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Week Football 8 Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

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You ask, we answer.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 Mississippi State at Vanderbilt
Clark Lea showing us how he dances at weddings.
Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question from Westboundnup:

It’s been rumored that when CDM was fired last year, VU considered only the following candidates: Lance Liepold, Jeff Monken and Clark Lea. Notably absent from consideration were Jamey Chadwell and Will Healy. Knowing what we know now, do you think VU made the right choice?

At the time, I thought the best coach out there was Jamey Chadwell, and apparently he was interested in the job. I believe if he was hired, assuming he brought assistants and some players, VU would’ve won (in addition to the existing wins) ETSU, USCe, Mizzou and possibly UT. The problem, however, is if that was the result, it would reinforce the if-can-win-at-VU-he can-win-anywhere narrative. Given the number of upcoming coaching vacancies, I could see Chadwell staying perhaps only 1 season. I think Clark Lea gives VU the the best chance at restructuring the program, and I don’t see him leaving before Year 3.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m firmly in the camp that it’s still way too early to tell on Clark Lea. There are people on the internet who claim that they’re seeing the same things early in Lea’s tenure that they saw early in Mason’s and... I am not seeing anything like Derek Mason’s House of Disorganization and Incompetence. I’m seeing strategic decisions that are questionable but also defensible. There’s a difference between giving up a touchdown because you decided to drop eight into coverage and having no timeouts left for a two-minute drill because you burned them all to avoid delay of game penalties or other dumb penalties because guys weren’t lined up right. There’s a difference between taking a shot on David Raih as a first-time offensive coordinator and hiring Karl Dorrell, who everybody except Derek Mason knew in 2014 was not somebody you should have running your offense.

Now, if we’re playing the hindsight game... yeah, passing on Jamey Chadwell was pretty stupid. And I think Lance Leipold would have made a fine hire. Monken I’m mixed on because he’s a triple option guy and let’s just say I’m not a fan. Healy really didn’t have any business being listed alongside those other guys last year and I’m not sure he does this year, either. (What specifically scared the crap out of me about Healy is that rumor was he wanted to bring his entire coaching staff from Charlotte with him to any Power 5 job and that’s a big flashing red signal that you’re not ready for this. I know you think you’re hiring a superstar before anyone else can get him, but what you’re actually doing is hiring Watson Brown 2.0. And Watson would have been okay if we had gotten UAB Watson Brown, but hiring Watson when we actually did had disastrous results.) But again, it’s too early to tell if VU made the right choice but I think they made an okay choice.

Doreontheplains: I think Vanderbilt trying to run the triple option is, at best, dooming us to late era Bobby Johnson seasons. Will Healy is like the poor man’s Chinese knockoff of the dollar store version of James Franklin.

With those two out of the way, Leipold seemed like the high floor but low ceiling option that is basically BoJo part 2 with the potential for some better coordinators. It would be an okay hire on the field, but it would probably be even less invigorating than Clark Lea, who has earned some unflattering comparisons to mayonaisse for his personality.

Jamey Chadwell seemed like the home run, which guarantees nothing as we all should know. However, something is going on there. Having the head coach of a team in the Top 25 allegedly interested and not reciprocating interest, even if the final decision is elsewhere, suggests there is either active sabotage or non-football reasons to not consider the coach. Vandy United was already in the works, so active sabotage seems less likely than normal with Vanderbilt athletics.

Right now, I think Vanderbilt hired the coach with the second most upside of the options given. The jury is very much out on how fruitful the relationship can be, but things are far from rocky enough to be thinking breakup or second guessing the relationship yet.

Paul: I hate the narrative that it is a bad idea to hire a coach that will likely leave the program in 2-3 years because they’ll be so successful. I would take short tenures of coaches who win and then move onto elite programs over a decade long rebuild any day. If anything, having another Franklin-like experience just further builds the case that winning at Vanderbilt is possible.

Who knows whether or not Chadwell demonstrated interest in the job. I heard nothing beyond the usual “my friend’s coworker’s uncle works in the athletic office” BS that would show up in twitter feeds last offseason. The reality is, Clark Lea is our guy right now and looking retroactively at a hire that will now certainly never happen does us no good. Whether or not Lea can build the program back in two years, five years, or never, we’ll just have to see.

Andrew VU ‘04: If Chadwell really was interested in us and we didn’t even interview him, then the skeletons in his closet are likely actual human remains. If not, that’s just malpractice from where I’m sitting. Of course, seeing as no one else backed up the Brinks Truck for him, and he signed a long term deal with the Chanticleers, well... again, those must be some skeletons. Grade: A+ (though an F when we find out he’s one of those rich guys who hunts people for sport, or something similar that is keeping him from getting a job when people like Urban Meyer keep getting hired everywhere).

Chadwell aside, it’s as impossible to tell whether Lance “And Loeb” Leipold was a good hire at Kansas as it currently is for us to be able to accurately just Clark “Shine-O-Ball-O” Lea here. For the same reasons, to be honest. However, KU just gave a sleepwalking OK Boomers squad a game, so that’s promising. They’re 1-6 now, and are mostly getting absolutely shellacked. Their one win is against South Dakota, and it was a squeaker. Grade: Incomplete.

Will Healy is a hype man, and if you want a hype man, why not just hire Flavo Flav? I’m pretty sure he’s available. The Charlotte 49ers are 4-3 right now, with a season opening win over Duke very few saw coming. They’ve lost to Georgia State (meh), Illinois (understandable), and were pasted by FAU (meh to concerning). Grade: (Yeah) B (oyeeeeeee!!!).

Jeff Monken also exists. To be honest, he’s done a good job at Army, and it’s always tough to succeed at the service academies, as you not only need to convince kids to come play for you, but also serve in the military upon graduation. It’s a tough sell to football players who think professional football might be in their futures, to say the least. Army is 4-3, as well, this year, but have pasted the meh teams, and lost relative close ones to the good teams. That 70-56 loss to Wake sure was fun to watch. Grade: A-/B+.

I don’t know if this answered your question.


Question from Dinard’oh:

If you were doing the recruiting, what positions would you focus on this off-season to try to make 2022 more competitive? Conversely, are there any positions that you think, with development, can be relatively cromulent next year with current personnel?

For example, I know the O-line is a position of need, but anyone you recruit there is probably at least a couple years from seeing meaningful snaps, which doesn’t help in ’22.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I agree on the offensive line, and it’s also a tough place to address through the transfer portal because there’s just a different sort of culture on the O-line; most guys are going in not expecting to see the field much in their first year or two and if they do hit the portal, because of the way most teams deploy their offensive linemen, if you’re looking at a guy who was a backup somewhere else you might not have any film on him and are basically just blindly taking a guy because hurr durr that guy big.

In terms of spots where you can get immediate help, well, holy crap the defensive backfield needs it, and the running back room at least needs some more depth. That said, I like what we have in the wide receiver room.

Doreontheplains: Speed in the defensive secondary needs to be a primary focus. If you can find an OL you like in the portal, duh. The team probably needs 2 RBs with one capable of being playable depth at least while the other can be a purely practice squad body.

I somewhat like what we can expect from the LBs. Barr and Orji have been decent, and I really like De’Rickey Wright in the DB/LB spot. The exact counts for who will return are going to be weird with the extra COVID eligibility and personal choices. The same can be said of the WR room with Cam Johnson and Amir Abdur-Rahman (even with his non-use) who can choose whether to return or not.

Paul: Repeat after me class, “It all starts up front.” The lopsidedness on both the offensive and Defensive line gives this team absolutely no chance right now. Our recruiting class currently has three OL/DL that are above 6’5, so if nothing else we can start to get some bodies on the Commodore meal plan that can break 300 pounds and just fall forward for us.

Beyond that, it just requires just finding some diamonds in the rough that want education and playing time. We’ve always found NFL talent every now and then at skill positions regardless of the head coach, so it’s just a matter of giving said talent a chance to bridge the gap in some of these games.

Andrew VU ‘04: All of them. This ain’t the draft. You can go out and get whomever you want, as long as you can convince them to commit. If I had to prioritize, it’s Offensive and Defensive lineman first, speed positions (WR and DB) second), linebackers third, and then the rest. It’s tough to get a top QB to commit to you if they think they’ll be David Carr’d behind a porous offensive line. Fix that first and then get your Smokin’ Jay Cutler or Sherms McKenzie. Seals and Wright will keep the seat warm for two years.


Question from BlueDore:

Is the offense better or worse this year? Or just different? As I get older, my eyes often deceive me.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s worse. Your eyes do not deceive you. In fact, we’re scoring fewer points per game than last year and that’s with ETSU, Colorado State, and UConn on the schedule this year where there were no such games last year.

Doreontheplains: Significantly worse. The play-calling has been awful, and the offensive line started the season worse than they played the first two-thirds of last season.

Paul: It’s definitely worse. In fact, instead of watching the Vandy game this past weekend I went to FedEx Field in Maryland to see Team USA Rugby play New Zealand in a 104-14 loss. Given the lopsided talent, many elements of that game reminded me of the Vandy/UGA game this year, but my takeaways were 1) watching team USA only throw the ball backwards was still more enjoyable than watching Vandy’s offense and 2) at least Team USA managed to put points on the board.

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s worse, and I’m not sure why. Our o-line was ass last year, and we only faced SEC foes, and yet Seals was able to do enough to get us hyped about him long term. This year, we’ve collectively pulled a “Piece of String” as a fanbase—starting off hyped about Loose Seals, then calling for Wright to get a shot, and now going... umm... I hope Seals heals up soon. The O-Coordinators are going to get the axe at the end of the year, as the Bald Head Coach will have to lay the blame somewhere. Of course, having one be the shadow offensive coordinator and the other calling the plays was always an odd decision for a head coach to make.


Question from Vault boy:

Who had the smallest play sheet last night between Vandy and Miss St?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I have no idea.

Doreontheplains: State. We showed a lot of different things, but the playcalling and execution were mostly awful.

Paul: MSU because they only needed three plays to beat us.

Andrew VU ‘04: Clanga. They basically ran two plays on us that we could never stop. I don’t remember what we did, but it wasn’t much to get excited about. It was likely more than two plays, though.


Question from Denverdore:

In 12 months from today, who is the starting QB for Vanderbilt and why?

a)Seals

b)Wright

c)transfer/freshman

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The only way it isn’t Seals is if he transfers. (No, I do not have any specific reason to think that he transfers. But you can never rule it out in the college football world of 2021.)

Doreontheplains: Seals. He will have a resurgence under a new OC.

Paul: Can I dream of a Jordan Rodgers-like transfer? The previous two attempts (Riley Neal and Stephen Rivers) were pretty big busts. Perhaps some juco guy is out there who wants to get some new bruises behind this O line. Otherwise, I think Ken Seals remains the guy. People forget that Kyle Shurmur didn’t truly become an efficient QB until his Junior campaign, and I think Seals deserves that right for what he’s been through so far in his career.

Andrew VU ‘04: Seals. We’re not exactly the preferred destination for a “reclamation project” transfer QB (think Spencer Rattler). Our top QB commit right now is a 3 star, so that usually means he’ll need at least a redshirt year of development before he’s even potentially ready to take the reigns. Wright got exposed this week against Clanga. End reasons.


Question from Jeturn:

It is painfully obvious that the 3-4 defense cannot effectively bring pressure on the QB unless the defense brings the blitz.

It seems like throughout the game yesterday the Clanga QB was getting more than six seconds to go through all of his reads. At what points does HCCL admit the 3-4 will not work or does he just accept this year as it is and recruits players that can make the 3-4 work in the coming years?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, the weird thing about this is that Clark Lea ran a four-man front at Notre Dame so I doubt he’s married to the 3-4. It’s just that... Derek Mason recruited personnel to run a 3-4 and Lea hasn’t had any chance to bring in his own guys.

Doreontheplains: Well, it’s not really a set-in-stone 3-4. Even when only 3 defenders have a hand on the ground, there is someone acting as a standup DE. Clark is really searching for whatever alignment gives this team any hope to defend effectively. Most 4-3 teams still have to bring at least 1 LB or DB to get pressure, too, so I think your premise about the 3-4 needing to bring blitzes to create pressure is flawed.

Paul: I think variety is the spice of life, and the 3-4 gives this defense more chances to get creative with blitzes and packages. When we are so much smaller and slower than our opponents, I actually think our schemes give us a chance. We’ve seen flashes of the defense playing effectively, it just hasn’t come together for a full game.

Andrew VU ‘04: I actually have liked what I’ve seen from our defense the last two weeks. We’re getting creative and pressuring the QB. We’ve got a Jimmies and Joes problem, not a DC problem. Get the right Jimmies and Joes, Clark.


Question from OldGold&Black:

How many more competitive quarters of football do we have left on the schedule? What is acceptable?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: With 16 quarters of football left in the season, given what we have seen thus far I am ruling out that we will be competitive in the first quarter of any game. I think we can be competitive with Missouri for the last three quarters, Kentucky kind of stupidly plays things close to the vest so we’ll say two quarters of that game... and then nothing against Ole Miss and Tennessee. So that gives us, what, five?

Doreontheplains: I’ll go 7. All 4 against Missouri along with 1 against Kentucky and 2 against THEM.

Paul: If you consider “competitive” as within 10 points, you can do some math to say we’ll have at least 6 or so. Say we keep Mizzou within 10 points the whole time (4), I think we can keep at least UK plus Tennessee within a couple scores for the initial phases of those games. Why do I write for this website?

Andrew VU ‘04: Well isn’t this the most depressing question possible. There’s at least the potential for 4 competitive quarters this week, as we welcome Missourah (spits) for our annual SEC-Big XII Challenge game. Then it’s Kentucky and Ole Piss, and there’s just no way we muster even one competitive quarter in those. Then it’s hate week at THOSE WHO SHALL NOT BE NAMED. Even when shitty, we should at least bottle of mustard up enough hatred within us to keep things close in the 1st. Answer: 5.


Question from WestEndMayhem:

I’m of the opinion that Lea has maximized this current roster (and staff), and he’s hit the ceiling for whatever can be accomplished this year. I think it’s truly a Jimmy and Joes issue, and I’ve been impressed with his overall approach and branding.

How ridiculous is my assessment?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I’m with you that it’s a talent issue and I’ve pretty much been there all along, because the number of spots on the field where we don’t have SEC-level athletes is actually frightening. That said, to say that he’s maximized the current roster and staff is... uh... probably incorrect. I mean, I’m pretty sure an offense is not supposed to look like that.

Doreontheplains: I agree that talent is the biggest issue by far. I also reject that the roster and staff have been maximized. The Raih/Lynch issue is far from maximized when you had Todd Fitch or could surely have found someone as good in theory without all the weird maneuvering done there. Oh, and getting blown out by ETSU is not a roster talent issue.

Paul: In a way, maybe. I still think this season is a get out of jail free card to try whatever he wants out. The Ken Seals injury could actually turn out to be good for Coach Lea because it forced his hand to play Mike Wright for two full games so that the fans could see what he’s capable of. Now at least we know (in my mind) that Seals is a clearly better passer and he won’t have a nagging fanbase asking him to try out the other QB all season.

Andrew VU ‘04: He may well have hit the ceiling on what can be accomplished in this Year Zero considering his current roster, but there’s no possible way you can conclude he’s maximized the current roster and staff. The Dueling O-Coordinators thing is risible, and if he wanted to maximize the current roster, he would have hit the Transfer Portal like it owed him money. He went for the “bottom out and rebuild” strategy, which, okay. It’s no fun to watch, though.


Question from McCaffreyFan:

Basketball season is nigh.

Which of these three ex-coaches did the best job

at destroying their program before mercifully getting canned?

Derek Mason, Bryce Drew, or Stephanie White

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The answer is White, and while it might take Shea Ralph less time to get things turned around than Clark Lea, that’s mostly related to basketball being a different sport than football, both in terms of the ability of true freshmen to contribute immediately and the ability to get help via the transfer portal (and, also, possibly Shea Ralph being a better coach than Clark Lea). White only narrowly won a higher percentage of SEC games (13-54 vs. 10-46) and that’s with the women’s basketball program generally less against it than the football program. And Mason didn’t run off the team’s best player as a parting gift to the program either.

Bryce Drew actually left his program in the best shape of the three, which is a strange thing to say, but I firmly believe that Jerry Stackhouse’s team would have been very competitive with a healthy Aaron Nesmith.

Doreontheplains: White, and she was also the most impressively skilled at setting up things to look positive then being as terrible as before. She consistently brought in highly touted recruits then ran them off after a year or two on campus.

Paul: White > Mason > Drew.

Under Balcomb, the Women’s Vandy Hoops program was always making the tournament and hanging in the top 25. Before baseball, they were the most one of if not the most consistently successful Vanderbilt sports program. No matter how grave things have seemed for MBB and VUFB, at least they didn’t lose a game by 63 points (oh wait, football got close) and the have to cancel the season early due to a sheer lack of players.

We’re currently living in the aftermath of where Mason took the program. Mason left us in a terrible spot, given that the scars of a broken football program can’t be suddenly overcome with a few quick signings. The issues we’re seeing here will take years to overcome. I still put Mason over White, however, since he at least gave us a couple of solid teams and seasons.

Drew comes last here simply because he was too good of a recruiter. Since his players were so talented, they simply left for the NBA early. Combine this with Stackhouse’s initial lags filling the cupboard, and you’re left with the worst three-year stretch in decades for MBB.

Andrew VU ‘04: It’s White, then Mason, then Drew. What Stephanie White did to our Women’s Shooty Hoops program would be hard to accomplish if you were actively trying to ruin a program from the inside. Every time we got someone with a modicum of talent, you could set your watch by how soon they would be run off into the transfer portal. Shea “King” Ralph will likely need 3-4 years to get us back into the tournament. Of course, Vanderbilt women’s basketball should be the easiest program to sell to recruits of the three, as there are enough women’s basketball players who would view the academic rigors of Vanderbilt as the reason to join up. Luckily, King Ralph saw our potential to be a sleeping giant. If she’s the right hire (and she sure looks likely to be), we should start seeing real results in year 2, and a tourney bid in year 3. Year 1 is likely to be craptacular.


Question from Your Uncle Mike:

As I asked previously, why do footbaw coaches ( Coach O, Meyer, Petrino) think they are God’s gift to women?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Because that’s what they have been told for their entire life.

Doreontheplains: Huge egos from sports hero idol worship. Also, most of those coaches knew the media and/or police department would turn a blind eye to anything short of a capital offense.

Paul: Salary.

Andrew VU ‘04: Capitalism. I answered with this one word in the comments the last time it was asked, and it’s still true. It appears you would like me to elaborate, as you asked this a second time. I will do so, though extremely reluctantly.

Here’s the thing, these football coaches are basically all Lawrence from Office Space, but with actual millions of dollars.

See Lawrence’s response to Peter’s “not all chicks” rejoinder: “The type of chicks who’d double up on a dude like me do.”

That’s why DACOACHO hits on DAWOMENO at DAGASSTATIONO with the stock line, “You look like you work out. Want to work out with me?” It’s not because it’s a good line. It’s because he says it standing next to his car (which I imagine is something akin to Russ Hanneman’s McLaren):

Like Richard immediately knowing who Russ Hanneman is (and Russ douche-ily responding, “Of course you do”), what are the odds a woman in Louisiana doesn’t immediately recognize him as DACOACHO? He’s basically metaphorically holding open a briefcase full of money and second-hand fame, and seeing who grabs for it. It’s like how those Nigerian email scammers fill their emails with obvious typos and whatnot. They do that on purpose, as it weeds out the people smart enough to see through their obvious scam right away. It’s all disgusting, of course, but he (and Russ Hanneman types, and the Nigerian email scammers, and the Steve Bannon type political grifters) wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t work often enough.

Capitalism.