Thursday, July 15, 2010

So long, Bobby Johnson

Exactly 52 days before Vanderbilt's season opener against fellow competitive nerd Northwestern, coach Bobby Johnson announced his retirement Thursday:

"I've decided to retire, not resign," Johnson said. "It's a tough decision with which my wife, Catherine, and I struggled. This is a personal decision."

"Football is not life, but it's a way of life and it consumes your life," Johnson said. "You only have so many years to live, and you want to see a different way."

The timing makes the whole thing seem a little odd, but Johnson, who turned 59 earlier this year, emphasized during his press conference that his retirement didn't have anything to do with health. It sounded like he just wasn't motivated anymore (and I know from experience that having a not-very-motivated coach just hanging around at the end usually leads to bad things).

A lot of people will look at a 29-66 career record at Vandy and say, "Meh, mediocre coach for crappy program." But that's selling him way short. Consider that in the 20 years prior to Johnson taking over, Vanderbilt had averaged three wins per season, hadn't finished over .500 or played in a bowl even once and had a season-high of five wins (on four occasions).

In comparison, Johnson's final five years make him look like Bear Bryant:

2002 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)
2003 Vanderbilt 2–10 (1–7, T–5th East)
2004 Vanderbilt 2–9 (1–7, T–5th East)
2005 Vanderbilt 5–6 (3–5, 5th East)
2006 Vanderbilt 4–8 (1–7, 6th East)
2007 Vanderbilt 5–7 (2–6, 6th East)
2008 Vanderbilt 7–6 (4–4, T–3rd East) W Music City
2009 Vanderbilt 2–10 (0–8, 6th East)

It took him a few years to get going, but once Johnson had flushed the system and brought in his own players (his first senior class would've been in 2005), Vandy went on its best four-year run since 1956-59 (!!!). We're talking about the Eisenhower administration, people. This is a school with four bowl games in its history -- no other SEC program has played in fewer than 14 -- and a grand total of one postseason ranking, which came in the grand ol' days of 1948. All you need to know is that he was SEC Coach of the Year in 2008 for finishing 7-6 and winning the Music City Bowl.

This one-sentence snippet from ESPN nicely summarizes Johnson's impact:

Johnson ended losing skids to eight SEC teams during his tenure, including a 22-game string to Tennessee in 2005.
He made Vandy consistently competitive against its SEC peers for the first time since at least the 1980s and arguably the 1950s, and that's about all that can be expected. His 29-66 record and 2-10 final season shouldn't be what people remember.

Offensive line coach and assistant head coach Robbie Caldwell now takes over on an interim basis. He's never been a head coach or even a coordinator at any level, which is terrifying, but there aren't many other options when (a) you're Vanderbilt and (b) it's just seven weeks before the start of the season.

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