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Week Five Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer (even if, like this week, none of us is particularly up for it).

Missouri v Vanderbilt Photo by Johnnie Izquierdo/Getty Images

Question from DoreFanInDallas:

This year marks 10 years since the departure of James Franklin, who inherited a a 2-10 Robbie Caldwell team and went to 3 bowls in 3 years with 2 Top 25 finishes. Will VU ever get a football coach who can get us to 6 wins or close to that every year? Most folks would be very happy with that. Derek Mason was not that coach and it appears that Clark Lea is not either.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I don’t know how doable it really is to do that on any consistent basis if you assume that the new 16-team mega SEC goes to a nine-game conference schedule and keeps the “you must play one power conference team out of conference” requirement (I’m more convinced of the former than the latter.) The old formula of “win all the nonconference games and then pick the two weakest of Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Ole Miss” looks less and less likely in the future because of all that.

With that said, even doing that under Franklin required snagging a top-10 coach in all of college football under some very unusual circumstances — Franklin suddenly became available because Maryland decided not to honor his head coach in waiting designation. The newfound investment in the football program will help. It’s not going to be enough if you can’t hire the right coach.

PatrickSawyer: Late era Bobby Johnson went 5-6, 4-8, 5-7, 7-6, and collapsed to 2-10 before the Great Turkey Insemination of 2010. Franklin does his magic for 3 years. Mason goes to 2 bowl games in 3 years in the middle of his tenure with the other season finishing 5-7. Clark Lea went 5-7 in year 2.

We would all agree Mason was a horrible head coach when he did not have an OC who could take total control with minimal supervision (Ludwig). Lea is probably a lot like BoJo in that he is too tied to a certain brand of gritty, old-school football to take advantage of modern football’s rules and the strengths of his team.

To me, the answer to whether they DO get that coach is “probably not,” but it shouldn’t be. Even being in the SEC with NIL and everything else.

Cole Sullivan: No. Not while we’re in the SEC. The other schools just have so much more time, energy, and money devoted to football. Especially not if we’ll be playing an additional conference game every year. In a few years, if the creation of some sort of league above the FBS-level does in fact come to pass, then I think Vanderbilt could end up wreaking havoc for a few years in some sort of old-is-new-again conference against smaller Tennessee and Kentucky schools every year just by virtue of us having at one point been in the SEC and having the facilities and resources that go along with it, but I think even that would run its course as the top levels extracted and concentrated ever greater levels of talent. Oh well. Maybe we’ll at least get to one more Birmingham Bowl before then.

Andrew VU ‘04: No? Ah, I don’t want to say no, so I will say... sorry, until we’re no longer in the SEC, the answer is (shakes Magic 8 Ball) “Outlook Not So Good.” I mean, the NIL and uber-transfer portal era has rat-fucked us, and I don’t think any amount of stadium construction or luxury boxes for the ultra rich will change that.

The Old Bald Poach era was our Brigadoon, but let’s not act as if the cupboard was bare when he took the job. Bobby Johnson had built that roster up, brick by brick, over the years. Giving it to Caldwell so late that the AD could not find a replacement coach was a real dick move by Coach Steve Martin. Or, as he would say, “A real humdinger of a gosh darn move. Jeepers Creepers,” as he famously did not cuss. Though Caldwell was a revelation at SEC Media Days, his Jed Clampett act was much less charming during the regular season.

Franklin’s magic was the ability to rile his players up so much that they would run through a brick wall if he said, “Go.” He had enough talent when he came in to make that ethos work. Didn’t hurt that much of the SEC East were in a downturn, either.

Question from LADores2011:

Is Clark Lea the next Bobby Johnson for our program? That’s the feeling I’m getting. Watching the Mizzou game, it felt so much like a BoJo game. Two stuffed runs and an incomplete pass. Down early. A few good drives. Not enough late. Moral victory or defeat, depending on your perspective. BoJo had a few early signature upsets too.

I feel like I’m in Groundhog Day. 8 to 10 years featuring lots of 2-10 teams and one flash-in-the-pan team that starts 5-0, lands College Gameday, and limps into a bowl game. Admin will be satisfied.

Related - anyone else watch Duke vs ND? It felt exactly like our victory over Auburn in 2008, except we clutched it. Or was that the Mandela Effect? Was it actually just Duke on Gameday? Was I not behind Chris Fowler?

Hold on, I need to check my VHS tape of Sinbad’s “Shazaam.”

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: When Lea was hired, I thought Bobby Johnson was the floor.

That said, I’ve always thought the Bobby Johnson era was... fine? He made Vanderbilt seem a lot less hopeless than it did in the 1990s, and let’s just say that the roster was shot after Woody left town. (Vanderbilt had just one player drafted — Hunter Hillenmeyer — between 2001 and 2005. Similarly, they’ve had zero players drafted since 2021, and the most likely way that drought gets broken in 2024 is if our punter gets drafted.)

The point is I think the current edition of the program still reflects what Lea inherited a lot more than some of us want to admit, which doesn’t mean “I think he’s secretly doing a good job” by any stretch, but... wait, didn’t we go 5-7 last year?

PatrickSawyer: I did compare the two above, and I think they at least share an excess of loyalty to bad coaches/schemes. Maybe. Clark may be able to shake that somewhat this offseason if he does the right things, even if they would be a season too late. Johnson would have probably struggled with the modern world of college football, even if you limit the changes to on-field schemes as the posed question started.

Cole Sullivan: Yeeeaaahhh... I don’t think I was really aware of Vanderbilt’s existence prior to 2016 or so, and if I were, it was almost definitely just because I had stumbled across Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Wikipedia page in my high school American History class. I’m just gonna leave this set of questions to the oldheads, because every time I answer these historical questions, I always feel like I’m just doing something wrong.

Andrew VU ‘04: Two questions in and both of my answers are pretty much, “No.” While Derp Mason’s end of run horror-show left the cupboard relatively bare, it was nothing compared to what Toll Booth Woody left Ol’ Coach Steve Martin with. Johnson had to slowly build us up from a roster of mostly 2 star recruits, to a roster of half two star and half three star recruits, to a roster of mostly three star recruits (and a four star who got shot before he could play for us). CoBoJo was a true program builder, even though watching that sausage get made through the four 2-9 seasons of my college years was excruciating. His run from 2005 (5-0 to falling off a cliff—with 13 Empty-S-U Blue Raiders blocking a kick, to boot) to the 2008 Music City Bowl (Punter MVP, motherfathers!!!) was a model of consistency and steady improvement—even if we all knew he could have gotten there sooner if he wasn’t so damned loyal to the Ted Cains of the world.

NoHo Clark has been... less than inspiring. Oh, and he already has more overall talent on the roster than CoBoJo ever did, according to the recruiting rankings. Some coaches are able to get more out of less. Others less out of more. Kevin Stallings was able to do both, paradoxically, but I digress.

Question from SadFootballFan19:

Should Ken Seals start next game, regardless of Swann’s health?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No. If you listened to the Dore Report this week, the thing they pointed out that resonated with me is that the coaching staff was pretty clearly treating Seals like a backup quarterback — they weren’t really opening up the downfield passing game, which is a very big problem when you basically don’t have a running game. Seriously, how do they intend to move the ball? What’s the plan beyond 2023? (Hint: it’s Swann.)

PatrickSawyer: I have never been so torn between two starting QBs. Especially when it is not because I am debating who sucks less. Swann brings an explosiveness with the arm that Seals lacks, but Seals is going to be safer. There is also a huge part of me that has an emotional reaction to the concept of Ken Seals getting his redemption arc.

I wish I could say start Seals to give Swann one more week to get back into the swing of things, but then Swann is coming back for Georgia. Really, I would have to be in the QB room to make that decision confidently. I will be okay with either one starting IF Swann is healthy enough that it does not impact his play.

Cole Sullivan: Does it really matter?

Andrew VU ‘04: Maybe? I mean, no, but maybe? (This mail bag is going to be all “no” answers from me, isn’t it?) Swann is clearly the future, but until his mind is right, I don’t want him out there getting lit up and hurt all over again. If he’s seeing the ghosts of unblocked linemen past, I need him to take another week off. I’ll go 70-30 towards the Swann side, as he gives us the best chance to win. Seals should get enough practice reps to be ready this week and next, though.

Question from VU1970:

There were flashes of definite okayness in Vandy’s latest dismal loss, both on offense and defense, moments when one could believe we’re not that far away from cromulence, despite our won-loss record. Am I delusional? Should I be taken to the home?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There have been flashes of that all season if you knew where to look. On a down-to-down basis they’ve been performing reasonably well — they should have beaten UNLV, and probably could have beaten Kentucky and Wake if not for some really bad, damaging turnovers.

That said, well, last week specifically was not that, with the offense being limited by having a backup quarterback out there and the defense... not able to cover Missouri’s receivers. I don’t know, things aren’t great, but they’re not as terrible as they’re being made out to be.

PatrickSawyer: Most of the season has not been as bad as it seemed with the exception of those turnovers. However, that’s still on the coaches when they keep occurring over 3 or 4 games. The playcallers on offense and defense have also spent way too much time putting the team in bad situations. It is all imminently fixable but also highly unlikely to be fixed since the problems are with the ones who seem completely oblivious to obvious solutions.

Cole Sullivan: I think this team, at its core, has had what it takes to win most of the games we’ve played. I don’t think any game so far has been 100% unwinnable, we just haven’t played very well. something something in any other conference we would be middle-of-the-pack every year something something

Andrew VU ‘04: Will you look at that? VU1970 broke my streak of “no” answers. I thank you for that. Yes, it sounds at least slightly likely you are delusional. This team has looked bad. Bad.

That answer was mean. Sorry. I owe you a Dietetic Coke.

Question from Parlagi:

What could Vanderbilt (or Lea specifically) do to engage the fanbase more? They’ve been fighting this battle a long time. And yes, I know “win, hurr” is the Captain Obvious answer.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Play “Potato Pride” instead of “Narco” on third down. This would engage the fan base. I do not know if it is the kind of engagement you want, but hate engagement is still engagement.

PatrickSawyer: Come out and address the stupidity of the schemes often used instead of obfuscating for them. Tell us you realize that this team should be pass first, and you, as HC, are pushing that change forward to play to our strengths. Tell us you can see that playing soft zone with no blitzing is getting the secondary picked apart, so they are going to attack teams differently since the first idea is failing miserably.

At that point, he has at least shown a willingness to adapt and try new things instead of dying the same death over and over and over again.

Cole Sullivan: I like Lea, generally, but I think he can be a bit of a stooge who has a certain idea of what Vandy is, and I think part of that comes from being an alum. But the school is different now than it was when he attended, and in general I think he could have more fun with his job and with campus and the student body in general. Ultimately, though, he just needs to win.

Andrew VU ‘04: Literally anything at this point would be preferable to the absolute nothing he has done. Not saying everyone has to be James Franklin, but that Lyle Lanley-style monorail salesman at least gave us some sizzle with his steak. He was out amongst the student body trying to whip up attendance. He was promising freaking recruiting rocket ships if the helicopters don’t get the jerb done. He was 10 lbs of rah-rah run through a brick wall for the team enthusiasm in a 5 lb bag—and that bag was used as a fine shammy for his Shine-O-Ball-O melon of a head.

Sell us a damned Monorail, NoHo Clark! It put Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook on the map!

We’ll deal with the inevitable fallout later, but give us something to hang our hopes on, for the love of Pinman!

Question from PancoastTraumaticStressDisorder:

Do you think we have a realistic shot at beating either Florida or South Cackalaky? I’m thinking all the other remaining games are out of reach. I asked the Magic 8 ball this same question and it came back with “Don’t count on it”.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeah, I mean, stop committing stupid turnovers and those games are winnable.

PatrickSawyer: Florida might be unraveling enough to beat them if the turnovers stay away, and the dumb penalties go away. The Chicken Curse is too real though.

Cole Sullivan: I still think we have what it takes to serve as a trap game for someone. Not likely, but I think it’s possible.

Andrew VU ‘04: Hahahahaha. Hahahahahahaha. This year? Hahahahaha.

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

As General Manager/Personnel Director/Recruiting Guru, what does Barton Simmons actually do on this staff?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: He’s actually pretty good at identifying raw talent that’s pretty off the radar. Ka’Morreun Pimpton was a guy with good measurables who was basically buried in his high school offensive scheme (which happens more than you think with wide receivers and tight ends, because even in Texas there are still a lot of teams running nonsense like the slot-T where they throw the ball basically never) who blew up once he switched high schools and got into an offense that actually used him.

Now... getting them to campus? That’s not his job. (Part of the problem is that there are several schools that are known to cheat off his homework. Sup, Georgia Tech.)

PatrickSawyer: Brings us highly talented players who our actual coaches then misuse.

Cole Sullivan: Whatever he does, it apparently doesn’t win us football games. Maybe we oughta just start driving up to recruits’ homes with SATCO bags stuffed with endowment cash.

Andrew VU ‘04: As far as I can tell, he identifies lesser recruited athletes with potential star traits, so the Alabamas of the world can offer them late in the recruiting process, or tamper with them to transfer once they prove themselves worthy as freshmen.

Question from G8RDaver:

Are y’all going to extend your streak over us to 2 and ruin our Homecoming this weekend?

(I know the mailbag is already closed but would greatly appreciate an answer to this so I can temper my expectations this Saturday accordingly.)

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Ruining your Homecoming: a Vanderbilt tradition. (But mostly for Georgia.)

PatrickSawyer: Yes. Why? F—oh, we like G8RDaver. Right. Well, ignore the why then.

Cole Sullivan: Probably not, but it would be really funny. Even if we had the team for it, I’ve been sideline at The Swamp for a Florida Homecoming game and that environment is something else. Truly, only Gators make it out of The Swamp alive.

Andrew VU ‘04: No. This question is just mean, man. No... just no. For this, I’m going to make you wait even longer to begin the USA 32 state bracket of the “Let’s Get Weird—All World All Time Best Song Competition.”

Question from Jeturn:

Consult your favorite oracle or magic 8 ball or whatever: look into the future 5-10 years and pontificate on what you believe the college football world will look like for those schools outside of the super conference (or the NFL triple AAA farm system). What other teams will be in the conference where Vandy lands?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Yeesh. I go back and forth on this one, but the sportswriter thing that I think is just flat-out wrong is the idea of a super league with 24 teams or so — it’s either going to be smaller than that (like, 12-16 teams, or the “true” helmet brands that ESPN craves) or it’s basically going to be big enough to where most if not all of the current Power 5 is included in it. Just ask yourself why the Super League needs to include Wisconsin but not Ole Miss and that’s your answer.

If it’s the former, though, I think the rest of college football gets some sanity restored. (I also think this is the case if it’s the latter — basically in the latter scenario, the 60-80 teams just band together and negotiate a TV contract and then figure out the nuts and bolts of conferences from there.) You can probably just assume that 9 SEC teams (I’m counting Texas and Oklahoma) are off to the super league, and maybe that number gets up to 10 if they decide to include South Carolina or something. The remaining 6-7 (I’m assuming those are us, Kentucky, the Mississippi schools, Arkansas, and Missourah) would probably just backfill with, like, Memphis, Tulane, Southern Miss, and UAB, and maybe we send Missourah off to join the Big 10/12 castoffs. That would be a fun conference, actually. You know what, you’ve just talked me into the Super League.

PatrickSawyer: This is an offseason question.

Cole Sullivan: I’ve actually mentioned thihs a few times. I imagine the super schools of the world will have left us behind. I don’t know how exactly that new league works, but Vandy is not in it. Instead, we latch onto the leftover FBS/FCS jumble where we eventually end up with a decent football team relative to our league due mostly to our historical position in the SEC and that our other sports may still remain members of the conference while football does its own thing. I can’t say for sure, but I imagine our football team ends up playing in some version of the Sun Belt Conference or in some weird restructured Tentuckybama Conference against the likes of MTSU, Samford, ETSU, WKU, UAB, and so on. It’s hard to say for sure, though. Sadly, once that wave of “realignment” or whatever you want to call it happens, we’ll likely be subject to the whim of the forces that be, fighting for our best outcome after what, a century of history in the SEC? Yeah, it sucks.

Andrew VU ‘04: [Flashes forward to 2033.] I write this from my underground bunker in The Disputed Grounds formerly known as the American Southwest, as the AI Bots and Elon Muskovite Neuralink Automatons roam the streets, looking for Fleshies to absorb into their hive mind. President CatTurd2 has sold the Pacific Northwest to Sino-Oceania “for the lulz,” and the Great Lakes have been on fire for 384 consecutive days. The average temperature in February is 98 degrees. Celsius. 90% of the population has been infected with the long dormant diseases let loose by the melting of the polar ice caps and/or turned into The Thing from The Thing, only... umm... with tentacles. We name each new plague things like “Marburg-a-Laria Hyper-AIDS,” and “Marburg-a-Laria Hyper-AIDS II: And This Time it’s In Your Butts,” as the only scientists who survived the Great Brain Pogrom of 2031 were the party loyalist strivers who cared only for their own advancement and pledged full fealty to Education Czar Ryan Walters’ philosophy of burning all the books and most of the people who read them. We mostly survive on a paste of cockroaches flavored with Doritos Hyperdust—a Cool Ranch meets Chicken and Waffles flavor-splosion made out of genetically altered Soylent Green (best not to think about it), and try to keep away from the Robotic Police Dogs from Black Mirror that shortsighted police departments all clamored to buy up in droves in 2024, lest they kill us on sight.

Oh, and Vanderbilt has still not beaten the South Cackalacky Game Penises in football. So, you know, it’s basically just the same old, same old ‘round here.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

Wow, wasn’t that a great drive? When the SEC Vandy Takeover happens and it’s just 24 hours of that drive on repeat, won’t we all be so impressed? Shirley, this coaching staff deserves another 4 years to replicate that drive again. Wow. What a drive. I loved how we looked like a real football team for an entire 6 minute sequence. I mean, sure, I could watch any other SEC team and see them do that the majority of their drives every game. But when it’s Dandy Vandy doing it once per year? That’s special.


Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: What drive are we talking about? Are we talking about Gordon Sargent’s drive off the tee or the drive from Nashville to Memphis on I-40?


Cole Sullivan: No, see, you forgot that our Vandy Takeover is actually going to be another bowling natty, one big basketball upset, and the SEC Golf Tournament so they won’t have enough time for that one drive. Besides, no one in Nashville has ever been good at driving, and that’s a fact.


Yeah, that was a pretty good drive.