Johnson Loss Is Big For The SEC
No coach did more with lesser talent than Bobby Johnson did at Vandy in the modern era of the game.
By: BE Coleman
The news that Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson was leaving the game of college football was shocking. Johnson leaves a lasting footprint inside the SEC that will not be forgotten anytime soon.
The coach with class, character and candor made believers out of opposing coaches, opposing teams and opposing fan bases.
With Johnson on duty, there were no big scores run up on the team that had been called the conference doormat in the past. A sigh of relief was felt by everyone who had managed to escape the grasp of the "Black and Gold."
Under Johnson, Vanderbilt became the team that would beat you in your own back yard. Triumphs over Auburn Arkansas, Georgia, Ole Miss, Miss. State, South Carolina and Tennessee were witnessed.
Not too much was thought or felt when in Johnson’s second season his med students from Nashville handily beat Kentucky by eleven points in 2003. Much more was on the horizon and no one was aware.
Johnson was in one of the toughest jobs in all of football coaching Vandy.
Unlike the other 119 other schools that comprise the FBS – Div 1A landscape, Vanderbilt’s student athletes must maintain the nations highest mandated G.P.A. to simply stay in school.
Noting that Johnson did more with less is an understatement. No coach did more with lesser talent than Bobby Johnson did at Vandy in the modern era of the game.
It’s hard to land the top college talent enjoyed by every other university coaching staff with a bar set that high. It did not stop Johnson, who is currently lodged as the fourth best all time coach in history at Vandy.
What very few know today is that Vanderbilt was once a national powerhouse. From 1897 through 1923, nobody was better than the Commodores in college football.
It was why Tennessee hired a West Point Grad named Robert Neyland in 1925 to stop the Commodores wrath at four national championships.
That wrath was revisited under Johnson. Mississippi State felt the sting from a 31-13 beat down in Nashville next. In 2005 Arkansas, Ole Miss and Tennessee were the jack slapped victims. Florida and South Carolina escaped with one touchdown margins, Kentucky only five points.
The conference upsets continued in 2006 when Vandy went into Athens and literally kicked Georgia’s butt up and down the field all day long as they emerged with a 24-22 win. Once again, no one had noticed their arrival despite pinning Alabama’s ears behind their head, to open conference play before falling 13-10 late in the game.
Johnson noticed, with a big grin and kind words expressed as Florida escaped three weeks later with a six point margin of victory, on their way to a conference title and national championship.
In ’07 South Carolina and Ole Miss felt the black and gold pain. The Gamecocks were ranked 6th nationally under Steve Spurrier. ESPN had set up a Spurrier party with the game broadcast that went sour very quickly.
It was the highest ranked opponent that Vandy had beaten in 70 years, dating back to a 7-6 win over SEC Champion LSU in 1937.
It would culminate in 2008 when the Commodores were perched 3rd in the SEC East when the season settled. Everyone was stunned to see Vanderbilt not only earning a bowl birth for the first time in 24 years, beating Ole Miss, South Carolina, Kentucky and Auburn was simply huge.
When The Commodores beat Boston College in the Music City Bowl to end ’08 triumphantly, cheers rang out from Puget Sound in the northwest to Key West in the southeast and all points in between.
Bobby Johnson leaves Vandy with a record of 29-66 in eight seasons. It concludes his coaching career with an 89-102 all-time record, which includes a 60-36 record in eight seasons at Furman and a national championship.
During his tenure at Vanderbilt, Johnson mentored 22 All-SEC selections, 21 SEC All-Freshmen and SEC Offensive Player of the Year Jay Cutler. He has 11 players on NFL rosters presently from Vanderbilt.
Perhaps his most noted work will be seen in the short future on campus in Nashville.
$52 million dollars in upgrades will spice up Dudley Field, playing surfaces on the practice fields, team meeting rooms for football, team meeting rooms for football and the team locker room, equipment rooms, and athletic training room.
Certainly Johnson made a lasting mark during his short stay in the SEC. But, as he noted spending more time with his wife, a lifetime awaited trip to South Africa and returning back to his home state of South Carolina weighed heavily upon him.
Whomever Vanderbilt selects as the next head coach to lead the Commodores, he has big shoes to fill.
For opposing coaches, due notice and credit was handed to Johnson from his coaching counterparts. Secretly, they are all glad he is gone.
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