Johnson: We're building program our way

Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson may downplay his resemblance to Steve Martin, but his comedic antics kept a roomful of reporters mostly in stitches Tuesday afternoon at the SEC's annual Media Days in Hoover, Ala. Here's Part I of the complete text of Johnson's 35-minute question-and-anwser session with the print media last Tuesday. <i>(Subsequent parts to follow.)</i>

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Opening remarks from Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson: Thank you, Chuck. It's good to be here with the true braintrust of the media, the print media... all those big words and all. We're excited at Vanderbilt and anxious to get the season started, and I'm ready to talk about it. So let's get started.

Q: Coach, could you talk about your major concerns going into the season?

A: Our major concern is always depth at Vanderbilt, and particularly at the offensive line position right now. We feel like we can get a good offensive line out on the field right now, but as far as backups and depth that you need to compete in the fourth quarter in this league, that is probably our biggest concern right now. And, the fact that our kicking game is unproven. We've got high hopes for the kicking game, but it's certainly unproven right now.

Q: Coach, some teams win because they're used to winning. How do you keep Vanderbilt from losing?

A: Well, I think it's more prevalent, the first part, that teams win because they're used to winning. I don't think losses in the past doom you to lose in the future. I think your players have got to buy into the fact that they've earned the right to win. That means they've worked hard in practice, they've worked hard in the weight room. They've seen their coaches get out on the road and recruit better talent for their team. I think it's an ongoing process, where you earn that confidence. You can talk to them all you want, tell them to play well in the fourth quarter, but until they've been there and done it, know that they've seen certain things in practice over and over and know that they've got the confidence to execute it, all the talk in the world is not going to get you to play well in the fourth quarter.

Q: You open up with another SEC game this year. Two in a row, in fact, and last year it was the same. Do you find that more difficult to go ahead and open up with an SEC game, or would you rather open up with the non-conference?

A: It certainly gives you a sense of urgency. Basically now with the 29 practice opportunities you have before the first game, you just don't have a whole lot of time to get ready for the first game and also try to install your offense for the year and your defense for the year. So it makes it extremely tough to get ready for that first game. The flip side of that is that obviously your players know how important that game is. It's not like you're opening up with someone that's not going to affect your conference standings. So I think you can certainly get their attention and make sure that they have their sense of urgency in practice and the weight room, and everything they do to try to get ready for that first game.

The other situation that's going to be really tough for us is that we'll be in class for a week and a half before we play the first game. To try to combine starting football season with starting class at the same time is certainly rough. Last year because of the calendar, we started class on Wednesday and played on Saturday. This year it's the previous Wednesday, and we go a week and a half in class. So that will be a factor.

Q: In light of the discipline problems with some of the other programs in the SEC right now both on and off the field, Vanderbilt has taken a very different approach, especially with recruiting, by incorporating their athletic department as part of their university. Could you talk about how that affects you as a coach, and exactly how that transition went for you?

A: Well, I think the athletic department ought to be a part of the university. It really... to tell you the truth, I thought Vanderbilt was already doing a pretty good job with the old way, of having an athletic director. But this is a new model, and this is all new ground for us. I'm pretty excited about it right now. I think a lot of things are going to happen well for us. I think our administration has answered the bell in several ways. They kept our baseball coach from going somewhere when he was being heavily recruited. They kept our basketball coach and our golf coach. They've passed several tests. And every time I've asked for help from the administration since the reorganization, they've bent over backwards to help us. The administration wants us to win. They have not deregulated anything. They have not de-emphasized anything. We have not... been... ever... under the intramural program. Did everybody understand that? We have not... been... under the intramural program. So I'm excited about where it's going, and heck, I don't know that all these other models are doing real well, either.

Q: Has the job at Vanderbilt been more difficult than you thought? Did you think that you'd have won a few more games? And do you think this year will be your best [relative to] the previous two?

A: It's about as difficult as I thought it was going to be. Todd Turner, when he was athletics director, he was extremely honest with me when we were talking about [my] taking the job. I knew we had a lot of work to do. It's a situation where we did not come in and say, we're going to get this done the first year, we're going to get this done the second year, and by this time we're gonna be winning so many games. We just used our approach to coaching and recruiting, and dug in and started doing as well as we could. And we're just gonna see how it all works out. But, we're not very patient. Our coaching staff is not very patient. We put pressure on ourselves, just as every other coach in the country puts pressure on themselves. We expect to make progress. We felt like we made progress last year. The record didn't reflect it, and that just goes to show you what a tough league we're in. I think we made a lot of progress, but we didn't show it on the record.

Q: Along the lines of the question a minute ago, have there been any negatives affecting the football program from the reorganization?

A: The only negatives that we experienced were right off the bat. Everybody was making judgments about the reorganization and how it was going to affect us, and I think a message got out that we were de-emphasizing athletics, that we didn't care if we won, that we didn't care if we stayed in the SEC... that we were sharing our football practice field with the intramural department. You run the gamut of everything... I heard it. So therefore our recruits heard it. I think that was the biggest negative we had.

I think once everybody found out that it was just a model of organization, that it's worked extremely well so far. It may not be for everybody. We don't care if it's not for everybody. We're gonna do it the way we want to do it. I'm excited about the people I work with now. Todd Turner was a great friend of mine, still is. I wish him the best at Washington, and I know he'll do a great job with their system. But I'm excited about the way we have things going at Vanderbilt right now.


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