Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bobby Johnson's Retirement: A Reminder That Coaches Are Human

Bobby Johnson's demeanor at the podium was not somber. Sure, he choked up a bit when he talked about the players and the University, but that was the only time in which he didn't talk about his future with a hint of optimism.

When the news broke this morning that Coach Johnson was stepping down, speculation became rampant that there had to be something wrong with him or his family. Something had to have been amiss to take him away from his job as an SEC football coach. But much to everyone's surprise and relief, he said there were no health issues with himself or his family. The only thing he said was that it was a "personal decision", and that "[i]t was about what [he and his wife] want to do with [their] lives."

No tragedies, no drama. He was simply "done."

Coach Johnson's decision is a reminder that the coaching personalities we see on the sidelines every Saturday are in fact human. Many fans don't realize the amount of effort that goes into being a college coach. The tireless hours watching video, scripting practices, and getting out on the road recruiting are easy to overlook when the finished product is what Americans pile in front of the TV to watch every Saturday.

So as good old CBJ said with a joke, he's 60 years old. Is it really so ridiculous to think that a person of his age, who has been a football coach since the 1970s, could finally have had enough? Do we really need more of an explanation out of our coach other than he's simply had enough and is ready to retire with the wife back in South Carolina?

There are fair arguments on both sides of that question, but Bobby Johnson has earned the right to go out on his own terms. He's done the University and the football program proud, even if it hasn't resulted in perennial success. He's given us a bowl game, something no one could do in over 20 years, and a step up in our recruiting. He's made the Commodores a team that must be respected, even if they aren't a stalwart. He's also maintained integrity in a conference that sometimes sacrifices it in the name of the almighty dollar.

In my humble opinion, CBJ could have done it at a better time. But in his words, "[T]here's not a great time for a college football coach to retire." There's certainly truth to that. If you leave at the end of the season, you not only risk losing your immediate recruiting class, your team also ends its season on a sad note. After going 2-10 last year, the team certainly didn't need that. But leaving now, with camp just a few weeks away, certainly has its disadvantages. The players will no doubt be faced with uncertainty, which is the ultimate enemy of any football program. In addition, the recruits of last year's class who fell in love with Johnson before signing their LOIs, are likely to wonder if staying at Vandy after this year is the right move. Finally, it places a lot on Robbie Caldwell's shoulders. He must regroup the team and ensure that the goodwill that the program has fought so hard to capture over the past 8 years does not go out the door with CBJ.

But in truth, isn't that what any coach signs up for? The old mantra "if it was easy, everyone would do it" comes to mind. This is Caldwell's shot, and it may be his only one. His 30 year career has culminated into this.

So maybe Coach Johnson's retirement, while seemingly poorly-timed to us, actually was the best way to get out. My only qualm with all that is that he should have told the team first, even if the news had already leaked. But that's less on Coach Johnson, and more on the powers-that-be in the Division of Student Life. They felt that it was important to face the rumors head-on with the press conference first, and then let CBJ talk to the team.

Regardless of the manner of exit, Bobby Johnson is a reminder that the guys with the headsets on the sidelines who attain folk hero status are people just like you and me. I can't fault him for recognizing that he was done. There will be change, be it Vanderbilt keeping Coach Caldwell, or moving in another direction after the season (and I do think any change will only happen after the season). But regardless, you have to respect what CBJ has done for the school, and you have to respect him for leaving on his own terms.

Best of luck CBJ. We'll miss you on the sidelines on Saturdays, and you'll always proudly be a Commodore.


Anonymous said...

So Bobby didn't leave to join the Miami Heat?

AD said...

Nice post. Thanks for pumping out the coverage yesterday.