Much of the buzz coming out of SEC Media Day(s) this past week surrounded Vanderbilt's newly named Interim Head Coach, Robbie Caldwell. Based on the antidotal evidence of my Vanderbilt Google Alerts, I can tell you it seemed everyone in the conference was talking about the new coach and his folksy demeanor.
The New York Times' Ray Glier describes the scene this way: "For 60 minutes here this week the turmoil around the Southeastern Conference was interrupted by the homespun, uncomplicated media presentation of Robbie Caldwell, Vanderbilt’s interim head football coach. While talking about the coming season, he delighted the crowd with tales of working on a turkey farm and his varied skills, such as pouring concrete." All the more ironic, it seems, that it's the haughty Vanderbilt who's coach captivated the gathering in such a way. To hear the Commodores described throughout the league, you'd more expect Vanderbilt's coach to liken an offensive scheme to an 18th century battle, or describe the gridiron in poetic terms, then recount a childhood of inseminating turkeys and being a "collards man."
In listening to Coach Caldwell's interview this friday on 650 WSM here in Nashville, the shrewdness of the interim coaches charm offensive became clear to me. Coach Caldwell has introduced himself to Vanderbilt fans and the rest of the SEC as a lovable assistant who was finally getting "his shot." Don't get me wrong, I believe it's genuine. But it's also very smart. Caldwell's efforts to charm his way into the hearts and minds of Commodore fans, the national media, and perhaps most importantly, the Vanderbilt administration (i.e. David Williams and his staff) is undoubtedly designed to remove the "interim" from the beginning of his title. After all it's harder to fire someone you, and the fans, like personally. And frankly, it's hard not to like Robbie Caldwell after hearing him speak and answer questions.
Perhaps I'm missing something or just not listening, but it seems that every time I've heard Caldwell, the talk is about himself, his job, and the circumstances surrounding his hiring. Talk of the season, the team, and the expectations therein, have been in short supply so far. How good this team will be remains to be seen. While VSL will be doing our usual full-scale preview in the weeks to come, I think it's fair to say that the expectations (particularly on the offensive side of the ball) are not sky-high. After a 2-10 season and without prospects that things are necessarily looking up, I can see why the conversation has been about Caldwell than the squad. ICRC's charm offensive does two things: 1) it makes him likable and 2) it (might) give him more than a year to be the head coach.
But another interesting thing happened this week: Robbie Caldwell added his first assistant coach (as everyone has gone to great pains to emphasize, the current staff are all CBJ holdovers). The Tulsa assistant was the offensive line coach (the position Caldwell was in charge of prior to ascending to the head coach position), as well as the Golden Wave's co-offensive coordinator. As the Tennessean story by Jeff Lockridge highlights, Herb Hand is the 5th Tulsa assistant to leave this offseason. But it's his title as co-offensive coordinator that piqued my interest and indicates to me, above and beyond his charm offensive, that Caldwell wants to be Vanderbilt's head coach beyond this season. Caldwell's fate (and probably that of the rest of the staff), is so heavily intertwined with the offense's production that Hand can be seen as an insurance policy. Ted Cain was replaced in the offseason with Jimmy Kiser, who was actually calling all the plays last season anyway. If the offense under Kiser stalls, Caldwell now has a plan-B, a thought that had to cross his mind.
I wouldn't be the first blogger to read too much into things, but after this week's happenings, I'm convinced Robbie Caldwell is a folksy genius with his eyes on the prize, and so far, ICRC seems to be hitting all the right chords. Whether that will matter once the season beings is remains an open question.