If you didn't pick up on my Commodores puns, shame on you (thanks Lionel).
Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson announced his retirement as of Wednesday. The news comes as a bit of a shock given the timing of the announcement. Just one week before media day, a few weeks before players report for fall practice, and less than two months before Vanderbilt opens its season against Northwestern on September 4, Coach Johnson is leaving a few people (probably a few players as well) scratching their heads.
According to sources, Johnson has stated this is not a decision made due to health concerns, either for himself or his wife Catherine. Johnson emphasized the fact that it was not a decision made lightly. In fact, he asserts that this is it. The end of the line. All she wrote. Sailing into the sunset...you get the idea. He's not walking away from the Vanderbilt job, he's walking away from coaching, period.
For me, I hate to see him go. I think he was a good coach, who did it the right way, and did more with less than most anyone. While Johnson's record at Vanderbilt was a seemingly sub-par 29-66, he has the fourth most victories in school history. Most impressively, he changed the perception of Vanderbilt from a team you booked for homecoming to beat them 70-0 to a team that can compete with any team on any given day. It seems he won the most important battle of getting his players to believe that. While they are still the 'darlings' of the SEC, their improvement is good for the SEC as a whole.
2008 was Johnson's most successful season at the helm. Johnson got the Commodores as high as #13 in the polls - the national poll, not the SEC (yes, I'm aware there are only 12 teams in the SEC) - beating South Carolina and Auburn, both of whom were ranked in the top 25. Vanderbilt got off to a roaring 5-0 before cooling off a bit. They capped off their dream season with a Music City miracle beating Boston College in the Music City Bowl.
Along the way, Johnson halted many of Vanderbilt's less than flattering skids. 2008 was the team's first winning, well, non-losing season season 1982. I wasn't even alive. He put the ax to a 22-game losing streak to rival Tennessee in 2005, as well as a losing streak to almost every SEC team (I believe 9 in total) during his tenure.
Assistant Coach Robbie Caldwell will assume the reins as Interim Head Coach. I stand by Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams in saying I respect Johnson's decision if his heart is no longer in it. It just seems the timing could have been better.
All in all, I think Johnson's absence will be felt not only by Vanderbilt, but the SEC as a whole. You're only as strong as your weakest link, or something sappy like that. I hope Vanderbilt can find someone as classy and driven to run a program like Vanderbilt. It can't be the easiest of jobs. Good luck Bobby.