Johnson: Restructuring came as surprise

Speaking at Wednesday's SEC media teleconference, Head Football Coach Bobby Johnson said Tuesday's announcement of a widespread reorganization of Vanderbilt's athletics department, including the reassignment of Director of Athletics Todd Turner, came as a complete surprise to him.

Speaking at Wednesday's SEC media teleconference, Head Football Coach Bobby Johnson said Tuesday's announcement of a widespread reorganization of Vanderbilt's athletics department, including the reassignment of Director of Athletics Todd Turner, came as a complete surprise to him.

"It was all brand new to me yesterday," Johnson said. "I haven't had a chance to think about it a lot. We've been trying to get ready to play Auburn. That is our main focus."

Chancellor E. Gordon Gee announced Tuesday that in an effort to take a lead role in the national reform agenda for college sports, Vanderbilt would be bringng its varsity sports programs under the Division of Student Life and University Affairs headed by Vice Chancellor David Williams II. Gee also announced that Todd Turner, Vanderbilt's Director of Athletics since 1996, would be asked to take a position as a special assistant to the Chancellor for athletic/academic reform.

"Dr. Gee is a very forward-thinking man," said Johnson. "He put a lot of thought into this, and from what I understand did similar things at Ohio State when he was president there. Chancellor Gee's a pretty sharp guy, and we're going to do what he asks us to do.

"I think in the long run it will be good for Vanderbilt, and if we're able to be more successful, especially in football, I think a lot of people will be looking at that model."

Asked if he felt the restructuring would hurt Vanderbilt's recruiting, Johnson replied, "I think people who recruit against us will try to use it against us. But I think it's going to be a positive, and that's the way we're approaching it with our recruits. We think we're going to get better service for our student-athletes throughout all parts of our university.

"None of our budgets have been changed. None of our personnel has been eliminated. We're looking forward to the new organization, and we think it's going to help us-- that's the way we've been approaching it with our recruits, and everyone's been very open-minded about it. I think they can see the good in the changes."

Johnson said that under the new structure, he now reports to Brock Williams, an assistant to Vice Chancellor David Williams, for his day-to-day needs. "And if I have to, I can call Dr. Gee," Johnson said. "He told me that yesterday."

Johnson was also asked how he would address a possible perception on the part of recruits that Vanderbilt is de-emphasizing football.

"It's not true, that's how we're addressing it," said Johnson. "We inform them that we're still in the Southeastern Conference, that we plan to be in the Southeastern Conference forever. And if you're going to be in that conference, you don't de-emphasize football.

"We're trying to make football better. That's what Dr. Gee is all about, and he's been at some very successful schools football-wise.

Dr. Gee, now in his third year at the school, served as President of Colorado when the Buffaloes won a national championship in 1990, and has also served as an administrator at football powers Ohio State and West Virginia, Johnson pointed out.

"Believe me, [Dr. Gee] wants to win more than anybody else," Johnson continued. "It's important to him. I think our team knows that. I think our university knows that.

"We're getting the word out to our recruits, especially the ones that like us, that this is the way a program should be run-- that it should be an integral part of our university. That's the only thing we're doing. We're not de-emphasizing anything."

Asked if he would have taken the job in 2001 if he had known in advance of the changes, Johnson said he still likely would have.

"I do consider Todd Turner to be a great friend of mine," Johnson said. "He was one of the reasons I came to Vanderbilt. He convinced me that we would be successful here, because of the support from the Chancellor. But I still believe that, and I have no doubts about it."

Could the upheaval serve as a distraction as Johnson's Commodores prepare for a home game vs. Auburn Saturday?

"We haven't mentioned a word of it in practice," Johnson said. "Everybody knew about it. Everybody was concentrating on Auburn. I haven't seen it be a distraction yet. I hope it won't.

"Our guys are focused on trying to improve every time we go out to practice. We had a very good explanation from our administration, and we passed it on to our players. We're convinced their experience will be improved at Vanderbilt."


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