Can Anyone Win at Vanderbilt?

Wednesday's retirement of Vanderbilt football coach Bobby Johnson stunned most of us in and around the SEC. Johnson had certainly made some progress with the Commodores including a bowl victory over Boston College at the end of the 2008 season; the school's first in more than a half century. But that was just a mirage, an imaginary oasis in the desert that is Vanderbilt Football.

The 2008 season, in fact was the beginning of the frustrating end for Bobby Johnson who posted a 29-66 record in his eight seasons in Nashville. Vandy started out 5-0 with wins over South Carolina, Ole Miss and Auburn. However they couldn't sustain it and lost four straight including three-point setbacks to Mississippi State and Duke. A 31-24 win at Kentucky finally got Vandy bowl eligible for the first time since 1982 but all that earned them was a two mile trip to the Music City Bowl.

There was little momentum from that win and Vandy reverted to form in 2009 posting a 2-10 record

Johnson is universally described as a good man and a solid coach who did as good a job as you could do in that job. While I agree with the first part of that, I don't believe that the Commodores' lofty academic standards and below average facilities necessarily relegate the football program to doormat status year in and year out. Vandy could be more competitive more consistently but they have to make a commitment to one thing. Be different.

Vanderbilt should throw the ball ALL the time or they should run the ball ALL the time. They should run schemes on both sides of the football that are unique, and thus, difficult to prepare for. Running the ball all the time keeps the clock moving, shortens games and makes depth of talent less significant. That brings us to the key word for Vanderbilt's football future.


Vandy should go to the wishbone effective in 2011 and stay with it forever. The wishbone is ideal for the Commodores because it doesn't require great offensive linemen or great, deep-threat receivers. What you need is a good inside runner, decent speed to the outside and a tough, smart, athletic quarterback. Those are things Vandy can find.

The wishbone is a pain to prepare for in just a few days, which will give Vandy an advantage many weeks. Stopping the wishbone depends largely on discipline and maintaining your assignment and, well there are a lot of players who aren't all that good at those things.

So who can they hire to run it and make it happen? The perfect choice is Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo. He just finished his second full season as the head man in Annapolis and in those two seasons Navy is 18-9 with a pair of bowl appearances. Last year's Navy team finished 10-4 and blistered Missouri 35-13 in its bowl game. He beat Notre Dame, won the Commander-in-Chief's trophy with wins over Army and Air Force and lost to Ohio State by just four points.

Niumatalolo is used to recruiting outstanding students and competing against teams with superior athletes. He has a long history with the Naval Academy so he may be hard to get, but he's the one to get.

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