Football coach Gerry Dinardo also famously bolted for LSU in 1994, and women's basketball coach Jim Foster did the same for Ohio State in 2002-- but neither of those departures stung like Fogler's. When Fast Eddie skipped town, it seemed to signal to the collegiate world that once a coach at Vanderbilt achieved a modicum of success, he/she was fair game for any enormous, well-endowed state school that happened to be in the market.
That's why Tim Corbin's decision on Friday to remain with Vanderbilt for the long-term was so heartwarming. On the surface it merely means Vandy's baseball program is on solid footing, and that a beloved coach who has brought renewed enthusiasm to a moribund program will be staying around.
But look beneath the surface, and it means much more.
Fogler's breakthrough season occurred on the watch of notorious Athletic Director Paul Hoolahan and the indifferent-to-athletics Chancellor Joe B. Wyatt. Fogler, as the story goes, approached Hoolahan about a modest salary increase-- a reasonable request, after a 28-6 season-- and couldn't get either man to return his phone call. (Asked by reporters why he hadn't waited for Hoolahan to return from out of town before accepting South Carolina's offer, Fogler replied, "Last I heard, they had telephones in all 50 states.")
Flash forward 11 years. Of all things, Auburn comes calling for Vanderbilt's baseball coach, three days after he's finished coaching his team to the finest season in school history. Dore fans are seeing visions of the Fogler debacle all over again-- big state school steals up-and-comer from li'l ol' Vandy, which in 2004 around doesn't even have an athletics director per se.
Chancellor Gordon Gee had talked a good game about restoring "excellence" to Vanderbilt athletics-- but up until Friday it was all talk. Local columnists had poked fun at his holy war on corruption and Vandy's four-headed monster of an athletic department, and had insisted that the school's best coaches would be tempted to skip town at the first opportunity. How can a sports program that exists merely as a stepping stone for coaches ever attain the "excellence" of which Gee speaks?
The Corbin situation presented the first real crisis for the Vanderbilt's new order. How would Gee and Vice Chancellor David Williams II respond?
Pardon the cheesy baseball analogy, but... they stepped up to the plate swinging away, one might say. They moved quickly to offer Corbin everything he needed to make Vanderbilt baseball all it could be. To the delight of fans, Corbin decided to take it and stay put.
Understand, coaches jump ship all the time, sometimes for crazy, inexplicable reasons. Kansas tried its best to keep Roy Williams, but couldn't. Bill Curry once jumped from Alabama to Kentucky. Foster left for Ohio State despite Vandy's best effort. Sometimes coaches just feel it's time to move on, and all school officials can do is make sure they know they're wanted at home.
Had Corbin left for Auburn, Vandy fans would certainly have been bitter, but few could have blamed Corbin. Objectively, Auburn probably offers an environment more conducive to winning a College World Series.
But faith and begorrah, this time around, Vanderbilt's administration did right by a coach. They let it be known they would fight to keep Corbin, and they backed it up.
Those who've watched Corbin work his magic with his team these last two years realize he's too extraordinary a coach to let get away easily. It's not just the way he motivates his team... it's the little things, the attention to detail, the contagious work habits, the boundless passion and enthusiasm, that make watching his teams such a joy. Without question, he's one of the truly bright young talents in the college game.
Corbin looked it all over, looked in the mirror, and decided Vanderbilt was the place he wanted to continue his career. It was a blessed sign things have changed 180 degrees from the Hoolahan / Wyatt days.
So who's the big loser here? Corbin gets job security, and presumably a big raise. The program gets a new practice facility. Vandy fans and the team get to keep one of the savviest, most dedicated coaches ever employed at McGugin.
And Williams and Gee? They've set a welcome precedent that in essence says, "No longer is Vanderbilt going to sit by idly and let its best coaches be skimmed away. Vanderbilt is prepared to play ball with the big boys."
The only loser in this situation? The folks down in Auburn, who will have to look elsewhere for a head coach. Pointy-heads, 1; ag schoolers, nuthin'.
Corbin's announcement would certainly have delighted Charlie Hawkins, Vanderbilt's beloved baseball benefactor who lost his battle with cancer earlier this week. To the amazement of all, members of Hawkins' grieving family were present for Corbin's press conference Friday afternoon.
Hawkins, who'll be laid to rest Sunday, was Vandy's first All-SEC player back in the 1950's-- but that's not why he'll never be forgotten. It was rather because he grasped the genius of generosity.
While others gazed upon Vanderbilt's degenerating baseball field and pronounced it a "dump", Hawkins saw it as an opportunity. Of the $6 million it took to renovate the old ball park, over $2 million was donated by Hawkins, who had made his fortune as a Nashville real estate developer. And why not? As he now knows, you can't take any of it with you.
Hawkins was a beloved grandfather figure whose vocal support and cookies and battle against cancer touched the lives of all of Vandy's players, coaches and fans. Death ultimately claimed him, as it ultimately does to all of us-- yet Hawkins survived for one last season to see Vanderbilt baseball return to glory. How fitting that Vandy's gleaming new home field will forever bear his name.
God bless you, Charlie Hawkins. You made Vanderbilt a better place. You taught us all that the happiest people on earth are those who truly give... and that the misers of this world go to their graves, well, miserable.
Contact Brent at firstname.lastname@example.org