johnson decided he’d had enough of football a few weeks before the start of preseason practice, and veteran offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell was chosen to succeed him. Caldwell was initially named the interim coach, but Vanderbilt officials have since removed the interim tag. Caldwell brought in former Tulsa offensive coordinator Herb Hand to take Caldwell’s place as offensive line coach. Before he retired, Johnson had already announced that quarterbacks coach Jimmy Kiser would call all of the offensive plays this season after sharing that role with Ted Cain, who remains on the staff as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. Mike Pelton is in his first season as defensive ends coach.

Sidelined: Senior offensive guard Chris Aaron will not return because of an inner ear problem.

Key battle: The Commodores are set at two of their linebacker positions with Chris Marve in the middle and John Stokes at one outside spot. If Triston Strong is healthy, he could be the starter at the weak side spot, but will have to fend off challenges from Dexter Daniels, DeAndre Jones and Archibald Barnes.

New on the scene: Redshirt freshman Wesley Tate joins an already talented running back stable that includes Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. Redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson is in line to be one of the starters at offensive tackle, and the same goes for redshirt freshman Jay Fullam at free safety. Redshirt freshman defensive end Walker May had a strong spring and will provide pass-rushing help. The Commodores are looking for all the help they can get at receiver, which is where redshirt freshman Brady Brown and true freshmen Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews come in.

Breaking out: Junior tight end Brandon Barden has All-SEC potential. He led the nation two years ago in catches by a freshman tight end. If he avoids the key drops, he could develop into the Commodores’ top receiving threat this season.

Don’t forget about: Jamie Graham has played a little bit of everywhere during his career. He even played on the Commodores’ basketball team at one point, but looks like he’s settled in on the defensive side of the ball at cornerback where he’s the front-runner to be a starter opposite Casey Hayward.

All eyes on: Junior quarterback Larry Smith. The Commodores have to get better play out of the quarterback position after completing just 48.3 percent of their passes last season. It goes much deeper than just throwing the ball, too. Vanderbilt needs a leader at quarterback, whether it’s Smith, junior college newcomer Jordan Rodgers or senior Jared Funk.

Quoting: “You have to earn everything you get in this league. We saw that last year. It can get away from you in a hurry. The only way to get it pointed back in the right direction is to go to work every day, and that’s what we’ve done.” -- Vanderbilt linebacker Chris Marve

Vanderbilt's Caldwell gets his shot

July, 21, 2010
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Robbie Caldwell is one of the most unassuming guys you’re ever going to meet in coaching.

So when he says he’s not really looking at the big picture, he means it.

The big picture for him is whatever’s next on his to-do list.

Robbie Caldwell
Shelby Daniel/Icon SMIThanks to Bobby Johnson's recent retirement, Robbie Caldwell is getting his shot as a head coach.
“I went from lining the field to being a head coach in the SEC. I’m spinning like a top,” joked Caldwell, who found out a week ago that he’d be the one leading Vanderbilt’s football team this season following Bobby Johnson’s abrupt retirement.

His down-home humor is legendary to those who know him best. Having grown up in Pageland, S.C., Caldwell can hold court with the best of them.

He’s also been one of the more respected offensive line coaches in the business and one of the more underrated recruiters in the SEC.

Now, he gets his shot as a head coach, even though he didn't see it coming as recently as two weeks ago, and has never allowed himself to be consumed by the thought of one day running a program of his own.

And who cares that he has an interim label attached?

“I’ve always been appreciative of every job I’ve had, whether it was working on the turkey farm, pouring concrete or driving a tractor,” Caldwell said. “I thought that was the greatest job in the world when I was driving that tractor.

“It’s the same way here. We’re going to take it one day at a time, but you honestly can’t help but think about things you would love to accomplish and get done here. We’re going to be realists, but you’ve got to be a little bit of a dreamer, too.”

Caldwell understands there are no guarantees for him or his staff past this season, but he also points out that the current Vanderbilt chancellor, Nicholas Zeppos, also once wore the interim tag.

“Vanderbilt has done right by us in every way, and that’s why I’ve stayed here as long as I have … because they’re people of integrity,” said Caldwell, who was wooed unsuccessfully by Lou Holtz and more recently Steve Spurrier to return home to South Carolina and coach on the Gamecocks’ staff.

(Read full post)

Key stretch: Vanderbilt

July, 21, 2010
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VANDERBILT

Key stretch: Northwestern (Sept. 4), LSU (Sept. 11), at Ole Miss (Sept. 18), at Connecticut (Oct. 2).

Analysis: The new-look Commodores under the tutelage of interim coach Robbie Caldwell, who takes over for the retired Bobby Johnson, will be tested right away. Vanderbilt’s first four opponents played in bowl games a year ago, beginning with Northwestern. The Commodores need something good to happen early in the season to build a little momentum and help restore some confidence. The onus is going to be on the offense to score some points. There was far too much pressure on the defense a year ago to keep teams under 20 points if the Commodores were going to have any chance to win. The one big difference in this schedule is that Vanderbilt does get a bye week prior to its trip to Connecticut. The Commodores played 12 straight weeks a year ago without a bye.

Prediction: Northwestern lost several key players from last season’s Outback Bowl team, and getting the Wildcats at home gives the Commodores a chance to kick off the season the right way. Again, it gets back to having a pulse on offense. Johnson said during his retirement press conference that the Commodores already had a good plan in place for Northwestern. Whatever happens in the opener, winning at LSU that next week is probably too much to ask. And then comes a trip the next week to Ole Miss before the bye. The Commodores need to avoid going into that Connecticut game 0-3, because an 0-4 start would almost certainly ensure another long season in Nashville. Here's betting they manage a win somewhere in that opening four-game stretch.

Lunchtime links: 'Nobody looking other way'

July, 19, 2010
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With the start of SEC media days bearing down on us, here's some of what's happening around the league:

SEC's lunchtime links

July, 16, 2010
7/16/10
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Filling in for C-low today ...

  • There's at least one person who doesn't think Mark Richt deserves to be on the hot seat this season, and it's Vince Dooley.
  • LSU reserve fullback Dominique Allen has been suspended indefinitely for violating team rules.
  • Vanderbilt's players deserved better than what they got from Bobby Johnson, writes Steve Irvine.
  • Nick Saban was saddened by Johnson's retirement and said he did a "fantastic job" there, even if "the overall record doesn't indicate it." Was that a compliment?
  • Saban was at his best on Thursday at a coaching clinic where he had a crowd of high school coaches "mesmerized."
  • No, no, not that James Wilder. The fake one!
  • There was a lot of optimism surrounding Mississippi State on Thursday, and Dan Mullen's high expectations are a big reason why.
  • Ole Miss running back Rodney Scott was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace.
  • Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett is amused by all the fuss over his foot.

SEC's lunchtime links

July, 15, 2010
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Slow news week in the SEC (riiiiight).

Johnson leaves blueprint for Vanderbilt

July, 14, 2010
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As private a person as Bobby Johnson is, he’s even more loyal.

So when you step back and survey his abrupt retirement Wednesday as Vanderbilt’s head football coach, the timing shouldn’t be all that shocking.

Granted, the news caught just about everybody off guard because it was a tightly kept secret that Johnson was even pondering retirement.

But by doing it now, he ensures that his staff stays intact for this season, and as it turns out, that veteran offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell gets a shot to lead the program as interim head coach.

[+] EnlargeBobby Johnson
AP Photo/John RaouxBobby Johnson's decision to resign as Vanderbilt's coach was made easier by the fact that offensive coordinator Robbie Caldwell was named his replacement.
Besides, as Johnson points out, there’s never an ideal time for a head coach to step down.

“I guess a lot of people think I’m crazy for walking away from this job right now,” Johnson told ESPN.com. “But it was the right thing for me and (wife) Catherine, the right thing for the program, the right thing for everybody.

“I know people have a lot of questions about why now and why I didn’t just retire after the season. Football commands every second of your life in the season, and if you’re thinking about retiring at the end of the season, I don’t see any way you’re going to have the right mindset to give it everything you’ve got. I don’t think I could have looked the players in the eye.

“So just trying to make it through one more season so I could retire didn’t make sense to me.”

Johnson acknowledged that the decision by Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams to make Caldwell the interim head coach was pivotal in his decision to step away now. Johnson is extremely close to his coaches, and several of them go back more than 30 years when they were all at Furman together under Dick Sheridan.

“It sure made my decision a whole lot easier,” Johnson said. “These guys (his staff) deserve it and have worked tirelessly. We have come a long way, and that’s because of some really, really hard work on their part. I’m glad they’re going to have an opportunity to see this thing through, and I think they’ll make it better.”

Johnson, who turned 59 earlier this year, conceded that last season wore on him. The Commodores were beset with injuries and suffered through their first winless season in the SEC since his debut season at Vanderbilt in 2002.

But Johnson said he didn’t exit the 2009 season with retirement necessarily on his mind. Rather, it sort of evolved as he and his wife discussed their future.

It was a little more than a month ago that Johnson said he seriously started thinking about walking away from football, and the urge to go in a different direction with his life only grew stronger after he and his wife went on vacation.

Johnson said he made his “final, final decision” to retire a couple of days ago after several conversations with Williams, who tried to talk Johnson out of retiring and even offered to sweeten Johnson’s deal if he stayed.

But this was a life decision that went much deeper than money for Johnson, who also had the option of announcing his retirement now and coaching this final season.

“That was discussed, but everybody came to the same conclusion, that I wouldn’t be too good doing it that way,” Johnson said. “You talk about the ultimate lame-duck situation. That would have been it.”

Johnson had wanted to tell his players and coaches before the press conference Wednesday, but the story began to leak out that morning.

He also understands how some fans might think his retiring three weeks before the start of preseason practice puts the program in a tough position, but he doesn’t see it as a detriment.

“If I had left right after last season, we probably would have lost more recruits,” Johnson said. “Right now, our guys are so far ahead of the game and have a preliminary game plan for Northwestern and are ready to go. The players will have to make a little bit of an adjustment to Robbie as head coach, but Robbie and I are pretty similar in our philosophies.”

As for Johnson’s legacy at Vanderbilt, raising the level of expectations at a place that’s been a perennial doormat in the SEC will be right up there. But so will providing the Commodores a blueprint on how to truly be competitive in this league.

Yes, his overall record at Vanderbilt might have been 29-66, but go back and look at all the games the Commodores were in over the last few seasons in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to mention beating Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee within the last five seasons, and in most cases, breaking long losing streaks to those teams along the way.

The 2008 season will go down as one of the best in Vanderbilt history. The Commodores won their first bowl game in 53 years, beating Boston College in the Music City Bowl. They beat three nationally ranked teams that season.

“From where we were in 2002 to now is night and day,” Johnson said. “I think we’ve proven it can be done at Vanderbilt. The only thing we’re lacking is consistency.”

Johnson still isn’t sure what he’s going to do with all of his free time. His wife loves to travel, so there’s your first hint.

“She’s sacrificed a lot over the last 34 years, so it’s time for me to pay her back a little bit,” Johnson said. “We have an opportunity to do some things, and we’re going to take it.”

He’ll still keep up with the Commodores and won’t completely give up football, although he vows not to sit around and watch eight or nine football games every weekend.

“It’s going to be strange, no doubt about it,” Johnson said. “I know I’ll miss it.”

Almost as much as Vanderbilt (and the entire SEC) will miss Johnson.

He ran his program with a touch of class, honesty and dignity that ought to be a model for everybody in college athletics.

Johnson stepping down at Vanderbilt

July, 14, 2010
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One of the classiest guys you're ever going to meet in college sports is stepping down.

Vanderbilt has called a 2 p.m. ET press conference Wednesday to announce that Bobby Johnson is stepping down as head football coach and to discuss where the Commodores go from here. It sounds like Johnson's resignation will be immediate and that he won't coach this season.

Here's the ESPN.com news story on the sudden turn of events.

At this point, there's nothing solid on why Johnson is resigning. I talked with him last month, and he spoke at length about this season and his team and was genuinely excited about some of the younger players in the program.

The two names that I hear as the strongest possibilities to replace Johnson on an interim basis are assistant head coach for the defense Bruce Fowler and assistant head coach/offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.

Obviously, Johnson's career record at Vanderbilt wasn't pretty (29-66), but he'd upgraded the program in a number of different ways: from leading the charge to upgrade the facilities, to upgrading the talent level in the program, to closing the gap on the field with the rest of the league. Under his watch, the Commodores were no longer thought of as a "sure thing" by the rest of the conference.

Winning a bowl game in 2008 was huge, but so was beating Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and Georgia. The Commodores gained everybody's respect in the league in the way they played and the way they competed under Johnson. Over and above the big wins, there were countless other near-misses where Vanderbilt played above its talent level.

The past season was disappointing for everybody surrounding the program. Coming off such a high the year before, the Commodores suffered through a winless season in the SEC, the first time that had happened since Johnson's first year in Nashville.

A weak offense was the problem, and really, the Commodores weren't very good on offense the year before when they won the bowl game. They just covered up their deficiencies by playing solid defense and being opportunistic. They created a ton of turnovers that year.

Even though his final season at Vanderbilt was a disappointing one, Johnson can walk away knowing that he left the program in a lot better shape than he found it.

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