It's not just that Vanderbilt football is bad. Being outmatched is as common at Dudley Field as the "S-A-T" cheers.
The problem is more that, in being so bad, Vandy is also boring. And not that Bobby-Johnson-dry-wit-no-exclamation-marks-necessary kind of boring. Rather, in that oh-look-another-dive-play kind of boring. The closest thing to on-field excitement this season was a fake field goal against Kentucky. Of course, the errant pass was intended for the team's punter, not normally a big-play target. At least the coaches went deep into the playbook.
Vandy fans will tolerate a lot. They have to. But if a team is going to be woeful, it can at least be exciting in defeat. Coach Robbie Caldwell, Johnson's replacement, injected (ahem) a little fun with his stories of turkey inseminations, his aw-shucks interviews and his homespun wisdom. He was as fun to listen to as the team was boring to watch. But that wasn't enough to save his job, nice and funny as Caldwell seems to be. He resigned last Saturday after a dismal 2-10 season.
Ivin Jasper, Navy's offensive coordinator, has emerged as an early replacement candidate. He's not a Philip Marlowe villain, despite his name. Jasper runs the Middies' triple option, which may be a fine choice to keep Vandy competitive in some games. But an assistant coach from a service academy isn't exactly going to have folks lining up for season tickets.
When Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor David Williams and his team go searching for a new head coach, they can either go big or go boring, because they're probably going to be 4-8 most of the time anyway.
Here are five more names — in decreasing order of snooziness — to consider:
Mickey Matthews (currently head coach, James Madison University): On the face of it, Matthews is Bobby Johnson II: Electric Snoozaloo. Johnson came to Vandy from I-AA (now Football Championship Subdivision, for reasons beyond coherence) Furman. Both won national championships at that level. Matthews' team earned some notoriety this year for beating Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, a turn of events that would have led to a parade of goalposts down Broadway in Nashville. Matthews has ties to the SEC — he coached defensive backs at Georgia, so he has a defensive background. If Vandy goes this route, they should encourage Matthews to bring in a stellar point-scoring mind. Former MTSU and Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin seems willing to bring his 2,500-page playbook anywhere that opens up the checkbook. Vandy may try this safest of paths only because it worked — in its way — with Johnson.
Craig Johnson (running backs coach, Tennessee Titans): Before switching to coach CJ this season (and who couldn't, right?), Johnson served as the quarterbacks coach for the two-tone blue. In so doing, he mentored Vince Young to a Rookie of the Year award. Johnson also coached the late Steve McNair during No. 9's MVP campaign. The Titans may be headed for another season of 8-8 mediocrity (although if they make the playoffs with Rusty Smith under center, Johnson may want to aim higher — like the Dallas Cowboys) And taking his first head-coaching job might be preferable to being ushered out in a possible coaching shake-up. Johnson would make a splash in another way: He'd be the first black head coach at Vandy and only the third in SEC history. That would be a dramatic statement for the school that broke the conference's color line.
Phil Fulmer (TV analyst, Lane Kiffin's least likely lunch companion): Now that's how you make a statement: Sign your in-state rival's estranged former coach. Fulmer is known as a second-to-none recruiter, a key skill when trying to attract talent to an always-down program. Vanderbilt's exacting academic standards limit the pond far more than what Fulmer fished in at UT, and his offense wasn't exactly point-a-minute in his final days on Rocky Top. But it sure would be fun to stick a thumb in Knoxville's eye, wouldn't it?
Gus Malzahn (offensive coordinator, Auburn; possible fourth-level magic-user): The Man of a Thousand Formations, Malzahn is exactly what Vanderbilt should be looking for: an unparalleled offensive mind with a knack for drawing up the quirkiest of plays. For a team that's never going to be as deep as its SEC brethren, misdirection should rule the day — and that's Malzahn's wheelhouse. Big drawback: There will be lots of high-profile coaching vacancies across the country this off-season, and Malzahn is a hot commodity. If they want him in a black visor, Vanderbilt will have to dig deep into the endowment. (ESPN.com reported Monday that Malzahn is atop Vandy's list, and that the Commodores have already made inquiries.)
Mike Leach (TV analyst; Renaissance man; buccaneer hobbyist): Run out of Lubbock and replaced by Tommy Tuberville (a coach so boring it's shocking Vandy hasn't made a play for him), Leach — the former Texas Tech chief — is the mad genius of the gridiron. Always searching for a way to get more pass-catchers on the field, Leach would have his quarterback run a skinny post if his left tackle had an arm. The man they call "The Pirate" (that's like a naughty commodore, right?) has all the quotability of Caldwell and the bravado of a fighter pilot down to his last missile. It's the best of both worlds: The on-field product would be as fun to watch as the press conferences would be to listen to. But would Leach's wackiness wear thin among the hoity-toity on West End? And if so, isn't that reason enough to bring him in?
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