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Week 1 Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer... even after a brutal hettening.

“I’ve made a huge mistake.” -Gob Lea
Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Question(s) from VandyFanBR, Rubber Hell, and Force10JC:

[Is it too] early to say that the Clark Lea hire was a mistake?


Assuming this isn’t an outlier, and Lea was just a terrible mistake — how long does is take to move on? Please assume it’s a thorough disaster (i.e. no occasional squeaking by UT) but otherwise no controversy (i.e. no cheerleader banging). Are we on the hook for five years because (checks notes): we’re Vandy.


I won’t be a fan any longer if I am staring down 6 years of worse than Mason and I’ve been a fan since 1977. If game 1 of the Clark Lea era is an equal indicator to Derek Mason’s game 1 of his era, doesn’t this loss mean we took a step back with Clark Lea? Should we not just cut bait and run now?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think it’s way too early to say that. It’s one game, after all. Frankly, most of what people are seeing right now is confirmation bias; if you didn’t like the Lea hire, the ETSU game showed you why you were correct. Only, it didn’t, because I think about 80% of what went wrong was talent (which is on Derek Mason), about 10% bad luck, and maybe 10% coaching. You might disagree, but when your offensive line is struggling against an FCS team, you are going to have issues regardless of who’s coaching the team.

Given that the roster needs a complete overhaul — and I’m not kidding when I say that — I think Lea will get three years at a minimum. You may not like to hear that, but it is what it is. You can’t bring in a coach to inherit a team that just went 0-9 and lost its best defensive player to the NFL and then expect immediate results. You especially can’t do that when the talent level is bad enough to lose to an FCS team in the opener.

In other words, if you want Clark Lea fired now or even after this season, you are going to be disappointed. That’s not happening.

Doreontheplains: I was pretty vocal about how awful the game was, to the point that Tom had to ask who the new Sunshine Pumper would be. I am going to say the same things I felt after game 1 of Mason. I do not think I was even commenting on the site yet then, so you cannot fact check me, but they will match what I said for probably too long for Mason in general.

That game was one data point. It was an ugly, painful data point but still just one. Nothing good comes from folding it up now. Conversations need to be had behind the scenes though. The OL was worse than I expected simply by being worse than last year’s unit. The playcalling also seemed scattered, and former Vanderbilt center Bruno Reagan echoed that sentiment on his post-game YouTube show with Chris Lee. He talked about how the offensive playcalling was like we used every play once and never got into rhythm on concepts, even when one seemed to work.

My gut feeling is that Lea is not given as much leash as Mason. I still do not think Vanderbilt fires a coach who makes a bowl game, so if you are scared of getting a rehash of 2014-2018, your fears may be valid. If Lea has not won 5 games by year 3, my guess is that he is gone. Vanderbilt is investing more money than they ever have into athletics, so I doubt they would hold onto a coach with a winning percentage worse than Mason’s overall winning percentage (32.9%).

Stanimal: I will draw only one conclusion about Clark Lea after this game, and it’s that he messed up his offensive coordinator decision. That of course happened with Derek Mason in year 1, and we saw the overall result. That being said, I think we need to see the Barton Simmons experience play out. I’m still interested in how that will build over time, so I guess to point three I would imagine you’ll at least get to make one senior class out of that before any plug pulling (4 years). After all, it is just one game. However, you have to be concerned about what exactly the offensive plan is, and further why on earth we’re switching up coordinators in the last two weeks of camp. That’s just bad management of your coaching staff and shows that perhaps you aren’t coming in to the job having fully considered everything about what it takes.

Paul: This loss was beyond bad. You really can’t point to any one excuse to justify losing to an FCS team that you just paid $415,000 to hopefully pummel. Having said this, you have to remember that Coach Lea inherited the worst Vanderbilt team in program history. If Coach Lea is our new captain, you have to realize that the ship that Coach Mason left behind was full of holes and operated by a crew that has never received proper instruction on how to sail. Having said this, I don’t think that our administration would put up with another 7 years of failure held together by a couple of wins against struggling SEC teams, and Coach Lea could not have started on a worse note.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m not going to say the ETSU game wasn’t bad, or that I saw any reason whatsoever for optimism in 2021. In fact, in my 20+ years of being a Vanderbilt football fan, this is objectively the low point in a series of incomprehensible nadirs. Still, Mason left the cupboard so bare, especially on the offensive and defensive lines, that there’s quite literally no way to judge what Lea is capable of yet. Well... there is one way. Not bringing out the kicker again down 10 after he’d easily nailed one from 50+ yards is just coaching malpractice. As such, I’m giving him an Incomplete w/r/t to roster construction and an F w/r/t in-game decision making after one week. It’s bad, and the hire may well end up being a mistake, but there’s no way we’re going to admit we made one after paying Mason an absurdly high buyout, signing “Local Boy Makes Good” Lea, and committing $300 mil to football facilities upgrades. Even if he’s worse than Woodyball, he’s getting 3 or 4 years minimum. You know, with the “dead girl or live boy” caveat, of course.

Question from Ghostofzeppos:

Like most Commodore fans this morning, my first idea for a question was which brand of bleach you prefer. Then my second thought was, maybe industrial-grade lye would be better than bleach? But on the third try, I identified an actual football question.

What is the most urgent priority for this team if it hopes to salvage a win out of this season?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Getting a different offensive line.

Doreontheplains: Yeah, it’s figuring out how to mask an apparently terrible OL. Raegan suggested more zone running plays than trying to go with gap schemes.

Stanimal: Figuring out what the hell the offensive philosophy is supposed to be.

Paul: I don’t think it would be wise to publicly endorse drinking bleach, but I did find a nifty article suggesting 8 different drinks to drown your sorrows after your team loses. This year, you’ll have enough chances to try each one once and then pick your favorite four to finish out November. The clear answer for our team is up front on the line. Perhaps we can source some local talent/size by offering some of Nashville’s high school football talent the opportunity to enroll early.

Andrew VU ‘04: See if the Waterboy can play.

Question from VaultBoy:

Given the significant disparity between Vandy and an FCS roster, how likely is it that Coach Lea found an old manuscript from some earlier regime, detailing the importance of flexibility in athletes, and decided to run with it as his main guide and inspiration?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: God I hope not.

Stanimal: Robbie Caldwell pulled a funny and switched the covers on that manuscript and his turkey insemination text book.

Paul: I think that we should arrange to just switch our entire football roster with ETSU after that game. Nobody would notice, right?

Andrew VU ‘04: Well, Mason did famously lose his notebook in the beginning of year one...

Doreontheplains: Yeah, but Mason did find it. As secretive as he is, there is 0 chance that notebook is not handcuffed to him at all times like the nuclear football. So I think there is also 0 chance that anything from Mason’s time was left behind. None of our previous regimes would have, to my knowledge, believed in such a philosphy. Watson Brown maybe?

Question from WestEndMayhem:

You’re the AD: What do you tell the new coach, who just found another innovative way to bottom out the football team, at your weekly meeting?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I would force him to re-watch the entire 2014 season and ask him if he sees the adjustments that Derek Mason and staff are making throughout the season.

Doreontheplains: I like Tom’s suggestion, but it definitely is a hard conversation about what went wrong and how you fix it. I doubt ADCSL (nor would mine be much better) has an in-depth knowledge of the tactics of football, but you require that answers to be specific enough to convince you the coach actually understands and is not just feeding you the same platitudes he feeds the media.

Stanimal: I’d include Diermeier, put the two in a room, ask ADCSL why you said you wanted an offensive coach and went defensive, then ask CCL why you said you were going to get an experience offensive coordinator and went with a wide receivers coach from the NFL who has never called a game.

Paul: You continue to use the time each week to discuss your thoughts on last week’s episode of Ted Lasso, because you clearly haven’t been using it to talk about how to field a competent football team.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’d follow the Clay Davis playbook:

Question from VandyBias:

Clark Lea chose this game to bring a lot of a recruits (both committed and those he’s trying to actively recruit) to. Passing the recruit section on Saturday, they definitely did not look happy. My question is, if Coach Lea keeps this up, how the hell does Vandy recruit over any other Power 5 team?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean, any recruit who saw that game sees that they will probably get early playing time at Vanderbilt. You’re assuming that recruits see this the way you do. As long as you still believe Clark Lea is going to turn things around here, why not do it?

Doreontheplains: If the results stay the same, the recruiting pitch is entirely about a chance to start immediately. The really good pitch comes into play if the on-field play miraculously turns around. Then, the coaches can point back to this game and remind the recruits they turned that pile of chicken shit into whatever potentially edible variety of chicken salad is theoretically on the field in Knoxville to end the season.

Stanimal: Show me the facilities and then we’ll talk.

Paul: “So long as you weigh more than 280 pounds and can carry a 2.0 GPA, you will start as an SEC offensive lineman.” For some, it will be playing time. For others, it will be education. However, the deep pit in my stomach says that with paying athletes for their images becoming more and more prevalent, players will be foregoing thousands of dollars going to Vanderbilt versus any other school with a fanbase and national attention. If it’s Vandy versus a B-list SEC team, say Ole Miss, a recruit might as well go to Ole Miss where you can profit off of an immediate following of tens of thousands of fans.

Andrew VU ‘04: I mean, we can certainly promise them all playing time from day one. That has to count for something.

Question from DenverDore:

You can only choose one. What is the biggest problem for Vandy football: talent or culture? And how do you fix it?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Talent. You fix it by recruiting better players.

Doreontheplains: Talent. I’m not sure we have any proof of a bad culture under Lea.

Stanimal: Talent.

Paul: Chicken or the egg story here, but talent has to come first. You can’t build any culture from 0-10 seasons and being the 5th best college team in Tennessee. People forget that the term “Anchor Down” didn’t exist until James Franklin made it up out of thin air in 2012. It only caught on because there was a successful team to attach it to.

Andrew VU ‘04: Talent. ‘Crootin.

Question from RocketCityVandy:

So, obviously I have died and this is hell. Do you have any recommendations on escape methods? If not, could we at least get someone to come and give us some ice as a temporary relief?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The answer is drinking.

Doreontheplains: Just like being investigated by the NCAA, deny, deny, deny.

Stanimal: Ice goes great with bourbon.

Paul: It’s especially tough right now with Uber/Lyft prices as high as they are. Perhaps ask Robert Plant if he still knows his guy to get out of there on foot? If you need anything cold, I’d look no further than Ken Seals’ throwing arm.

Andrew VU ‘04: As the AoG resident literature/perdition scholar, I can actually help you out here. First, follow Virgil’s advice. Second, despite the danger and horrors you will witness, descend the nine circles of hell to find your Beatrice, who was take by Satan to be his bride. Faint a lot. Do nothing of substance, really, but keep going. Against all reason, it will all work out. Don’t pet Cerberus. Oh, and feel free to linger in the Second Circle a bit. Them’s my people.

Question from Jeturn:

I have airline reservations, hotel reservations and tickets for the CSU game….Should I question my life choices and priorities?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I have heard that Fort Collins is a great place to drink craft beer. Therefore, this should actually work out just fine for you, because you will be far too drunk to care about the game.

Doreontheplains: I am headed out, too. It is going to be ugly. It might be close because CSU also looks terrible, but it’s going to be disgusting football in all likelihood.

Stanimal: Make sure you’re earning double miles, pack your advil, and be sure to scope out a place where you are going to be able to drown your sorrows/brighten your day if this gets too painful to watch.

Paul: I hear Fort Collins is lovely this time of year. My parents once traveled to West Point back in 2009 to watch our ‘Dores lose to Army 16-13 and still say it was one of the best trips they’ve ever taken. If nothing else, Vanderbilt will always give us fans an excuse to travel to places that we otherwise wouldn’t have ever thought of. Keep those bags packed, my friend.

Andrew VU ‘04: See Tweet thread:

Question from McCaffreyFan:

With all the opt-outs last year our roster was rather barren too. Ken Seals still looked extremely promising in his freshman year against an all-SEC schedule. He looked horrific v. ETSU. As Mr. Belding would say “Hey, hey, hey, what is going on here?”

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: We remember what we want to remember about Ken Seals’ freshman season, or at least what alcohol has not clouded away in our brains. Seals had some bad games last year... I mean, he threw ten interceptions on the season to only 12 touchdowns. He was awful against Missourah, and he threw three picks against Mississippi State.

My concern with Seals was always that he was going to end up being one of those extremely advanced quarterbacks coming in, what with him having played 6A football in the great state of Texas, and he would either plateau or regress after his first year in the program. Given that, maybe Mike Wright (who probably has more upside) really did catch up to him in fall camp?

Doreontheplains: To slightly counter Tom’s point, Seals had 5 games with a Total QBR of 50 or higher with 3 being greater than 75. For the season, his Total QBR was 51.0. Total QBR is supposed to account for opposition and discards garbage time. The score is a intended to be a percentile, so 50 is dead average.

Tom was right that he played some awful games with scores of 15.7 vs LSU, 19.9 vs South Carolina, 19.1 vs Missouri, and 23.8 vs THEM. Oddly, the State game, which was painful because of the 3 INTs, was scored at 59.4 due to him being very good for basically every other throw. This game was by far his worst though. Seals’s Total QBR was a 6.1.

I would not worry too much yet. The QB shuffle seemed to keep he and Wright both out of rhythm. As a proponent of using both, I think they failed miserably in how to do it effectively. I would not be giving Wright full drives, especially late in the 4th quarter while down. Seals had 5 drives in the first half and the final 3 drives of the second half. Wright got in for the 4th drive of the first half then took the first 2 drives of the second half. “First drive out of halftime” also falls under times NOT to have Wright start a drive, much less play the whole drive.

Stanimal: I don’t know that I’m ready to call Ken Seals mediocre to bad yet, because he showed me enough flashes last year for me to think there’s more there than that. I don’t think it was smart at all to not hire a more experienced offensive coordinator or to not keep Todd Fitch around. He and Wright are young QBs and they need stability to reach their potential. I just don’t see how you do that taking dumb risks at the offensive coordinator spot.

Paul: Ken Seals’ performance on Saturday was by far my biggest concern. As bad as last season was, I think the hope we all held onto was that if nothing else, Vanderbilt has a budding star at QB who will only get better for the next 3 years. This was only one game and everyone deserves a second chance, so just pray with me that he bounces back against CSU. The sophomore slump was supposed to come against our tough opponents, not ETSU.

Andrew VU ‘04: In my idiocy, I first read “Mr. Belding” as “Mr. Belvedere,” so I will answer it as such, Wesley. Related question: How much more hideously embarrassing football can we all withstand before AoG just turns into the Mr. Belvedere Fan Club? Any reason to post this is a good reason to post this:

Question from VU1970:

Can our next head football coach please be a randomly chosen tenured faculty member from the English Department — or do we blow that up, too?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Is the goal to continue losing to ETSU?

Doreontheplains: Guest coach of the week would be even better, if you want just absurdity.

Stanimal: I’d be down with the reverse Lasso and get a “football” coach.

Paul: I had some wonderful English/writing professors during my time at Vanderbilt. None of which had any experience coaching football, but all of which I would have chosen to keep a game against ETSU within 20 points. Given all of the research they readily will do for their current paper or article, I’d trust them to find at least a cohesive strategy for “How to coach football” with the wealth of information available at their fingertips. Plus, without a football coach, now we suddenly have a surplus $3M to spend on fun things. Did someone say Teslas for the whole staff?

Andrew VU ‘04: I know you’ve been away from higher education since the 70s, but I regret to inform you that at most institutions, when a tenured professor retires, they don’t hire a new tenure-track professor... they just fill those classes with adjuncts and instructors for poverty-line wages and little to no benefits. The American Association of University Professors recently released its annual report on the economic status of faculty. Give this article a read. So, while Vanderbilt has yet to blow up the academic side of things (and will likely never do so, what with being an elite institution), that’s not true at most places. In other words, let’s not give them any ideas. Instead, why not hire approximately 1,000 newly minted PhDs to collectively be our football coach. It’ll cost about the same, and with that much brainpower, at least someone will be able to figure out that it’s wise to bring out the kicker who just nailed a 50+ yarder when down 10.