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Week Nine Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

Vanderbilt v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

Question from Rubber Hell:

If this were a higher-profile program, the AD would be pressed for a “vote of confidence” at this point.

It’s three years in, when does Storey-Lee weigh in on her (cleansed for public consumption) take on Lea’s progress so far? Who is our guy in the press that would that would push for this information, and what’s the venue (SEC media days)?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Demanding a vote of confidence would require that people outside the Anchor of Gold comments section care about Vanderbilt football.

PatrickSawyer: Probably. I can pretty confidently say CSL is frustrated by the on-field product but still has faith in Clark Lea.

Normally, those comments come from booster events. She is currently on one for Vandy United. I doubt we hear if she gives a VoC.

Andrew VU ‘04: At the very least, we’re in “fire both coordinators” land.

Questions from KnockinOnHeavensDore & SeaDog73:

Is it possible that the mundane play calling is a result of Lea’s desire to play “defense on offense” by playing clock control so as to keep our talent-depleted defense off the field? Or perhaps, in a broader sense, do you think Lea’s defensiveness as a coach is affecting the offensive playcalling as much/more than Lynch’s skill as a coordinator?


Is Joey Lynch related to Rod Dowhower? The mis-matching of offensive (pun intended) game plans with talent on the roster seems hauntingly familiar.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: The nicest thing I can say about Vanderbilt’s offense right now is that I’m really just not sure who’s responsible for it, and that’s not a very nice thing to say so you can imagine what the less nice things I think about it are.

For instance, it’s not clear that the move last Saturday to switch from Seals to Taylor was Lynch’s decision or if he was even consulted. I could understand why if the head coach told the offensive coordinator that he’s pulling the quarterback to throw in a guy with a completely different skill set, with no apparent warning, the offensive coordinator would be like “uh, okay, but my gameplan assumed that we would have a quarterback who could run it” and then said fuck it, I’m just gonna run this bulldozer into the line a few times and hope for the best.

That said, it’s totally plausible that Lea wants to see what he has with Taylor and also knows that Lynch isn’t going to be the offensive coordinator next year so who cares what he thinks. Why don’t we see what we have with Drew Dickey while we’re at it.

PatrickSawyer: I think it is. Lea, like most HCs with a DC background, prefers "ugly" games. He said as much about Kentucky pre-game.

However, I think Lynch just sucks. Exhibit 4,592 was having Walter Taylor try to make small window throws on 2 different 4th and 2s. They were straight dropback (IE no play action or run-pass option) passes towards the sideline. If it was Seals or Swann, I'm fine with it. Taylor's best ability is running. At least make the defense think a run is coming post-snap. Maybe the throwing lanes are open enough then he can put the throw on target.

Andrew VU ‘04: I think he made bad hires. I also think he’s not creative. Like at all. Yeah... DC hires only work out if you pay an OC so much that they are effectively a co-head coach, and the head coach stays out of his way entirely. Lynch is not that guy. Oh, and Lea still has yet to fire Dan Jackson, so I’m giving Lea literally no benefit of the doubt w/r/t to his ability to process information logically or rationally.

Question from JesseCuster44:

This team had two weeks to prepare for this game, and they looked like they spent two weeks doing anything but prepare for this game.

… What were they doing instead?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Normal college student stuff, I would assume.

PatrickSawyer: I would not include the players in this. The tackling was poor at times, especially in the first half, and the OL struggled with Ole Miss's pass rush*, which is pretty good actually.

The defensive coaches did okay. No, really, stop laughing. The first half breakdowns were largely tackling and a couple miscommunications in secondary by young players. They allowed 7 points and only 128 yards in 2nd half. They didn't change much schematically at half either.

On offense, I think Lynch spent all his time on how to try and best deflect blsme to the players. He absolutely set Ken up to fail with a first down rup the middle on all 4 of his drives and using tight formations for slow-developing plays against that OM pass rush. Oh, and having Taylor go straight drop on 4th down twice as mentioned. Of course, that's too convoluted of a plan for him, so he probably spent it munching on vintage paint chips.

*More on that in Lessons.

Andrew VU ‘04: If they’re anything like us, they were wishing Stackhouse finally has a team that plays half as well in the first half of the season as they do in the 2nd half and/or getting hyped up over baseball fall ball scrimmages against Wake.

Question from WestEndMayhem:

According to twatter, Lea’s 10 year old son was on the sideline with him throughout the game. Did you know take-your-child-to-work-day would be held at an away game match-up against a top-25 SEC opponent?

We went from dreaming of an 7-0 start, to a nightmare possibility of finishing as the lowest ranked FBS team. When we inevitably hire another coach, which Defensive Coordinator employed at an academically rigorous school will we pick next, and how many preemptive extensions will he earn before the cycle repeats?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: See, my basic belief now is that Clark Lea was a booster hire, because he had all the hallmarks of a booster hire. Lea being an alum (not just of Vanderbilt, but also of Montgomery Bell Academy, the unofficial prep school for Vanderbilt) was probably the most important quality here. Him being the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame was incidental to why he got the job. Candice Storey Lee pretty clearly wanted to hire Jamey Chadwell, and while some have speculated that Diermeier overruled her, it was really the guys who write the big checks who overruled her. At least, that’s my theory.

As such, when Lea is fired, the most likely outcome is that CSL tells the boosters that they don’t get to hire the football coach again.

PatrickSawyer: The sideline during a game is no place for a child. Too much emotion and energy from adults. It would be hard to believe no one's demeanors were not changed by the presence of a child. His daughter was at Wake, I believe. She sat on an extra Gatorade cooler way away from the bench. His son was right beside him a lot. Not a good choice.

I do not remember anyone saying 7-0. Cole might have made some "15-0 championship!" joke, but I don't recall anyone here pushing it as a real thing. Maybe you're thinking of a certain podcast.

If Lea is fired (will not happen until at least next year), I really think CSL wants an offensive coach. She described that during her initial coaching search comments. Whether it was Chancellor Diermeier or a special connection with another alum primed for the job, something swayed her. I think she would go back to her original plan.

Andrew VU ‘04: Yeah, while it could have read as “cute father-son bonding thingy,” it just pissed us all off. Maybe do that kind of thing when you’re an institution... not when the casual fan wants you fired from a cannon. Also, what had you thinking 7-0? 4-1 or 3-2 in the first 5 was about as far as I would let my hopes rise prior to this season.

Question from VU1970:

It seemed to me that the coaches threw in the towel in the first half, and that most of the players, to their credit, didn’t. If you were CCL, would you do the honorable thing and resign, or would you wait around to be fired?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: No, in fact, if I were Clark Lea I would probably dare them to pay me millions of dollars to not coach the team. (“But we’re already paying him millions of dollars to not coach the team” shut up, he still has to stand on the sideline in Oxford for a few hours)

PatrickSawyer: I hate it every time someone brings up the "do the honorable thing and resign" idea. Stop it. No one is giving up millions of dollars a year as a football coach to be honorable. You wouldn't either. If you would, you are frankly an idiot.

Why do you think the coaches threw in the towel? The schemes looked pretty consistent with what they have done all season until the switch to Taylor. That was theoretically a move to spark some life into an offense choked out by the OC.

Andrew VU ‘04: If I was NoHo Clark, I would, first and foremost, invest in a quality hat. Then, I would hire the best offensive and defensive coordinators I could possibly get. Then, I would get a house on a lake and buy a sweet jetski, so I could yell things like, “This is NOT a toy” at the damned kids. Under no circumstances would I voluntarily give up the heaps of money Vanderbilt has decided to pay me. If they want to fire me and pay me it all anyway, or negotiate a lump sum buyout, maybe, but barring that, I would hang on like grim death, and invest well, as there’s no way in hell I’m ever getting another head coaching jerb after this is all over.

Question from VandyFan1!:

What decisons does Clark Lea have to make to be successful in coming years?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: He probably needs to get different coaches. Also different players, probably. And then have the coaches he does hire call a real offense and defense instead of whatever they’re doing now. Basically he needs to coach better.

PatrickSawyer: Fire Joey Lynch, Dan Jackson, and probably Nick Howell. He also may need to look at AJ Blazek, but I'm thinking he's fighting an uphill battle with Lynch's schemes.

He also needs to be more aggressive play-to-play. He has shown a willingness to get aggressive on 4th down at times. Yet the attitude of the schemes is generally conservative, as we talked about earlier. Be willing to do aggressive things on every play.

Andrew VU ‘04: See previous answer. The lack of hat thing, what with that Shine-O-Ball-O he’s got rocking there... just ill-advised. Think of your health, Clark!

Question from RaisedDawgChosenDore:

This might be a boring technical question but how would y’all describe the offensive and defensive systems? Or I guess more directly are we running an offense and defense that seems to make sense for the players that were have or are coaches trying to force an identity that extremely detrimental to the talent that we have. Last year I know that it was an RPO focused offense that was designed to get the most out of Wright which made the quick QB pull for Swann jarring to say the least. Defensively I think the plan is try not to get beat over the top and when you do try to swarm like hyenas.

And simpler question, did that game disappoint so much because it was coming off a bye week and we looked more unprepared than usual or just because this season as a whole?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: There are offensive and defensive systems? Could have fooled me.

PatrickSawyer: Offensively, it's a mess schematically. They are at their best when playing spread with 3 or 4 WR s on the field. Too often, even with 3 WRs, the formations are "tight" (meaning the WRs are attached to the line like TEs or, at least, inside the hashes. I think most of the runs are zone blocking, but I'm not an expert there.

Defensively, it's a flexible front with the Star and Anchor hybrid positions. It is a good type of flexibility. We just do not yet have enough guys who fill those spots perfectly like CJ Taylor does at Anchor. The coverages are definitely soft zones and are generally three- or four-high where both corners and one safety are bailing high to prevent thrpws over the top. Keep the ball in front then swarm is a good way to put it.

Also, the DL generally is still eating blocks instead of trying to penetrate. They looked more aggressive against Ole Miss and caused some issues. I think that change has been developing as the season has unfolded and is a good one. They got pressure with just 4 somewhat regularly against Georgia and Ole Miss. There were also some devestating double A-gap blitzes, like the one that caused the fumble Outtara tried to scoop.

Andrew VU ‘04: Somewhere between boring and vomit-inducing. As for your other question, yes, but I’d already tapped out on this being a competitive season. Just watching it half-heartedly while doing some other work since SEC play started, really.

Question from HawkeyeVandyGuy:

QFMB. Part 1-Seals appeared to be visibly upset during numerous sideline closeups. Do you sense that Lea might lose the locker room by benching the popular leader and going to the “Obviously Not an SEC caliber” QB in Taylor?

Part 2- Do you sense that our “Actual SEC caliber” players (Shepard, L. Patterson, Humphries, e.g.) might jump the portal ISO a program that is consistently competitive, wins and gives them a path to Sunday play? NOTE: The “Actual SEC Caliber” group sadly appears to be a short list...

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: As to Part 1, yeah he might lose the locker room by doing this, but then the team’s already 2-7 so would you even notice if he did?

As to Part 2, honestly, if you’re looking for a path to Sunday play you’re already playing in the SEC so it’s not like NFL teams wouldn’t have film of you against good competition. No, if they jump in the portal it’s about NIL money, let’s stop beating around the bush and pretending that guys jump in the portal because they want to join a winning program.

PatrickSawyer: It is a possibility. Not sure exactly how likely, but I would not blame players for viewing it as punting on the season because Taylor is so clearly not ready to be a starting QB in the SEC.

I think you would have to be willfully ignorant to not have some concerns. The list of guys I would be concerned about leaving is Humphreys, Patterson, Taylor, Seals, and Swann. For the last 2, it will not be the end of the world as long as one of them stays. Obviously, Swann has the higher ceiling, but they both have 2 years left technically.

Andrew VU ‘04: Well, Shepard is much more likely to be a Day 2 or 3 pick in the NFL draft than transfer out. I do agree that Humphries and Patterson also appear to have the requisite talent needed to thrive in the SEC. Really, the only player I’m worried about hitting up the portal is CJ Taylor, as the junior who plays the ANCHOR position (yes, I think it sounds dumb, too), may want to try his hand at a more traditional DB role, like CB or SS/FS for a national power to up his stock before the ‘25 draft. If this were to happen, our defense would have a really tough time accounting for his absence—though, in fairness, they often sucked even when he was present this year. As for QB, I really want Swann to return to full health and take back the starting gig. Taylor would be fine on goal line/gadget plays, but his arm makes you pine for Mike Wright. If Swann goes in the portal, next year is going to be rough...

...and it looks like we’ve got a little breaking news on that front from the Twatters, and... no sir, I don’t like it:

Question from DoreFanInDallas:

During the bye week, I happened to watch James Franklin’s press conference after his Penn State team lost to Ohio State. His comments were direct, concise and incisive and not surprisingly he took the blame for anything that didn’t work or went wrong. While listening, it reminded me of the mumbo-jumbo we used to get from HCDM, and now while HCCL is certainly more articulate, he tends towards generalities and platitudes. I doubt that HCCL can make a 180 degree turn when preparing his team to play. Given the challenges that Vanderbilt has competing in SEC football, do you think that HCCL’s approach in this regard will work? I doubt it.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I honestly do not care what a coach says in press conferences, unless they come out and say something newsworthy (i.e. who the starting quarterback is) or they say something really stupid.

PatrickSawyer: You all put too much stock into public comments. They do not always reflect internal processes. If Clark wants to be wishy-washy in public, I really could not care less as long as he is properly addressing it internally. And that we rarely find out until well after the fact.

Andrew VU ‘04: Process process process process.

Question from Your Uncle Mike:

It’s not coaching, it’s sign stealing, right? Gotta be sign stealing. I’m going with sign stealing.

Wish I could have asked this in the Mailbag.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: That might be the stupidest scandal in history, because what idiot decided that the optimal way to call plays was to hold up signs on the sideline that any idiot can read and possibly eventually decode?

PatrickSawyer: They all definitely know the sign for 1st down run up the middle. Yes, I know it's not always the same play or concept. No, I don't care because it is killing us.

Andrew VU ‘04: [Bangs trashcan]