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WTF Vandy? Administrative Failures, Round 1: (2) The Football Stadium Conundrum vs. (7) The Year of Malcolm Turner

Oh yeah, we’re talking football stadium today.

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NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

(2) The Vanderbilt Football Stadium Conundrum, Ongoing

So, yeah. Vanderbilt Stadium. Also known as Dudley Field or simply “The Dud.”

Originally built in 1922 and last renovated in 1981 — that’s 39 years ago — Vanderbilt Stadium was already showing its age when I was a student at Vanderbilt from 2006-08. The problems are myriad, but the basic problem is that while it’s still structurally sound, it hasn’t aged well and the seating is uncomfortable and the concourses aren’t wide enough and it’s just not a great place to watch a football game, and then you throw in the fact that the team frequently isn’t good and, well... it’s not exactly a place that’s on anybody’s bucket list.

Anyway, the plans for a new football stadium came into being late in 2011, coterminous with Vice Chancellor David Williams announcing a contract extension for James Franklin, who had just completed his first season as Vanderbilt’s football coach. At the time, it was never so much as a vague comment tossed in at the same time they announced plans for the indoor practice facility. That got built, and yet we seemed to spend the next few years hearing hints that the new stadium was coming.

So what happened? Well, there were never any firm plans for anything. Rumors have swirled for years that the university’s attitude toward athletics (and, presumably, a new football stadium) changed dramatically around the time four football players sexually assaulted a coed during the summer of 2013.

Fans started to get frustrated as the years went on and nothing happened — and when the university’s representatives did talk, it got progressively stupider. In 2016 — mind you, five years after David Williams first said the new stadium was coming — Williams was still working on preliminary plans for the new stadium, and at that point hoped to have it underway within three to four years. “Underway” within three to four years, five years after the plans were initially floated. And buried in that article was the notion that Williams was now debating whether the new stadium would be on campus or off campus, and things were about to get dumber.

Because the next phase in the new stadium discussion was the part where Vanderbilt started to float the idea of not only moving off campus, but moving into a new stadium that would be used primarily for soccer by Nashville’s yet-to-be-awarded MLS franchise. And said stadium would be located at the old Tennessee State Fairgrounds a few miles away from campus. That idea finally, eventually, got shot down, but after far longer than it ever should have taken for David Williams to say “no, that idea is dumb as hell and we are not going to do it.” But that ultimately just led to the timetable getting pushed back even further. In summer 2018, David Williams was now saying that even making a decision was now “two to three years away.”

But all that was before the real bombshell that came that August, when Adam Sparks reported that Vanderbilt had blocked the athletic department from hitting up specific donors, leading to Williams announcing his retirement (in what by all appearances was a hostage video) a month later. But, ya know, the beat goes on.

It’s been a full eight and a half years since David Williams said we were getting a new stadium. As far as I know, it’s not even in the planning stages at this point.

(7) The Year of Malcolm Turner, 2019-20

Malcolm Turner was in charge of Vanderbilt’s Athletic Department and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs along with whatever other titles the AD officially holds. He did manage to fire Bryce Drew, hire Jerry Stackhouse and put some bright ribbon boards in Memorial. Oh, yeah, they did replace the Vanderbilt Stadium video board, too, but the only difference is a slightly improved sound system. In the process, he completely depleted a reportedly $17M “rainy day” fund left behind by The Goldfather (RIP), which means Turner went above and beyond the budget, tore through that $17M, and burned whatever money would normally be shunted to that “rainy day” fund. Hawkins field did also get a new set of turf, but I would imagine that money was raised and handled by the baseball program.

We can all point to a list that would make Martin Luther proud of the times Vanderbilt screwed up by penny pinching. Going over budget by $17M in one year with no major projects is a different issue though. As Tom has presented, there are plenty of ways to drop a lot of money really quickly and necessarily for the football stadium. All Vanderbilt got for this money was rid of a terrible basketball coach and some A/V updates, one of which went mostly unnoticed by someone who is at every home football game.

Beyond the money, a lot of interesting comments were made after Turner resigned. Numerous coaches made comments in the wake of his resignation that indicated Turner was not around very often, namely Jerry Stackhouse.

Malcolm Turner’s background is basketball as he was the NBA’s G-League President before Vanderbilt hired him. One would expect that he would have a close relationship with the basketball coach that he hired, especially when Turner had been named as the primary reason Stackhouse took the dive into college athletics.

The unfortunate part is that, from the outside, this hire seemed like a decent decision. Then-Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos allegedly gave Turner a lot of leeway to do as he needed to revitalize Vanderbilt athletics and their facilities. Bryce Drew’s buyout was paid, and Jerry Stackhouse was hired with a massive staff. Conversations about major football stadium renovations or even building a new stadium were being had and progressed enough that Derek Mason felt confident enough at SEC Media Days in 2019 to say he expected action to be taken in the next 18 months. If that is true, something will happen about the time the 2020 season ends, and Vanderbilt did release a VERY vague strategic plan with the promise of a specific facilities plan to follow.

Malcolm Turner had presided over the D-League when it became the G-League through a landmark sponsorship deal with Gatorade. Many people, myself include, thought he would be the high-energy, fundraising AD Vanderbilt needed. Instead, we got a year of promises with public appearances almost non-existent in the last 9 months of his tenure. If the coaches were not seeing him and the media were not seeing him, what was Malcolm Turner doing? Most of us can assume he was not watching the football games.

Speaking of which, Turner could not even handle retaining Derek Mason correctly. Yes, most of us think the football coach should have been terminated, but it is possible the buyout was prohibitively large. Why would you announce the coach’s retention 3 days after losing 38-14 in front of only 23,288 fans at Vanderbilt Stadium with most of them there to see the visiting Kentucky Wildcats? ETSU was the next game on the schedule. Wait until after the win, no matter how meaningless it was, or after the season. Maybe Turner did not have the temperature of Commodore fans since he was not around enough. Either way, unlike most things Vanderbilt’s administration does, this decision did not seem doomed for failure. It did not take long to crumble and turn into a shocking and painful failure.


Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 59%
    The football stadium
    (79 votes)
  • 40%
    Malcolm Turner
    (53 votes)
132 votes total Vote Now