Robbie Caldwell is gone. So too, is John Stokes. Both will be missed. But while Stokes's replacement is relatively clear (I'm betting on DeAndre Jones), Caldwell's is anything but. Equally muddled are the fates of the rest of the coaching staff, and Vice Chancellor David Williams has made it pretty clear that he won't be vouching for their credibility to any new hires. Vanderbilt football now stands at a crossroads, days removed from a wasted season, their reputation as low as it has been in a decade.
So who's next?
The Commodore faithful - few but proud - have made it clear that another no-name, low-level hire won't cut it. Even our modest gamethreads have been buzzing with excitement - and anger - over who will be brought in to turn this team around:
Now hear this: It’s 2010 and our athletic teams are respectable-to-competitive-to-fearsome pretty much across the board, with one exception. It’s time for the trustees and the big-money donors to get out the checkbook and put together the money to go out and get a KNOWN GOOD BCS-CONFERENCE HEAD COACH.
And when the first name to come up in the rumor mill was Navy's Offensive Coordinator Ivin Jasper, the reaction was pessimistic, at best:
Jasper's standing in the coaching search was shot down by Clay Travis not long afterward, but the level of panicked uncertainty amongst the fans still exists. Simply put, this is not a team that goes out and makes impact hires. This is a team that plucks Bobby Johnsons from FCS schools on their best days, and washouts like Woody Widenhofer at their worst. And while we can dream of pickups like Mike Leach, Tommy Tuberville, Gus Malzahn, or - sigh - Philip Fulmer, every fan knows that they're betting on a long shot when it comes to making any sort of high profile coaching hire. The money, the administration, the fanbase, the prestige; all of these factors create a pretty stacked "Cons" list when considering the next great Commodore coach.
Further complicating things is Randy Shannon's firing at Miami. Now Vanderbilt doesn't even have the most attractive open position in its region; and while the 'Dores likely can't compete for candidates with the Hurricanes, they now have to worry about opportunistic high-profile hires leveraging an offer in Nashville to boost their stock with the administration in Coral Gables. Vandy's coaching search - which barely registered a blip in the national consciousness on Saturday - has already been swept under the rug by Monday. That's not much of a selling point for the SEC's perpetual basement dwellers.
And in reality, that's what the Vanderbilt administration is offering - the worst football tradition in any BCS Conference. For too long coaching in Nashville has been a low-pressure, no-win situation - a job for suckers and washouts, presenting lottery-level odds for success. Only Bobby Johnson left Nashville in recent times with a better reputation than when he started, and that came on the heels of a 2-10 season. The culture of the program doesn't just encourage mediocrity - it breeds it.
The excuses no longer hold water. Not when Stanford and Northwestern can sustain success. Hell, even UConn, with just a decade of FBS experience, is in line for a BCS appearance. It's time to turn the reins over to an established coach - maybe even someone whose resume has been tainted recently - and give them the chance to create their own legacy. Someone who can use Vanderbilt's record in the classroom as a selling point rather than an detraction. But make sure they know that 4-8 seasons won't be considered acceptable anymore. And that beating Tennessee once every other decade is the recipe for a kick in the ass and a shove out the door.
The head coaching position isn't the only thing that needs a change in Nashville. The entire culture does. Unless the apathy and Lilliputian standards of the fans and administration change, it won't matter who mans the sidelines for the Commodores. We've leaned on our academic standards and the strength of the SEC for too long, and like any crutch, we've become dependent on it. As fans, we have to reject "good enough" until that standard becomes a consistent presence in a bowl game. As a university, Vanderbilt needs to realize that cultivating a winning product means something to their students and alumni. Whoever steps into that coaching position is going to need a hurricane of change behind him, but it's possible. And that's what it will take to turn this team around.
I'm going to close with another quote, since I don't think I could put it any better than VandyImport did:
No rush hires, no longshots, no rolling the dice – take the time and spend the money and GET THE RIGHT GUY. I’m sick to death of being a laughingstock, of being the odd team out when TEN OTHER TEAMS in the conference are going to bowls, of beating our "rival" once every quarter-century, of sitting around on Saturdays wondering "how are we going to screw it up this week," of being the cautionary tale for my wife and her other Cal alums of "it could be worse."
I don’t want excuses. I want WINNERS. And it has to start at the top. Now.
We may be Vanderbilt - but football still means something to us. It won't be easy. It won't be impossible either.