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Vanderbilt Football Mail Bag #4

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You ask, we answer.

LSU v Vanderbilt
Look out, Radioactive Man! It’s a new mail bag!
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Question from UncleMorti:

If we get beat by NIU this week, do we fire the whole coaching staff immediately or wait until the end of the season?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: Well, this mail bag wasted no time cutting to the quick. Personally, a loss to a team like NIU would be the final coffin nail in the season, so I would have no qualms with sending the moving trucks to Coach Mason’s house. However, it would be nigh on impossible to find an entire coaching staff off the unemployment line, and completely unfair to the both the new coaches and the kids to throw them into that particular fire. Hell, even the ol’ turkey inseminator himself, Robbie Caldwell, is gainfully employed as Clemson’s o-line coach. And no, before you even ask, I have no interest in asking any Florida toll booth operators to come back.

However, there are benefits to firing a coach early. You get a leg up on the rest of the competition in the coaching search, can make your hire before bowl season, and hence give your new staff more time to recruit the type of players they want to fit their system. In short: if we lose to NIU, we fire the head coach, but keep the staff to finish out the year. These questions are coming in hot!

Tom Stephenson: Are you asking what I would do or what I think Malcolm Turner would do? Either way, I’d at least wait until the end of the season, just because I don’t think this is a situation where a midseason firing would accomplish anything other than pissing off the players on the team and ensuring a 2-10 finish. I mean, if we let Bryce Drew finish off 0-18, then we owe it to Derek Mason to let him finish what he started, right?

That said, Chris Lee at VandySports has said on multiple occasions that Mason is going to be back in 2020. I don’t know if that changes if we go 2-10, but it’s in the back of my mind any time the subject comes up.

Shawn: So many factors. Mason would deserve to be fired because a loss to NIU would be the result of poor discipline and coaching. I am not in favor it because it is dramatic step towards coaches and a poor signal to future coaches. But, if you have someone lined up, then it could be a distinct advantage in recruiting.

With the newer Early Signing Day, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest the traditional firing of coaches after the season weakens the new coaches’ recruiting classes. So either keep your dead man walking until after early signing day or can him early.

DotP: If I am in charge, the list of replacements is coming together Sunday afternoon. Mason would not officially be fired until later in the season but would probably told before ETSU that he is on the way out. Sure, you risk something bonkers like recovering to take advantage of some bad teams in the East, but that risk is very low. I also want to add that an NIU loss would get the same response from me if we were 1-2 with the win coming over Purdue or almost any way we got to 0-3. Obviously, beating either of Georgia or LSU would have granted CDM a mulligan because wins over Top 10 teams are incredibly rare at Vanderbilt.


Question from alex12353:

At what point should Malcolm Turner say “look, we aren’t gonna compete with the rest of the SEC playing their game” and hire a triple option coach? The service academies all do it because of the same problem we face: they can’t recruit big offensive linemen. Army took Michigan and Oklahoma to overtime in the past two years while Navy has had some top 25 years as well. Georgia Tech won the ACC and had two top 10 finishes while running it. Hire Jeff Monken, who already has to deal with some signficant recruiting restraints at Army so you’d think he’d be able to deal with it here, or someone like Willie Fritz from Tulane if you don’t want to go full flexbone and instead run a spread option. If the administration isn’t going to spend big money on a slam dunk coaching hire, I think this is the only way we ever become a true “contender” (we probably still wouldn’t be able to win the SEC with it, but maybe a chance at a NY6 bowl and an upset over a top team every few years) and get ourselves out of the pit of mediocrity we’re currently in.

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: I’ll let the others dig into this one, as I’m more interested in watching something interesting than winning ugly. If we went wishbone/triple option, I might stop watching. Emphasis on might.

Tom Stephenson: I really don’t see it. There’s a reason, after all, why Georgia Tech decided to go away from the triple option when Paul Johnson retired. Yes, our situation isn’t entirely comparable to Georgia Tech’s (in their case, they have a good potential recruiting base in Atlanta, even if the fact that they’re an engineering school may limit their ability to recruit), but taking the long view Georgia Tech wasn’t really different under Paul Johnson than they were under Chan Gailey or George O’Leary. The triple option basically turned them into a consistent seven-win team that occasionally broke through and won more than that (and occasionally completely collapsed), which is what they always were.

Part of the reason why it works for Army is because they’re not in a conference, so they’re not seeing the teams every year — meaning that for almost everybody on their schedule (save the other two service academies), defending the option is a completely new experience. But that advantage sort of goes away when seven teams on your schedule play you every year; after a year or two, they’re kind of accustomed to defending it. In other words, I don’t think it’s a magic bullet. Vanderbilt just needs a good coach, period, and I don’t care what kind of offensive system they run.

Shawn: I said this in the comments, but I thought Mason was going for what Harbaugh started, then Shaw continued at Stanford. It is the power 5 equivalent of this type of offense. Load up on OL and big TE, then ground and pound using TE more in the passing game. It negates the athletic advantage at the WR and RB other SEC traditionally have.

Some of that style came to play last year, but the OL was not as rugged as those Stanford teams, nor was there depth at the TE position. But then again, Harbaugh did most of the winning with Andrew Luck, so maybe a generational talent at QB is the real answer.

DotP: Hard pass. Vanderbilt has had enough decent offensive talent to be productive. I said it in the comments and will repeat it here. The Ludwig offense had a chance, but he made too many bad decisions calling plays. I would take his playbook with someone else picking from them all day.


Question from BoredAndOld:

I’ve been ruminating on how to break The Curse of the Hettening and what I’ve come up with is this: we should drop #AnchorDown and go with #WeTheV. Then all we need is a crazy weather delay (against a superior opponent with a new head coach), which I have already been in preliminary discussions with the Rooskies about.

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: This one’s easy. Hire Nadia Harvin. Curse breaks immediately. It’s like how you defeat the nest of vampires by driving a stake into the head vampire’s heart.

Tom Stephenson: /updates the AoG Field Guide to explain what a “hev” is and why having a wet hev is a good thing

DotP: I am all for weird rituals!


Question from tinioril:

Who are the best available coaching candidates, and which of them could we realistically get?P5 assistants, G5 coaches, NFL assistants, retired players (Peyton Manning? Andrew Luck?), fired P5 coaches…

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m going to ban you for suggesting Peyton Manning. I honestly have given zero thought to who I’d hire if we had an opening for a new head coach. Probably some offensive coordinator whose team is putting up video game numbers. Fuck it, call Joe Brady.

Andrew VU ‘04: Nadia Harvin.

DotP: Some people think we should hire Butch Jones. HAHAHAHA

I have no idea though. Maybe do something crazy like hire former Austin-Peay and current Charlotte coach Will Healy. No idea though.


Question from Matt L.:

The “road fans take over Vanderbilt Stadium” story line has been written into the ground at this point. There’s not much else to say on the fact that it happens or why it happens. Shout out to the new Tennessean opinion writer for rehashing the same exact points in his new column; real original. I will say, the AoG piece on this last week was really solid.

My question is this - how do you suggest we turn the tide on this habit? Put your AD hat on. Can Athletics pull some sort of trickery on credit card zip codes with access to tickets? Can they penalize season ticket holders who flip the only two important home games? Can they at least stop inviting the goddamn opposing band to perform, and put some energy into making the Spirit of Gold better (as a former SoG member who sucked at marching, I’m probably part of that problem)?

Is this a lost cause? Or is it really just as simple as needing to put a competitive team on the field?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Put a good product on the field and market the hell out of the program around Nashville and Middle Tennessee. That’s about all you really can do. As much as I’d like to pull trickery with zip codes on credit cards, the obvious problem is that Vanderbilt has plenty of alumni living in, say, Atlanta or Knoxville who might be interested in season tickets. I mean, you don’t really know that someone in Georgia or East Tennessee isn’t a Vanderbilt fan, do you? And can you really be sure that person with a Brentwood ZIP code is not a Chugger? Because there are plenty of those in the Nashville area.

Back to the first point, though, opposing fans are less likely to travel to Nashville to see their team lose to Vanderbilt. So having a good team on the field would help more than anything else.

Shawn: It’s a bad look, but is the admin likely to do anything if other programs’ fans are funding the athletic department by buying tickets, food, and beer? A better product would bring in more Vanderbilt fans, but Nashville is a destination away game for many other fan bases. Additionally, people in Nashville don’t necessarily identify as Vanderbilt fans.

The athletic department could continue outreach programs via camps and clinics to engage locals (and their children) at the local level. When I lived there, locals didn’t connect with Vanderbilt because college campuses can feel like a bubble in a big city. So giving people a reason to enjoy the product and a relatable connection to the university- outside the now separated Medical Center- will produce fans in the long run.

Andrew VU ‘04: I mean... is this tide something we even can turn? Even during the Brigadoon era, we were outnumbered by Georgia fans.

DotP: Find a weird ritual to make anyone who sees a Vandy game live suddenly turn into a Vandy fan.

Tom Stephenson: That settles it, every Vandy fan in attendance must chant “HIPPITY HUZ, HIPPITY HUZ, WHAT THE HELL IS THE MATTER WITH US?” for the entirety of the game.


Question from Benjamin P:

If you could swap out one starting VU player on each side of the ball for any other cfb teams player who would they be and why? Speaking both to our weakest position players and most possibility for positive impact. And how much of a difference would that make overall to our current team? (Aka how many star players are we away from being significantly more competitive?)

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: Here’s the rub. I could envision us taking Jalen Hurts from OU and Grant Delpit from LSU and still only being an 8 win team. Don’t get me wrong, Hurts would help immensely (Ed. Note: see what I did there?), as his mobility and pocket presence would cure a lot of what ails us on the o-line. Additionally, teams would have to respect both his arm and legs, and would never be able to stack the box to stop Ke’Shawn.

On the other hand, our defense is so much more than one player away that teams could simply scheme to throw away from Delpit’s side of the field and be successful.

Sure would be fun to watch, though.

Tom Stephenson: Give me Tua Tagovailoa on offense (it’s silly to pick Jalen Hurts when we’ve already established that Tua is better) and Raekwon Davis on defense. I can’t think of any reason to swap out anything other than the quarterback on offense, while on defense, just giving this team a massive defensive stopper in the middle of the line would make a big difference.

That probably gets us all the way to 7-5.

Andrew VU ‘04: Jumping back in. We have NOT established that Tua is better. The 2019 version of Jalen is hands down more seasoned and well-coached than the 2019 version of Tua. I’m going with who they are NOW, not who they were before. Current Jalen Hurts, under Lincoln Reilly’s tutelage, is the QB I’d want 7 days a week and twice on Sunday. It would not shock me if he’s yet another Lincoln Reilly Heisman trophy winner drafted #1 overall. Beyond that, he’s better than Baker and Kyler. Planting my damned flag.

Tom Stephenson: Now hang on, you’re cheating by also bringing Lincoln Riley in as the offensive coordinator.

Shawn: I vote Hurts or Trevor Lawerence. Both would make this team a 10 win offense with this year’s schedule. On defense? It’s so complicated, a DT would stop the run but not necessarily get passing pressure. A MiLB could patrol the middle of the field but not necessarily be effective in coverage. I fall into line with the most coveted position in the NFL now, the shut down CB. Take away the best option for another team to score on big time plays, and then play 10 on 10 against the rest- really 10 on six sense OL can’t possess the ball.

DotP: I would take Jalen over Tua just because he is built to take a few more hits. Tua is better though. Jalen is just in the more explosive system. On defense, I would go with a different LSU DB. Derek Stingley Jr is a freshman who is already one of the best corners in the country.