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Vandy Fans Want A Proven Head Coach… Unfortunately, Head Coaches Want Proven Football Programs

Now that Robbie Caldwell has, ahem, resigned, the search for a new Vanderbilt football coach begins.  And for the umpteenth straight search, Vandy fans should expect to be underwhelmed when the new head coach is named.

Commodore fans have made it clear on messageboards and call-in shows that they want a proven head coach this time around.  But head coaches like to go somewhere where they can win.  They like a proven winner just as much as fans do… and Vanderbilt is not a proven winner.

Let’s look at some of the “hot” names being floated in connection to the VU job:

*’s Chris Low reported Saturday that Vandy is already kicking the tires on Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn.  If Malzahn is offered the job and accepts it, we’ll know this: he’s simply looking to collect a pay check for five or six years and then retire.  With the exception of Gerry DiNardo, no one gets out of Vandy alive… at least not as a head football coach.  Malzahn can bide his time at Auburn and wait for a much better opportunity than what Vandy could provide.

* Mike Leach is a popular figure for football fans across the country.  But fans don’t hire football coaches.  Presidents, chancellors and administrators do.  And while fans like pass-happy systems and pirate flags, university heads do not like lawsuits, charges of misconduct, quirky personalities or charges of insubordination.  If Vanderbilt hires Leach, you’ll know that the school has decided to completely re-work its football program.  As for Leach, it’s hard to imagine him being so eager to coach that he would take on Vandy’s academic standards.  Texas Tech is not Vanderbilt.

* Many people would like to see former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer get back in the game at Vandy.  But if UT’s ex wouldn’t chase the Minnesota job, why would he pursue the Vanderbilt gig?  Fulmer didn’t build a deep, rich legacy — even with his final four years thrown in — to spend his golden years getting kicked in the head by Tennessee.  This is a non-starter.

Vanderbilt’s academic standards are a huge drawback, obviously.  In ballpark terms, the Commodores compare with Stanford, Northwestern and Duke in terms of admission requirements.

If a school is to overcome those kinds academic issues, it needs to spend money.  First, on a top-end head coach and, second, on its national recruiting budget.

According to the Department of Education’s 2009-2010 numbers, Vanderbilt has the smallest football budget out of the aforementioned brainy quartet:

2009-10 Football Expenses
2009-10 Football Revenue
2010 Record

Hmmm.  I don’t know.  See a pattern there?

Look at it this way, if Vanderbilt decided to equal Stanford’s football spending, it could add $3 million in salary to its head coaching line.  Obviously, VU won’t be upping its spending and pouring it all into a head coach, but you get the point.

Vanderbilt is not a proven winner.  Vanderbilt faces disadvantages in recruiting.  Vanderbilt doesn’t spend as much as other academically stringent BCS schools.

Knowing that, expect the next Commodore coach to be an up-and-comer from a lower division (like Bobby Johnson, who came from Furman), an unproven assistant coach, or a retread (like Rod Dowhower or Woody Widenhofer).’s suggestion: Vandy should go for someone who can run a system that SEC teams do not see often.  That means an option coach or a spread-passing guru.  Some names that might pop up on the Commodores’ radar:

Ken Niumatalolo — Head coach at Navy.  But is Vandy a better job than Navy?

Ivin Jasper – Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Navy.  Jasper also served under previous Navy coach Paul Johnson.  His name has already been connected to the VU job.

Brian Bohannon — Quarterbacks and B-backs coach at Georgia Tech.  Speaking of Johnson, Bohannon has spent 14 years with him.  He’s also a Georgia grad (so he knows the SEC) and he has a wife who’s gotten some attention this year, too.  (For those who miss Layla Kiffin.)

Todd Spencer — Co-offensive line coach at Georgia Tech.  He split the O-line duties with Niumatalolo at Navy before leaving Annapolis to join Johnson in Atlanta.  He has been in coaching since 1984.

Mike Sewak – Co-offensive line coach at Georgia Tech.  Sewak has been in coaching since 1982 and he is another long-time Johnson aide.  In fact, he replaced Johnson at Georgia Southern, moving up from offensive coordinator to head coach when Johnson went to Navy.  Sewak went 35-14 (.714 winning percentage) in four seasons at GSU before rejoining Johnson at Tech.

Al Preston — Receivers coach at Georgia Tech.  In coaching since 1980, Preston has coached all over the country.  He has recruited to Stanford, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.  Vanderbilt’s standards might not frighten him.

June Jones — I’m throwing a Hail Mary on this one.  Jones has thrived in the WAC (at Hawaii) and now in Conference-USA (at SMU) with his pass-first system.  But Jones’ salary at SMU (believed to be more than $2 million per season) might be too rich for Vandy.  If nothing else, Jones should put some extra rumps in seats on Nashville’s West End.  Also, in just three years, Jones has taken SMU from a 1-11 record to the C-USA Championship Game on Saturday.

Vandy fans, if those names don’t float your proverbial boat, then it might be time to just jump ship on the Commodores.  Because it’s unlikely they’ll land anyone with more street cred than the folks listed above.




Sorry you think I'm selling the Vanderbilt job short. Bobby Johnson did have a nice run. But he burned out at age 59 and walked away from the profession. I think that tells you something about the toll of losing on a competitive person. I stand by what I wrote... if Vanderbilt wants to really land a good coach, it will have to spend more. If VU spends $2 million for a coach, it will have doubled its pay-out... which is spending more. I'm guessing if VU lands a "name" coach we'll also learn that the school has promised to upgrade its facilities. As for Vandy being a top 50 spender nationally, they are near the very bottom of the SEC. At their current budget, they could probably compete in the WAC, MWC or even Big East. Not in the SEC.
Thanks for reading,


And where does that place VU among all FBS schools' football budgets? I'm guessing top 50. In my opinion you are selling the Vanderbilt job way short. Bobby Johnson got 8 years (really 9 for his staff) and got paid $1.1M in 2009. Figure the next coach gets $1.5 to $2M for at least 4 or 5 years with realistic expectations for success. That's not a bad gig.



Great thought. Most teams don't like to hire someone who has just been fired somewhere else, but Vandy is a unique job. It helps that Shannon still got the Hurricanes to a bowl game this year.

Thanks for reading,


What about Randy Shannon? had great grad rates at Miami. Is used to having to sell the worst facilities in a conference. Has deep recruiting ties in Florida. Runs a clean program. Vandy will be happy with 5-6 wins a year he will produce. Oh, and he is available.


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