Friday, November 20, 2009

Dores-Vols Preview: "Oh, the Humanity"

Is Bobby Johnson on the verge of being right back where he started? This is Johnson's eighth season as head coach at Vanderbilt, and a matter of months ago it seemed as if he had all the pieces in place to turn the proverbial corner with Vanderbilt's football program. On New Year's Eve, the Dores won their first bowl game since 1955 and capped off the program's first winning season since 1982, with a freshman QB at the helm for the finale no less. We've all heard it before -- needless to say, things were looking up for Commodore football.

My what a difference three months of misery can make. Now there are plenty of excuses to be made and no shortage of explanatory storylines: losing highly touted transfer WR Terrance Jeffers-Harris to academic ineligibility; losing key players to injury; playing 12 straight weeks without a break; trying to implement a new style of offense with personnel who were not recruited to play that style of offense...I'm sure there is more I'm leaving out. No one would accuse CBJ of just completely misplaying a perfect hand of cards.

But one storyline that should have everyone's attention is the fact that we are on the precipice of going 0-fer in SEC games for the first time since CBJ's first season at the helm (2002). We've won at least one SEC game every season since 2003, the year we beat Kentucky at home, tore down both goalposts, and paraded them down West End Ave. Ah, memories. In 2004 we were awful but beat Mississippi State 31-13 and only lost to UK by 1 and UT by 5. In 2005 we went 5-6 with Cutler under center, posting a 3-5 SEC record. That year we beat UT in Knoxville 28-24 and "lost" due to a manifestly corrupt celebration penalty in double-OT to Florida. Beating UF or MTSU that season would've put us in a bowl. In 2006 it looked like we took a half-step backward, ending up 4-8 overall, but we spoiled Georgia's homecoming and oh how sweet it was. In 2007 we got back on track with a 5-7 finish, barely losing 20-17 to Georgia, 27-20 to Kentucky, and 25-24 to UT (again, any of which would have sent us to a bowl). I need not repeat what happened last year, but it included a 4-4 SEC record and when viewed in light of the previous seasons' progress, it appeared to be the natural culmination of a Johnson Era marked by continuous improvement and genuine competitiveness.

So where the hell are we now? 0-7 in the SEC, 2-9 overall, and riding a seven-game losing streak (including one to Army) since beating Rice on September 26. The CBJ success train appears to have been derailed, and this may sound weird, but part of me can't decide what's the better outcome tomorrow in terms of getting us back on track.

On the one hand, winning would keep the streak of SEC-win seasons alive and provide some semblance of satisfaction in potentially stifling rival UT's bowl chances. On the other hand, I would hate for Vandy fans and boosters to see it as a moral victory and a sign that all is well in Commie Country. The fact is, changes need to be made. We're getting good recruits and have played fairly consistently good defense the past several years (although we've GOT to get better against the run), but no one can deny that we've been absolutely abysmal on offense. CBJ is loyal to a fault to this coaching staff and I'm afraid that a win over UT might close an otherwise-open door for him to give the axe to Ted Cain, who clearly has no idea how to prepare an offense. This atrocity of an offense is not inevitable: look at Stanford, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and other schools with similar recruiting environments who are able to move the football. The continuation of the present state of affairs is not a viable option in my mind, and I believe that message needs to be conveyed to CBJ, with the utmost respect, win or lose against UT.

So obviously I want us to win tomorrow. With Myron Lewis and Pat Benoist out of the lineup, Fowler's planned blitz packages will need to be REALLY good for that to happen, because it's clear that even the bright spots of Warren Norman and Zac Stacy will not be enough to carry this woeful offense to victory. Nonetheless, UT is mediocre and criminal and Crompton is just a disastrous head case -- so I'll go ahead and predict a streak-saving win for us. I just hope a victory doesn't lessen the pressure to make some changes in the offseason. Is VSL Nation with me on this?

This has been a long and ranting post, so thank you to any of you that slogged through it with me. The question I will leave you with is this: At what point do we need to start worrying about CBJ, one of the most respected coaches in all of college football, throwing up his hands and heading for greener pastures (read: Clemson, UVA)? Some have opined that that should've happened already. Others have noted that if CBJ stayed on for 2010 he'd be the first head coach in SEC history to return for a 9th season after a losing record through 8 seasons. In any case, one can't help but wonder how long anything can go untouched before it starts to spoil. In the words of Newman the Postman, "Oh, the humanity."


Stanimal said...

1) CBJ isn't going anywhere anytime soon. MAYBE UVA will call him in the offseason, but they were certainly more likely to do so last year when we had a winning season than this one.

2) I'm with you on Ted Cain. It's time to end this madness. He can't go riding the Jay Cutler offense coat-tails forever. Changes have to be made to use our talent. Period.

Andrew Smith said...

I, too, agree with the specific point that Cain must go, but I think you're close to making a larger and more important point: top college coaches care about winning more than being nice guys and CBJ needs to realize that.

I think he has let this season slide away because he was unwilling to castrate underperforming players and coaches early in the season. This team had the talent to win six or seven games, even with the injuries.

Sadly, both CBJ and all Vandy fans will suffer for this for years to come because he has utterly undone whatever the past seven years have done to improve our ability to recruit.

Douglas James said...

Clemson is not going after him as they are most likely going to win their division of the ACC. Why would he go to UVA? Also what really troubles me about this year is that we have the talent to be much much better. In the beginning of the CBJ era we had little to no talent but did the most with it. But we have some real talent on this roster and yet severely under-performed this year. Its really time for CBJ to fire Ted Cain. I don't care how good a recruiter he is or how good friends they are. He simply has no idea how to develop an offense. PERIOD. If Ted Cain comes back next year I'm going to be really pissed.

Bobby O'Shea said...

James Carville takes Vanderbilt and the 17 on the Mr. Tony show. He's 19-23 on the year, so this might be more of a blessing than a curse.

Anonymous said...

i have to assume you went "brain dead" for a moment or one is touching cbj right now.....espically after this season.
schools looking for a new head coach want a winner or a big time recruiter[ala tennessee]...cbj is neither...i'm sure he's a nice guy and is kind to his family/etc...but, he's not going anywhere unless vandy chooses to terminate.
i only saw vandy play once or twice on tv....but, unfortunately, saw them play what a disappointment....there was no life to the team...they went thru the motions...thats the coaching staffs fault.
with all the bs above, i hope they can beat ut....nothing better than a ut loss
papa oshea

NorCalVol said...

Crompton is just a disastrous head case? 2008? Yes. First half 2009? Pretty much.
Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Memphis, Ole Miss: anything but.
2124 yards, 23 TDs in 2009. Where have ya been?

Seamus O'Toole said...

Haha, well the short answer to that is “getting married and trying to avoid failing out of law school at the same time.” But seriously, here are a few brief responses to the onslaught:

1) Apparently Katherine Miller at InsideVandy thinks I’m right on the money re CBJ potentially jumping ship. So put that in your pipe and smoke it.

2) Rise and shine: CBJ is on UVA’s radar along with Tommy Tuberville, Jim Grobe, Mike London. Which reminds me, Wake might be a possibility too if Grobe gets hired by his alma mater. And believe it or not, UVA is an attractive coaching job.

3) Fair enough about Clemson, but don’t forget that they’ve been talking about CBJ for years -- especially last year -- given their perennial underachievement, and he was very high on their short list in the offseason. CJ Spiller might carry the Tigers to a division title today (although as of this writing that’s not looking overly convincing), but a lot of fans and boosters were furious that they stayed internal with Dabo Swinney -- his future as head honcho there is anything but guaranteed.

4) Clemson and UVA were examples off the top of my head but obviously not intended to be exhaustive of the possibilities.

5) Anyone who thinks CBJ is not a desirable commodity in the college football coaching world hasn’t been paying very close attention to the chatter the past three seasons. I don’t think the comment about recruiting even merits a response. Well, maybe just one: see NFL rosters.

6) The main point was not about CBJ being fired or hired away, it was the point Andrew picked up on: He’s loyal to a fault with his staff and needs to fire his offensive coordinator. Plain and simple.

7) Jonathan Crompton has played well in several games this season, I’ll give you that. But seriously, congratulations to him on 5 TD passes against, um, MEMPHIS...Forgive me if I’m not proclaiming him the second coming. The guy went 4 of 13 on 3rd downs last week in a 45-17 loss to Ole Miss, so the point about him being inconsistent still stands. Crompton may have started hitting some receivers, but he hasn’t given up on spraying his fair share of passes. Anyway, your examples of games where he’s sucked and games where he’s been good just proves the point that you never know what you’re going to get with that head case.

8) BYOB, fellas. Bring Your Own BOO-YA.

Stanimal said...

Eh. They're pretty big on Dabo down here. I think he's got that job is locked up for a while.

But I will retract my statement about him potentially being a desired commodity. I would just say that he was in a better spot last year than this one.