Question from WestEndMayhem:
I’ve seen Alabama fans who, after one loss to an unranked team, are calling for their OC and DC to be fired by Monday. What advice would you give them?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Yes, definitely fire everybody. Fire your head coach too. Why not?
Doreontheplains: I have no advice. Why would I want to help a Bama fan?
Paul: Please fire them. Hell, fire Nick Saban too. Plenty of job openings in Nashville...
Andrew VU ‘04: PAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWLLLLLL?!?!?!
Question from Dinard’oh:
Stoops won 2 games his first year at UK and now has the kitty cats looking like a legitimate contender in the SEC. Can you squint your eyes and see a glimmer of hope for Vandy to follow a similar path, or has that Monroe County moonshine left me blind again?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Stoops is exactly where I would point if you want to see hope in Clark Lea. Because, yeah, he took over a terrible team (2-10 the year before, including a 40-0 loss to Vanderbilt) and didn’t do much in his first year. This is why I won’t beat up on Clark Lea for not going in the transfer portal to find a few quick fixes to go 4-8, because if you know what you’re doing long-term, it doesn’t matter. As long as recruits are still buying in, there is a path forward.
Doreontheplains: Definitely maybe. I have a hard time imagining Vanderbilt as an 11-win team like Kentucky could be this season, but there have been glimmers of hope. If we are allowed to squint, the first half against Stanford sans last 2 minutes and the first half against Florida sans missed FGs and “Fuck Vandy” rules provide definite reasons to think there is a brighter future. The Dores need to keep showing more flashes down the stretch and converting some of the opportunities they create to solidify the hope.
Stanimal: I think that’s a great comparison, and doable provided Vandy United comes through and provides a facilities boost. The recruiting geographic footprint is similar. We’ve got to see a lot more out of the coaching staff and the team before we can project out though. What Mark Stoops has done is how you build a team in the SEC, though.
Paul: Obviously that is best case scenario, so I’ll take any reason to give me an ounce of hope. UK is 6-0? We’ll see the ‘Dores in Atlanta by 2025 at the latest.
Andrew VU ‘04: Every time I squint, I just see blurry images of the same thing I previously saw clearly. Is this not what happens when you squint? Just what have I been missing out on???
Questions from Westboundnup & McCafferyFan:
Does the end of this season see the most coaching changes among notable college football programs in recent history? I’m seeing potentially LSU, USC (obviously), Oregon, PSU, Colorado, Cincy, FSU, Nebraska, Purdue, Iowa State.
I’ll perhaps give you guys a two-fer with this. What is Luke Fickell’s next step? His whole football life has been in the state of Ohio.
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: I think a lot will depend on who LSU and USC hire, because those others probably aren’t opening on their own unless one of them hires Franklin. If that happens, then I could see Fickell going to Penn State (I don’t think he’s going to wait for Ohio State to open again, because if Ohio State wanted him to be their coach they would have hired him when Urban left.) As for the rest, Cristobal isn’t going anywhere, Dorrell is in his second year at Colorado and I think they’ll give him more time (I mean, yes, Karl Dorrell, but also they hired him in the first place so what the hell did you expect), FSU quite literally can’t afford to fire Norvell because they’re still paying Willie Taggart, Nebraska will probably give Frost another year especially if he makes it to 6-6, and lol at calling Purdue and Iowa State “notable college football programs.”
Doreontheplains: I have to admit that I have no grasp on which coaches might be on the hot seat outside of DACOACHO. Fickell’s future probably depends on how much money gets thrown on his doorstep, whether Cincy can make the playoff this season, and what he thinks Ryan Day’s shelf life at an Ohio State is.
Stanimal: Tom summed up my thoughts pretty well. LSU and USC are the linchpins that will cause the domino effects, and he nailed the FSU job analysis. What happens at Miami will be somewhat interesting, and they’ll come hard for Cristobal, but I think Tom’s right that Cristobal stays at Oregon.
Paul: With the impatience of the fan bases and boosters of top 25 programs, I think we should just expect this coaching carousel to be an annual tradition. This, along with the ease of NCAA transfers as of late, will make the college football offseason as active as NFL/NBA free agency each year. In my mind, just another reason to talk about college football in February, so I’m all in.
Andrew VU ‘04: As Tom said, the carousel starts at the top. If LSU or USC go with Suburban Meyer (can we all agree he’s not making it through the year in Duval County?), then there might not be so much of a Russian Nesting Doll effect down through the remainder of the programs. If they go with The Old Bald Poach or another Power 5 guy, the carousel starts and doesn’t stop until Zoltar makes you big. Also, isn’t every year a chaotic coaching search dystopia? I’m not sure any year has been even remotely stable across the landscape of college feetball since coaches started raking in the millions.
Question from BlueDore:
Missed the game, what happened with Buvolas [sic]? I thought we finally had a kicker who was a pretty sure thing from 40 yards and in?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Had a bad game, probably nothing more to it than that. I kind of wonder what happens if he just makes the first one, though.
Doreontheplains: Bulovas was 22 for 29 at Alabama. I was quietly skeptical after doing some preseason research for Lessons. Why? For 2018, he was 7/8 from 20-29, 4/6 from 30-39, 3/3 from 40-49, and 0/1 from 50+. For 2019, he was 3/4 from 20-29, 4/5 from 30-39, and 1/2 from 40-49. The scattering of misses from all distances concerned me, but I was starting to think he had grown into a more steady kicker until last Saturday.
Stanimal: Just a bad game. He still is better than any option we’ve had over last four years.
Paul: Same thing happened to me on the golf course on Sunday. If Bulovas had a couple of beers at the turn like I did, though, I think his shank would have straightened out on the back nine to eventually put Vandy on the scoreboard. Does the swamp sell alcohol these days?
Andrew VU ‘04: He had a bad case of the shanks, as he hooked everything to the left. If it’s mental (likely), we’ll know everything on his first kick (FG or XP) this weekend. If it’s physical, it’s time to see which women’s soccer players are up to the job. I’d bet on the former. The Watchman just needs to change his battery and/or wind himself properly.
Question from VU1970:
Saban has finally been beaten by one of his former assistants, and his streak of 100 wins against unranked opponents has ended. When will he resign?
b) at the end of the season, whether he wins another national championship or not
c) after losing to Vanderbilt next year
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: The shocking thing about Saban is that he turns 70 later this month. As such, there is no time table for his retirement that would surprise me. He could do it at the end of this season or next, or he could Bowden it and coach until he’s 80 (probably to the detriment of the program if he’s anything like Bowden.)
Doreontheplains: Depends on how long it takes for someone to find the bodies of the players he deemed responsible for the loss.
Stanimal: D. He is eternal.
Paul: D. If there isn’t one already, I think a fun prop bet in vegas would be who retires first between Nick Saban (age 69) and Bill Belichick (also 69). That one would be about even odds in my mind, what do you think? I could equally see those two riding it out for another 10 years, but also pulling the Coack K victory tour card and doing one last ride into the sunset at any moment’s notice.
Andrew VU ‘04: My immediate response is D) Never. The more I think about it, though, the more I notice Saban doing the “old guy shake” on the sidelines, and wonder just how much longer he will want to continue coaching in the Tuscaloosa Crucible. Will Ramajama’s foaming at the mouth fanbase even allow him to pull a Bowden, in which he’s 2nd term Reagan-ing it, and just napping and eating jelly beans whilst his cabinet does all the work? Or will Ramajama’s foaming at the mouth fanbase force him to pull a Bowden, in which he’s 2nd term Reagan-ing it, and just napping and eating jelly beans whilst his cabinet does all the work?
I can see arguments for both: 1) They’re already calling PAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWLLLL with their lunacy (I assume, as I refuse to listen to that nonsense) after Jimbo made Bama go aTm, as they are basically the Kentucky Basketball fans of feetball. As such, they might (in error, mind you) force him out like the necks to the East did to Greg Schiano (I know it’s not comparable, but it’s never not funny to bring this up). You’ll know soon enough if you hear about death threats, real estate signs on his lawn, or some form of Toomer’s Trees lunacy on his property. Or... 2) They might go the other route and deify the man—forcing him to stay on as coach in fear for his very life until his corpse starts to smell. Or even after, As I Lay Dying style.
I’ll go with the latter.
Question from DenverDore:
Seems like this year’s staff goes for it on 4th down (with relatively high success) much more often than Mason. Are we liking the more aggressive mindset, and do we want to see it even more? Even when down 42 in the 4th quarter?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Yeah. This has been one real benefit of analytics: it’s showed that coaches should go for it on fourth down far more often than they actually do. I hated it every time Derek Mason elected to punt at the other team’s 40 (or, hell, his own 40), but especially when you’re Vanderbilt, you can’t just look at a 4th and 2 at the 45 and say “ah hell, you got us, time to give you the ball back.” It makes sense when you’re deep in your own territory or it’s 4th and long, but there really isn’t that much benefit from punting around midfield: you’re not exactly giving the other team great field position if you fail (or at least, with Vanderbilt’s defense, there ain’t a ton of difference between giving them the ball at the 50 and their own 20) and when you’re struggling to score, you have to take every chance you can get.
Doreontheplains: The key to the success has been how decisive they are about it. The team knows they are going for it. I know a few, and am curious exactly how many, of those conversions are on hurry-up QB sneaks. When you don’t let the other team set, short yardage can be gained fairly easily. The attitude is great. I think we are in a pretty good place as it pertains to aggression level. No reason to get anyone hurt when games are decided.
Stanimal: I do like the aggressiveness. You gotta put up points in this league and you gotta do it where you can with this offense, so it’s the right call, even if it hasn’t resulted in scoring.
Paul: If I had a dollar for every time Mason either punted it on the opposing 40 or willingly let the quarter clock run out before he could get another play off, I’d quit my day job and write on this site full time. It’s definitely an analytics thing, and the data says go for it more often in these situations. With data as much a part of your average football team as Gatorade these days, it makes sense that more and more teams are starting to go for it on 4th and short. Here’s an article on it if you’re bored.
Andrew VU ‘04: Am I the only one who just doesn’t notice things like this unless games are competitive?
Questions from PhillipVU94 & Dore Jam:
Fuck Vandy: A tradition unlike any other?
Related to the PhilipVU94 comment above: If Pierce were wearing the uniform of any other school in the league, would that have remained a touchdown? Would love to see the odds of overturn by school.
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Hell, if Pierce were wearing the uniform of any other school in the league, they probably don’t even review it, much less overturn the call.
Doreontheplains: Pretty much, especially against Florida. It definitely would have stood if it was a Florida player. The “better team” is almost always protected.
Stanimal: I mean Earl Bennett, who is on the staff, certainly knows about BS while playing Florida.
Paul: I don’t know why they felt so strongly to review that play. If money were at stake, Florida could have easily turned up the dial a bit to win 49-7 and still cover. The kids are playing hard, give them a TD for crying out loud.
Andrew VU ‘04: I agree with Tom that it may well not have been reviewed if Pierce is in a different SEC team’s colors. However, and feel free to get mad at me here, aren’t they supposed to review all scoring plays? Beyond that, after the first replay, I saw the ball move on the ground, and typed “Oh no...” in the game thread comments. In short, I’m not elevating this one to the Pantheon of Fuck Vandy, as Pierce did actually lose possession when the ball hit the ground. This wasn’t exactly Earl Bennet (not) Dancing. Then again, maybe I would have had a different reaction if I expected, even for a moment, that we would make a game of this one.
Of course, LSU, Florida, Bama, and Georgia would have been awarded two touchdowns if it was their receiver and they were playing us. Probably the Chuggers, too.
...and throw in a phantom targeting penalty or two just to be sure.
Question from Dore fan in Dallas:
HCDM did get us to a bowl game in 2016 and 2018. So how did the “cupboard get so bare” between then and now?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: There was a noticeable decline on the defense when Zach Cunningham and Adam Butler went to the NFL, and then the offense followed up once Kyle Shurmur and Bruno Reagan graduated after 2018. Mason’s recruiting generally stunk in the 2016 and 2017 classes, and those have been the upperclassmen the last couple of seasons, and while it seemed to get better in his last couple of years there were a lot of guys who have had to play before they were ready to. Oh, and he didn’t really emphasize speed in recruiting.
Doreontheplains: Recruiting little to no speed on defense and failing miserably in developing offensive linemen. I think the S&C and nutrition programs had done a lot to handicap the OL and team in general.
Stanimal: So I think Vandy’s apathy destroyed the foundation that had been built in the early 2010s more than anything Mason did (though Mason is not blameless). There just wasn’t much to get excited about based on the way the school “supported” athletics. It’s hard to recruit in an arms race when you don’t play at all, and that’s basically what they did. It didn’t have to be like that.
Paul: It’s a great point, but you have to realize that your job as a head coach is equally preparing for the years ahead as it is winning your current games. That 2018 Vandy team really should have gotten the best win in program history on the road against a top 10 Notre Dame team. It does go to show that for a program like Vanderbilt, the margin of error is incredibly small for sustaining any kind of consistency year to year. Small errors will compound on themselves, leaving a formerly solid team 0-10 in two quick seasons.
Andrew VU ‘04: Price of groceries went up.
Question from Parlagi:
The more I think about it, the more I think Derek Mason was Woody Widenhofer with a 4th OOC game.
Am I being too harsh?
Answers from AoG:
Tom Stephenson: Maybe. There’s a point I’ve made a few times that the big differences between now and the 1980s/1990s is that (a) you get a fourth OOC game every year, (b) you get to count an FCS win toward bowl eligibility (which you couldn’t do before about 1998 or so), and (c) there’s a lot more crap at the bottom of FBS such that you can schedule yourself a lot more wins. (That last one is why the Power 5 requirement is kind of irrelevant, because it was a lot harder to avoid scheduling a Power 5 team in the 1980s and 1990s. Woody wasn’t bound by such a requirement, but he scheduled Duke in four of his five seasons anyway.)
With that said, Woody just had the one decent year when they went 5-6 and beat winless South Carolina 11-10 but missed a bowl because they lost to Kentucky. Other than that, he was winning 2-3 games every year.
Doreontheplains: I am really struggling to piece out which failings to put on Mason and the administration the more I have heard and read elsewhere. Woody Widenhofer is probably too harsh though. Maybe not.
Stanimal: Not sure Mason was that bad. See above.
Paul: This question is the one that exposes me as the 26 year old writer on the staff. To the out of conference game point though, you’re right. The formula for success at Vanderbilt is not rocket science. Schedule 4 OOCs that you’ll probably win, accept losses against Florida and Georgia every year, and then put together a team that’s within striking distance of the rest of your 6 SEC games so that you can win two of those. With even mediocre talent, the math checks out to win 6 games at least every other year. Vanderbilt playing in the “best” football conference is a tired and illegitimate argument when the SEC has been so top-heavy in the Saban era.
Andrew VU ‘04: Yes. You are being far too harsh on Woody Widenhofer (RIP; expect to win).