Wednesday, July 14, 2010

ESPN.com's Chris Low: Johnson's Decision to Retire Made Easier When Caldwell and Staff Would Remain

There isn't a better college football writer in America than ESPN's Chris Low. He does an especially admirable job covering the all-to-often forgotten Commodores as part of his SEC College Football Beat. Chris has a great article on his blog about Coach Johnson and the blueprint he left for his staff and his team. To me, the most interesting (if unsurprising take) is his riff on how Johnson's loyalty to his coaching staff made his decision easier when he found out they would remain. From Low's piece:
"Johnson acknowledged that the decision by Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams to make Caldwell the interim head coach was pivotal in his decision to step away now. Johnson is extremely close to his coaches, and several of them go back more than 25 years when they were all at Furman together under Dick Sheridan."

In fairness, by announcing now, Coach Johnson didn't leave Vice Chancellor Williams much of a choice.

It is apparent from his comments that Coach Johnson was tired of the life style of a college football coach. That's understandable.. When you are done, you're done, and SEC football demands all one can give. As usual, Coach Johnson said it best:
"I know people have a lot of questions about why now and why I didn’t just retire after the season. Football commands every second of your life in the season, and if you’re thinking about retiring at the end of the season, I don’t see any way you’re going to have the right mindset to give it everything you’ve got. I don’t think I could have looked the players in the eye. So just trying to make it through one more season so I could retire didn’t make sense to me."


Similar to my argument below, Johnson thought now, rather then later gave the program the best opportunity to move forward. According to Low, Johnson was given the opportunity to announce his retirement and coach one more season. Instead, according to Coach Johnson, "everybody came to the same conclusion, that I wouldn’t be too good doing it that way. . . . talk about the ultimate lame-duck situation. That would have been it.” As Low writes: "[Johnson] understands how some fans might think his retiring three weeks before the start of preseason practice puts the program in a tough position, but he doesn’t see it as a detriment." According to Coach Johnson: "If I had left right after last season, we probably would have lost more recruits. . . Right now, our guys are so far ahead of the game and have a preliminary game plan for Northwestern and are ready to go. The players will have to make a little bit of an adjustment to Robbie as head coach, but Robbie and I are pretty similar in our philosophies."

Finally, in today's live-blog there was much criticism of the announcement being made to the media prior to being made to the team. According to Low: "Johnson had wanted to tell his players and coaches before the press conference Wednesday, but the story began to leak out that morning." The reality is, in a sports-talk radio/blog/twitter driven sports world those customs might belong to a bygone era. One could make the argument that the news was out there regardless of when the press conference was held. The rationale was probably to give people answers before too much wild speculation could materialize. I can certainly see why. VSL fell victim to the feeding frenzy, re-tweeting a story claiming Johnson was stepping down due to a serious and life-threatening illness. As the person who re-tweeted that report, I would like to personally apologize to Coach Johnson, his family, and our readership for that error. I got caught up in the moment and deeply regret it.

There will be much more on this story in the days to come and VSL will continue to bring it to you.

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