Vanderbilt Stadium is celebrating its 100th season this year, and the Athletics Department has already released a list of Will Wolford and 99 other Vandy football players representing the best our program has had to offer. It’s a pretty cool look back at Vanderbilt football and one of the country’s oldest football stadiums. In honor of the occasion, I have decided to do something similar by ranking all 100 seasons at Vanderbilt Stadium thus far. I’ve only been a Vandy fan for a few years now, so please fill me in on what I missed in the comments. And if you want to catch up or just rage against the Vanderbilt Athletics machine, the first part is already out. The second part starts below, every season one step closer to the oh so glorious McGugin years.
90. Fred Pancoast, 1978: 2-9 (0-6)
Oh wow, wins against Air Force and (SoCon Champion) Furman. Coach Pancoast’s 3rd consecutive 2-9 season retired him from football altogether, which is one reason this season is as high as it is. Every other loss was abysmal, though. The Lexington Herald-Leader drives the point home saying our 53-2 loss to Kentucky “wasn’t that close.” Ouch.
89. Rod Dowhower, 1996: 2-9 (0-8)
This was an especially deep year in the SEC. 5 teams finished the season ranked, Florida won the national championship, and Vanderbilt was in the gutter. Both our wins came against the two otherwise bowl-eligible teams North Texas and UAB. A lot of these 2-win seasons all blend together, but this one was 2-seasons removed from the relatively successful DiNardo years and featured a few too many shutout losses to be ranked any higher than it is. We made the NCAA first round and the Sweet Sixteen in men’s and women’s basketball, respectively, so at least across the concourse in Memorial things were going well.
88. John Green, 1963: 1-7-2 (0-5-2)
Ties are weird. Ties against a nearly-out-of-the-SEC Tulane and scoreless ties against a 3-win Kentucky are weirder, especially when those ties secure us a third-to-last spot in the SEC. This was John Green’s first season as head coach, and it at least seemed like an improvement over the year before, so I guess it fits here? Our biggest loss was only by 21 points, too, which is honestly alright.
87. Woody Widenhofer, 2001: 2-9 (0-8)
Well we got to play a game in December, prolonging everyone’s favorite era of Vanderbilt football, Woodyball. It wasn’t a bowl game, though, just a reschedule following September 11th. We beat Duke, proving we were King of the Nerds, and we beat Richmond, which is also cool? Coach Widenhofer still ended up out of a job and in a tollbooth following a year ending with a 13-71 loss to Florida (Ed. note: the game wasn’t as close as the 71-13 margin makes it look), 30-56 loss to Kentucky, 0-38 loss to Tennessee, and a 27-38 loss to Ole Miss. Writing this, maybe this season wasn’t as good as I have it.
86. Bobby Johnson, 2009: 2-10 (0-8)
Bobby Johnson’s last season as head coach followed a 2008 Music City Bowl victory. I wasn’t there, but this seems like an all-time disappointment. Page 64 of that year’s media guide made it clear that expectations were high for the team coming off what I considered our [REDACTED]th best season in the “new” stadium, and we could only manage wins against Western Carolina and Rice. I couldn’t figure out any reason why we stunk it up so badly this year, and it really made me feel that way that only Vanderbilt football can make me feel. Ex-chancellor Alexander Heard died a few weeks before the season started, so maybe it was his ghost stalking the campus grounds that drained the team? I really just don’t know.
85. Clark Lea, 2021: 2-10 (0-8)
Welcome back to Vandy football, Clark. Here’s a loss to (FCS powerhouse) ETSU to start your tenure. Coming off what I ranked as the worst season in Vandy football history, this wasn’t really THAT bad. We won two games and almost beat South Carolina. We also looked competitive at the end of the Ole Miss and Tennessee games, and it’s at least clear that Coach Lea cares, which has not always been the case for our coaches. There’s promise here, but it’s hard to know for sure if this is exactly where this season belongs given recency bias and the fact that I was on the sideline for almost every home and away game. It’s probably my personal favorite season of Vanderbilt football for that reason.
84. George MacIntyre, 1983: 2-9 (0-6)
Another season where everything came crashing down following a really good year. Wins over Tulane and Iowa State weren’t quality wins, but I’m going to tell myself that they were. A few 1-score losses to ranked teams is respectable. Ultimately, whatever happened this year, Coach MacIntyre was able to salvage something out of it and improve the team by a couple wins in 1984. Something must have been right internally, at least.
83. Bobby Johnson, 2003: 2-10 (1-7)
A win over Kentucky keeps us out of last place in the SEC East! And then we get shutout 0-48 by the Tennessee Mustard-Throwers the very next week. Navy made us their homecoming game in a year where they played Rice the very next week, which hurts a little bit. What doesn’t hurt a little bit about 2003 is that Tim Corbin came to campus earlier that year. That means nothing for the football season in the grand scheme of things, but if you’re reading this list then you deserve something to smile about, so go on and smile about Tim.
82. George MacIntyre, 1980: 2-9 (0-6)
We got demolished by good teams but kept it close and even beat out in-state opponents Memphis State and Chattanooga, the latter of which was actually a pretty good team that year. This season deserves some credit for being better than the year before it and setting up the year after it, but it’s ultimately still just one of the many 2-win seasons Vanderbilt has collected over the years. Oh so many 2-win seasons.
81. Robbie Caldwell, 2010: 2-10 (1-7)
We beat Ole Miss in Oxford! Hotty Down? Anchor Toddy? Doesn’t matter. Robbie Caldwell’s single season as head coach was never really supposed to be great, but it kinda was. We got an SEC win (against a team later discovered to be cheating) and kept it close-ish most of the rest of the season Was this year bad, yes, but it was supposed to be and maybe it accidentally set up the much more successful seasons to follow. Maybe we don’t get James Franklin without the Robbie Caldwell interim year, you know?