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WTF Vandy? Administrative Failures, Round 1: (3) Ron Mercer Gets Denied vs. (6) Robbie Caldwell, “Permanent” Head Coach

Ah yeah, let’s get ready to trash the admissions office.

Ron Mercer #5

(3) Ron Mercer’s Application for Admission Gets Denied, 1995

Nobody knew why somebody didn’t say anything. Yes, it was obvious that Ron Mercer wasn’t going to have the best grades in the world when he decamped for Oak Hill Academy, but he was the best bud of Drew Maddux, the Vanderbilt basketball legacy tasked with carrying the team in the VBK era.

He didn’t have the grades, and Vanderbilt didn’t have any plans to accommodate someone who didn’t have the grades, and that was that. Problem was, nobody in the admissions office ever thought to send word to McGugin Hall, and nobody in McGugin ever thought to ask admissions “he’s going to get in, right?” With the end result that most of the fans took the arrival of Mercer to be as much a fait accompli as that of John Jenkins a decade-plus later...right up until he wasn’t.

If you think Kirkland is indifferent to athletics now, I invite you to consider those days. When a high-profile coach could leave with no attempt to retain him, and be replaced by whoever was available at the dollar amount they wanted to spend. The consensus in the student section is that VBK was just up there to look good at press conferences and save face after losing Fogler by being the “mama called” candidate. In any event, the notion that they were going to carve out a spot for Mercer, even knowing he’d be gone in two years - especially knowing he’d be gone in two years - was risible in the extreme.

And sure enough, he went to Kentucky. And he was part of the national championship squad. And he became another Local Boy That Got Away, just like Alex Poythress, just like so many others - and the proof that Vanderbilt and Kentucky weren’t really playing the same sport, a tradition that continues to this day.

Should he have been let in? Who knows. But it definitely shouldn’t have taken the rejection letter at the deadline for people to figure out things weren’t going to work out. Hopefully we’ve moved past that stage, at least.

(6) Robbie Caldwell Gets the Interim Tag Lifted, 2010

In hindsight, Robbie Caldwell was destined to fail spectacularly in his one season stint as the head coach of the Vanderbilt Commodores. But you would have never known that by his performance at the SEC Media Days, where he wowed the crowd with stories of his coaching career and most importantly, of his first job working on a turkey insemination farm in his youth. A native of South Carolina, Robbie did what he did best in that press conference, which is be just about the most likable person ever, a distinction he has carried to his job as offensive line coach for National Champion Clemson (a fact that Mrs. Stanimal is very apt to point out at every opportunity). Nevertheless, being an affable sort is only part of the job for an SEC football coach (unless you’re Nick Saban, and you can basically act however you want).

The fact remains that after Bobby Johnson’s surprise retirement in the summer of 2010, a mere month prior to camp opening, pretty much set the stage for a collapse. Perhaps CBJ decided after winning Vanderbilt’s first bowl game since 1982 (a game that I had an immense amount of fun at, but was absolutely frigid), and enduring a disappointing 2009 he simply had enough. Either way, the delayed retirement left Vanderbilt with little choice but to go ahead and put a coach on the staff in place as the interim, and Robbie became the guy. That being said, it was quite puzzling for Vice Chancellor David Williams, to go ahead and lift the interim tag before the season, especially when the initial position was to give the guy every opportunity to win the job. Though initially it looked like he might do ok, an October/November swoon eventually led to Coach Caldwell’s decision to step down at the end of the season.

However, a major plus was that he hired offensive coordinator Herb Hand from Tulsa, who would go on to be instrumental on James Franklin’s staff, which brought Vanderbilt the most successful run in over 20 years, if not ever. So what’s another losing season I guess?


Which moment advances?

This poll is closed

  • 89%
    Ron Mercer
    (98 votes)
  • 10%
    Robbie Caldwell
    (12 votes)
110 votes total Vote Now