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Week Three Football Mail Bag: Answers to your Questions

You ask, we answer.

Vanderbilt v UNLV
We’re all throwing our hands up in frustration, as well, Mr. C.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Question(s) from Parlagi & ask_the doctor:

Having had a little time to process everything: Are you more sanguine now, or still in the same pitchforks and torches mood you were Saturday night?


Yesterday’s loss was the most infuriating since the South Carolina game in 2020. Similarly to that game, I got so mad that I (accidentally) broke a very important piece of technology. What is the maddest you’ve been after a Vanderbilt game, and how did you cope with it?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: It’s fine to have your torchforks out of storage. I generally dislike the idea of making these calls based on assumptions about how the rest of the season is going to play out; if the team were 4-0 right now and finished 4-8, I don’t see why that should be treated differently from 4-8 but with two of those wins being over SEC teams. This was, after all, a Bad Loss, but also a Stupid Loss, where basically everything had to go wrong for us to lose, as opposed to some of Derek Mason’s Greatest Hits where we just got straight-up flattened by a mediocre team. (We talk about that UNLV loss in 2019, but the Ole Miss loss the prior week might have actually been a worse version of this genre, a completely dead effort against Matt Luke-era Ole Miss.)

The maddest I’ve ever been after a Vanderbilt game was the Houston game in 2015, a 34-0 loss that I attended in person, and being mad was as much about the nasty Houston fans and the fact that Houston’s players by all appearances were trying to injure Kyle Shurmur. That’s the kind of shit I get mad about. (It didn’t help that it was played in bad weather, either.)

Cole Sullivan: Two weeks in a row, we lost games in large part because of stupid mistakes. I am pretty mad with what I watched on Saturday, and I do think we need to make serious changes in how we operate our playcalling and overall gameplan, but I do not know how deep these issues go. Both these last two games, especially the UNLV one, were winnable. I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t still build on this, learn from our mistakes, and move on. Although, better coaching would probably help in that regard.

PatrickSawyer: You guys know how I generally operate. I am going to be optimistic. The slant here is “we beat ourselves with turnovers and one horrifically blown coverage.” I’m not sure IF they fix the turnovers, but they are fixable. A little hope exists for a couple wins IF they do that. Much better mood than Saturday night but still pretty pissed off.

Maddest is probably the Earl Bennett dancing game. I was 11. That is my second Vanderbilt football memory. The first was being at the MTSU game earlier that season. Since I was home for the Florida game, I slammed my hands against the floor then ran up to my room, booted up NCAA Football 2003 on my PS2, and I ran the score up to something hilariously laughable while holding Florida to negative total yardage with like 15 sacks. I was 11.

Andrew VU ‘04: To Parlagi: He will curse the day that he was born a Frankenstein!

To ask_the doctor: Losing to the Wet Hets absolutely crushed me, but it’s not the maddest I’ve ever been. In order: 1) JEFF GREEN TRAVELED!!! 2) EMPTY-S-U HAS 13 PLAYERS ON THE FIELD!!! 3) HOW THE HELL CAN YOU CALL A FLAG ON EARL BENNETT FOR DANCING?!?!?!

I cope via writing these posts on Anchor of Gold, having endless ranting conversations with friends and fellow Vanderbilt alums, drinking, and watching silly things, like Young Frankenstein noted above.

Also, I’m not mad now. I’m numb. Numb is worse than mad.

Question from DoreFanInDallas:

HCCL is a pleasant, articulate alumnus, but his team is not well coached. There will be no bowl game this year and a likely 0-8 SEC record. And if history is any indicator, we will have another three or four years of similar performance before there is a change. James Franklin was a once in a life time hire, but if Vandy really wants to be competitive in football like they say they do, why doesn’t it at the end of the season try to hire a proven Power 5 coach who has been successful in an academic environment? Can David Shaw be persuaded to come out of retirement? If Vandy offers enough money, will Mike Elko leave Duke/ACC for Vandy/SEC? And Pat Fitzgerald is available.

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I honestly don’t care if the coach has been successful in an academic environment. If you’re going to make a change, just hire the best coach you can find and worry about the nuts and bolts later. Hell, Jamey Chadwell is still available. Why would you even pollute the mailbag by pointing out that Pat Fitzgerald is?

PatrickSawyer: If I could make the decision, he would have to win at least 1 SEC game and be within a score in 2 others OR win 2 SEC games. Of course, “barring unseen circumstances like AJ Swann and Ken Seals both being lost for the season against Kentucky.” Yadda Yadda.

I also think he probably won’t get fired unless they lose every game by 21+ AND have players transferring before the season ends.

Why is your list entirely defensive guys? Frankly, that list is awful. None of those guys inspire any sort of real hope. Elko would be the best because he at least has shown that he will let an OC run a fun offense and has not been strongly connected to sexual hazing.

I do not really have a short list yet. I was not planning on needing it. I would definitely go with a QB/OC coach. Screw it. Bring back Ludwig just to answer the “what would his Vanderbilt offense look like without Derek Mason choking it out.

Cole Sullivan: I don’t care about the academic environment. A good coach is a good coach. There’s nothing saying that Clark Lea isn’t the best we can get for whatever price we are getting him, and I don’t think he will be fired this year or even next barring absolute disaster, but I do think if we have the chance to make a splash hire, we oughta give it a swing. The coaching staff needs to reevaluate how they view the game of football or we need to get some people gone. We just let such a winnable game slip through our fingers for stupid mistakes, despite having the talent.


Sorry, I’m just frustrated. I have not given up hope on the Leanaissance yet, partly because it’s rather obvious he cares deeply about this school and this team, and I am a sentimental, mushy, ooey-gooey guy, but there needs to be some sort of overhaul in gameplan and philosophy on both sides of the ball.

Andrew VU ‘04: I have a feeling my compatriots in this bag of mail will urge for patience, but I’m in the “fire them all and figure it out later” camp right now. This camp has a lake, canoes, archery, and targets filled with the flaming arrows of interminable anguish. Oh, and on Wednesdays, we spike the Bug Juice. We also have a rivalry with the rich kid camp across the lake, and sing “I said a Boom Chick-a-Boom” like fucking professionals. Oh, and there’s this one guy here who talks to a can and tried to fuck a fridge. Join my camp, I’m saying. We’ve got a tug-of-war going with the Fat Camp from down the road. It is not going well, but, you know, we’re glad for them, as they really seem to need a win right now.

As for building a list of retired coaches and/or sex-pests, we would also have to include the just informed he will be fired Mel Tucker.

Nope, the campers do not want to discuss who could replace NoHo Clark and his incompetent and/or anti-semitic crew right now. We want to make s’mores and plan tonight’s panty raid. I said a Boom Chick-a-Boom.

I may have already tapped into the Bug Juice.

Question(s) from WestEndMayhem & Rubber Hell:

Lea’s tenure is just a compressed Derek Mason experience.

*indistinct whispering into the ear*

Oh, ahem. Excuse me. Yes.

Lea’s tenure is just a compressed Derek Mason experience, right? Rough start, flashes of consistency, beat a few SEC teams and feel like you’ve made it, inexcusable collapse against UNLV. Also, bald wunderkind DC.


Three years after he got the boot, fans are still talking about Derek Mason. How much did Mason, and the admin’s relentless insistence to keep him around, damage Vandy fans’ psyches? Do you feel the program, in general, suffered long term regressions in that era that we’re still trying to unwind? If so, how ill-equipped is Lea to put all of that behind us?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I mean. No.

I realize that the results, four games into Year 3, are the same. (Quite literally; Derek Mason’s record four games into his third season: 9-19.) The obvious difference, of course, is that Mason was following up Brigadoon and Lea was following, uh, the first winless season in Vanderbilt history.

What’s damaging fans’ psyches is that thanks to the Supreme Court (indirectly, I guess), you can now just go into the transfer portal and flip your entire roster, except if you’re Vandy, where the admin says “no, you can’t” and a portion of the fanbase simply refuses to understand that You Can’t Do That At Vandy. Also, now Miami can just come in and buy one of our (likely) starting cornerbacks. And everybody’s impatient in general because of it. I mean, holy shit, I don’t care if you knew Mason wasn’t the guy after the Temple game, I don’t care if you knew Lea wasn’t the guy after the ETSU game. There’s no reward for insisting on being consistently angry.

Cole Sullivan: I can’t understand the full impact of the Derek Mason Experience, but I have been there since the beginning, no really, I was there in McGugin helping greet him back to campus the day he signed his contract. From the beginning, I have felt a different energy around the football program than it had when I first got to campus in the Fall of 2018, and I so badly want Coach Lea to succeed. Maybe he’s just not that guy, but I am willing to give him a pretty long rope. I don’t know what else to say.

PatrickSawyer: Probably? I’m not closing the book yet, but the flame in ye ol’ reading lamp is getting low.

Yeah, there was a lot to the Mason tenure. The Temple game along with the completely inept first season full of shellshocked looks put so many folks completely out on him that the 2016 and 2018 seasons were more like torture than respites. The detractors “knew” (and were proven right, whether by intelligence or luck varies) Mason was going to fail miserably. Thinking maybe he could have turned a corner heading into 2019 with some impressive skill players then finding out that 2019 was going to be as bad as 2014 or 2015. Then 2020 lololol

I think most of that damage is gone. Clark showed in 2022 that he had cleaned up most of those Mason/Woodyball/SOV problems. Yet, somehow, they are back. That’s the part I cannot figure out or really feel confident in anyone’s answer about just yet. It seemed like Clark had made great strides in putting the “beating ourselves” days behind us, but here we are again.

Andrew VU ‘04: I’m not even going to do my “that is a statement” blow-off line, as you’ve nailed it, WestEndMayhem. It’s all the joy of the Derek Mason Experience, but in three years instead of seven. Hopefully, Kirkland agrees, and cuts this all short before the ennui becomes too much to bear.

As for Rubber Hell’s corollary, I think you nailed it, as well. Smart group we’ve got asking questions around this here Golden Anchor. The psychological damage of Mason, of course, would not really exist if he was hired right after Coach Bobby Johnson. It’s the emotional rope-a-dope of experiencing the highs of a 9-4 James Franklin run-through-a-wall-to-win coaching experience followed with a, let’s just say inelegant speaker of a coach losing immediately to Temple. That kick in the dick just could not be repaired with a few bowl trips to Shreveport, and then Mason completely gave up towards the end.

I think we correctly see the Mason DNA in NoHo Clark—and worse, he might have Mason’s floor and not even Mason’s ceiling—and do not want to collectively die in a grain silo filled with sand... you know, metaphorically.

The UNLV game broke both coaches for me, but really they had already proven themselves to me as “not the guy.” For Mason, it was the Temple game, losing his “magic notebook,” and saying process so many times, the word lost all meaning. For Lea, it was losing to ETSU, retaining the anti-semitic coach who is also objectively terrible at coaching DBs, and showing no improvement on either side of the field—WRs excepted—from year two to year three.

So... no, Noho Clark. I no longer want to go see the sand.

Question from Admirable SnackBar:

QFTMB: is it possible that reasonable frustration over the retention of Mason has lead fans to develop an unreasonable hair trigger with Lea?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I think this question either misremembers the Derek Mason era, or it posits that the anger over a coach who was 9-19 four games into his third year with a dumb, inexplicable loss to a mediocre team as one of two losses in a 2-2 start to Year 3 is more justified than the anger over a coach who is 9-19 four games into his third year with a dumb, inexplicable loss to a mediocre team as one of two losses in a 2-2 start to Year 3. Wait, what? You mean that one of our (former) writers wrote an article titled “Off With Their Heads!” after that South Carolina loss in the 2016 season opener?

If there’s a thing I’m surprised about, it’s that fans haven’t given Lea a longer leash than they did Mason if for no other reason than the wildly different state of the program that each man inherited. But now it’s starting to take on that feel of “let’s fire him before he starts having some minor success that the university will use as a reason to keep him” that pervaded most of the tail end of 2016 through 2018 seasons. Which, fair. I can see why the university’s behavior with Mason would have you worried about that.

Cole Sullivan: Yes. Like Tom said, Clark had a lot less going for him than Derek did, and I think the unequal footing (plus the fact that, if you close your eyes, forget the last few weeks happened, and strain really hard, you can imagine us being 4-0) is worth at least a deep breath before we pull out the pitchforks. But hey, football is emotional. This is our school out there. I have literally left blood, sweat, and tears on the Vandy sidelines thanks to the role I got to play as a member of Vandy Spirit, and I am ecstatic whenever I get to see Dance, Cheer, or oh my goodness Mr. Commodore on my TV. I don’t get mad all that much, just not an angry dude by nature, but if you’re pissed, be pissed. Get out the pitchforks. This stuff is important, and we the fans want and deserve a strong, steady college football program that can, at the very least, let us have a little fun on Saturday more often than not.

PatrickSawyer: Yep. I think the comparable resumes are exacerbating the situation, too. Granted, I think firing him this week would be too much of a hair trigger. Firing him after the season may be understandable.

Andrew VU ‘04: Sure, but that’s how inductive reasoning works. The only word I take issue with in this question is “unreasonable.” Can’t get mad at us for seeing all the signs and then interpreting the patterns as repeating. We are supposed to be the smart fans in the SEC, aren’t we? We can come to conclusions faster, while also adhering to the principles of inductive and deductive logic.

Question from Jerry_Palms_Sphincter:

My buddy seems unable to comprehend the idea of “sunk cost” but I should just keep trying to explain it to him right?

Answers from AoG:

Andrew VU ‘04: This is basically a perfect joke. No notes.

Question from ComradeDore & Addendum from WestEndMayhem:

If I had to pick the biggest weakness of this team, I would say the secondary. I think the late transfer of Ja’Dais Richard was a big hit. What is the best way to address it at this point? I assume it is scheme, but do we need a new secondary coach who can do it?


Also, what did he and Ray Davis know?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: If there’s an actual beef I have with Clark Lea, the Dan Jackson nonsense last season would have been the perfect opportunity to jettison the coach of an underperforming unit, and I still don’t really understand why he didn’t do it. (I don’t know, maybe he assumed that the university would give him cover.) And, really, he should have just moved Nick Howell to DBs and brought in a new defensive coordinator. That was the original plan, after all.

Cole Sullivan: We need to play big and fast upfront on defense. If we are going to get burned, let’s not give the opposing offense enough time to burn us. My knowledge of football strategy is not enough to qualify me for a role on any college coaching staff, but I think there has got to be a way to let our secondary play a little bit deeper while we just try to power through the o-line as hard and as fast as we can every play. I think it could end up being riskier, but you gotta crack a few eggs to make a few omelettes.

PatrickSawyer: I don’t think the scheme is helping right now, and I don’t know how much blame the pair of Clark Lea and DC Nick Howell share. The defense really was not the issue in the UNLV game though except for the next to last play. Turnovers were the problem there. I think addressing “HOLD ON TO THE FREAKING FOOTBALL” is the best thing we can do to turn things around.

Trudell Berry and Martel Hight are young players who can grow as the season goes. I also think we saw a blueprint early. Attack other teams and force mistakes. We may not be as successful (UNLV had 6 yards on 3 Q1 drives) against better teams, but it created problems and a pick 6. Attack. Bring that mentality. Go. Hit. Somebody. We did it early then got away from it.

Andrew VU ‘04: We quite obviously have needed a new DBs coach... you know... since mid-way through last year. We also need a new O-Line coach, as dear lord they have somehow regressed. We also need a new Head Coach and a couple new Coordinators. Maybe also a sandwich, if I’m stating obvious things, as it is nearly dinner time as I type these answers.

Re’Mahn “The Hypothesis” Davis knew the unsolved math thingy about all the prime numbers. Duh.

Question from Jeturn:

Consult your favorite oracle and predict the total number of wins for this team…

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’ll say three and worry about which unlucky SEC team will take a loss later.

Cole Sullivan: I have trekked along the great Broad Way across the River Cumberland and sought the prognostication of He Who Came Before, Nicholas S. Zeppos. He predicts, with a smile, that Vanderbilt will conclude its season having earned three total wins. Against whom, he uttered nary a clue...

(Yeah, I bet y’all never realized the “S” in his name stood for “Seer”)

PatrickSawyer: Three. They’ll have at least one game where they refuse to turn the ball over and make just enough big plays.

Andrew VU ‘04: Two. (I consulted Vocockyteps. He was not pleased. We might need to sacrifice a Clark to slake his anger.)

Question from Ramen53:

Why didn’t they have the offense set up for the last field goal attempt by centering the ball on the field, especially after the previous field goal from the right hash barely hooked inside the upright?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Why didn’t they have Swann take at least one shot at the end zone anywhere in that sequence? If I knew the answers to these questions, I’d be a football coach rather than a lawyer who shitposts about Vanderbilt sports in his free time. The fact that I’m nodding along with this question should make you wonder why these guys are the ones making six- and seven figures.

Cole Sullivan: Because it seemed too easy. Sometimes I feel like Lea and/or his coaching staff is one of those groups that always does what the data tells them to do, except their data is wrong somehow, but they keep pushing onwards to make a point. What that point is, I don’t know.

PatrickSawyer: The bigger problem was putting the game on a college kicker with time left on the clock. The offense had been basically unstoppable for 3 drives in a row. At least get a first down and make UNLV burn all their timeouts as the clock gets close to zero. Then, if you have to kick, kick. Choosing to run to that side was also especially dumb.

Andrew VU ‘04: Oh man, you’re absolutely right, but I just don’t have it in me right now to rehash specific in-game decisions. I’m out on this coaching staff, and that is like reason 378 on the list right now.

Question(s) from OldGold&Black & Jeturn:

QFTMB: What role do you believe Lea’s approach to hiring/not-firing staff plays in our on-field struggles? He seems to like/want to work with a certain type of person or his buddies, and can’t do like Mason, fire a friend for cause. How quickly might this team look differently if Vandy opened up the check book and Lea changed his administrative/hiring practices? Secondly, how much of Lea’s imprint do you think the offense and defense have?


Is it time to bring in Coach Chris Marve and Coach Larry Smith?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I sort of think Lea understands the reality that if you replace an assistant coach, there’s a decent chance that you’re just replacing him with another guy you’re pulling up from the South Dakota State/Northern Illinois tree. That can work well in some cases, but often, Group of 5/FCS assistant coaches are just that.

Cole Sullivan: We absolutely should make splashy hires if there are opportunities to do so. Sometimes, it can also be a real advantage to work with not-your-buddies. While I like Clark extra for being an alum, that was just a bonus on an already strong resume.

PatrickSawyer: Retaining Dan Jackson is the only obvious flaw. I liked some of what Lynch did last year. It was not great, but seemed reasonable to see an uptick as Swann should have progressed by having a full offseason as the known starter in the same offense.

I don’t know if Lea is holding Lynch back like Mason did Ludwig. I do know Lea, as recently as Monday night, has said he wants to make games ugly slugfests in a way that sounded a lot more like MANBALL than the fun Big XII adjacent offense we should be running with Swann and the 4 or 5 useful receivers on the roster.

As I have already said, I am not sure how much different the defense looks. How much is Howell? How much is Lea? Not sure.

I do not get the obsession with alums. I was fine with the Lea hire because he seemed like a highly qualified candidate. Might have preferred others, but his work history was respectable. Chris Marve and Larry Smith have not jumped out to me as excellent coaches that we just NEED, alum or not.

Andrew VU ‘04: You want more Vanderbilt feetball alums on the coaching staff after three years of the NoHo Clark experience???

Question from VandyImport:

What combination of drugs, industrial solvents and household cleaning products are required to allow me to sim ahead to 2032 and our third season in the Left Behind League where we are rounding into November with a 6-2 record with three to play?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: Absinthe. The answer is absinthe.

Cole Sullivan: I will not be giving specific advice on substance consumption, but when you figure it out, I know a guy in East Nashville that can get you anything you want as long as you don’t want to go to a bowl game this year.

PatrickSawyer: Pretty sure answering this, even satirically, would be be legally unwise.

Andrew VU ‘04: I actually don’t suggest this, as Rip Van Winkle-ing away the better part of a decade of your life is unwise. That said, any bourbon with “Van Winkle” in it would make for a nice treat to sip whilst all things Vanderbilt feetball burn to the ground for a few years, and an excellent celebratory potable when we rise like a Phoenix out of the Premier League Superteam Debacle to Come.

Question from Doubledore9603:

If Lea and the coaching staff were all given Blenders would they act more like coaches?

Answers from AoG:

Tom Stephenson: I’m sorry, what?

Cole Sullivan: Pretty sure there are blenders all over McGugin for cute little student-athlete smoothies. So no, I don’t think MORE blenders would help, but maybe if we made them smoothies with locks of Nick Saban’s luscious hair plus a couple of drops of Bill Belichick’s hoodie sweat then maybe that could help.

PatrickSawyer: Did you mean “Benders”? I’m assuming they would tell us to bite their shiny, metal asses. That would be just the gasoline on the torchforks to really get this party started.

Andrew VU ‘04: To quote Eric Cartman, “If dolphins are so smart, why do they live in Igloos?”