July 18, 2010

Roundtable: How attractive is the Vandy job?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask members of the coverage staff for their opinions about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Bobby Johnson's retirement means Vanderbilt will be looking for a new coach after this season. In terms of the Big Six schools, where would you rate the Vandy job and how coveted a job is it?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
On the one hand, Vanderbilt may be the toughest job in the country. It's a member of the strongest football conference in the country, and has far and away the highest academic standards in that league. Despite that -- and maybe because of that -- I would think Vandy is an attractive job. It's an SEC gig with a lucrative salary, but it doesn't come with unrealistic expectations. Bobby Johnson posted 29 victories (and a lot of close losses) in eight seasons at Vandy. There aren't many places a coach can manage just two wins in three consecutive seasons (which was the case in Johnson's first three seasons) and retain his position. Furthermore, Johnson exited Vandy viewed as a good coach, even though he managed just one winning record in eight seasons. If a coach is hired at Vanderbilt and fields teams that are competitive and manages a winning season now and then, he'll be set or have a chance to move on to a program with a better chance of winning. The rest of the nation knows the challenges a Vanderbilt coach faces.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
It's one of the worst Big Six jobs in America -- maybe the worst. The only ones comparable are Duke, Baylor, Indiana and Iowa State. The hurdles at Vanderbilt are numerous. It's difficult to get players into school. The facilities lag. There's little fan support. And coaches have to battle those obstacles while playing in the SEC, the toughest football conference in the country. Add it up, and that's why Vandy has been to only one bowl since 1982.

David Fox's answer:
Vanderbilt is in much better shape than it was when Johnson was hired in 2002, but it's still near the bottom among jobs at a Big Six school. If a coach is up to the challenge of coaching at a private school with tough academics in a major conference, there are others -- Northwestern and Stanford, for example -- with more history of success. Those schools have played in Rose Bowls while the Commodores were thrilled to land in the Music City Bowl in 2008. Still, Vanderbilt might not be the coaching dead end it once was. Johnson has designed the blueprint of how to at least compete at Vandy. Playing in the SEC always will be attractive to recruits. So where does Vanderbilt stand? It has a long way to go to catch up with Northwestern and Stanford, but it has a better foundation than Duke (the Blue Devils, by the way, visited Vandy for tips on how to build a program under similar conditions a few years ago). And I might rank Vanderbilt ahead of public school jobs with minimal tradition, such as Indiana, Iowa State and Mississippi State.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
While Vanderbilt is in the SEC, it's not an SEC-caliber job. There are too many negatives to make it attractive. Vandy football is not Vandy basketball or Vandy baseball; those are attractive jobs, simply because you don't need that many players to be competitive. I think Vandy is one of the two or three worst jobs among the Big Six schools, along with Duke and Iowa State. To me, Vandy equates to a C-USA job -- and not necessarily a top-tier C-USA job. Yes, Vandy pays well, but it's also a job that should be seen as a steppingstone to -- hopefully -- bigger things.

Steve Megargee's answer:
The difficulty of a private, academically prestigious school such as Vanderbilt to win in the SEC makes it perhaps the most difficult job of any in the Big Six conferences. I'd rate this job ahead of Duke -- a school with a similar profile -- only because the Nashville location and the chance to play SEC competition probably make it easier to recruit at Vanderbilt (though it's probably easier to win at Duke). You could argue that the Nashville location also makes this job more favorable than Iowa State or Washington State, but again it's probably easier to win at those schools. You could argue that Baylor's on a similar level, but at least that school benefits from being in Texas, which has as many Division I prospects as just about any state in the nation. This job clearly won't be as coveted as the typical SEC opening, but Vanderbilt still could find a good up-and-coming coach who knows that he could parlay one bowl bid with the Commodores into an opportunity at a higher-profile program. I'd put it on the same level as an opening at one of the top C-USA programs. If Middle Tennessee gets back to a bowl this season, don't be surprised if Rick Stockstill's name comes up. Or you might see Vanderbilt hire a top FCS coach or a promising coordinator from a major-conference program.


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