Six things you might not know about Bobby Johnson

Bobby Johnson, Vanderbilt's 25th football coach, comes to the Commodores virtually unknown to most Vanderbilt football fans. Here are six "did-you-knows" that most Commodore fans might not know about him.

1. Johnson was recruited to Clemson out of Columbia-Eau Claire High School by one of the great Southern coaching legends of all time, Frank Howard. Howard, who coached the Tigers to 165 wins in his 30 years at Clemson, convinced the young Johnson to attend Clemson in the spring of 1969.

However, Johnson never played a down under Howard. Freshmen were ineligible in those days, and by the time Johnson became eligible as a sophomore, Howard had retired and been succeeded by Hootie Ingram. Ingram, who later became athletic director at Alabama, was head coach for all three of Johnson's varsity seasons.

Johnson started at flanker for Clemson as a sophomore, but moved to defensive back for his junior and senior seasons. The Tigers compiled a record of 12-21 in Johnson's three seasons as a player, but did finish second in the ACC his junior season. As a flanker his sophomore year, Johnson had 18 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

2. Curiously enough, Johnson's secondary coach during his junior and senior seasons at Clemson was none other than George MacIntyre-- yes, the same George MacIntyre who later became Vanderbilt's head coach (and is still the last Commodore coach to lead the team to a winning season and a bowl, in 1982).

Under MacIntyre's tutelage, Johnson led the Tigers in interceptions in 1971 and 1972 and made academic All-ACC each season. He started all 22 games for the Tigers those two seasons. He had seven interceptions over his final two years, including two against Maryland in 1971.

MacIntyre, one of Vanderbilt's most beloved former coaches, was present for Johnson's hiring ceremony this past Sunday. "When I arrived at Clemson, Hootie Ingram was the head coach and Bobby had been a wide receiver as a freshman," MacIntyre said. "The coaches sat around the table and said which players we wanted. I said I wanted Bobby Johnson and Hootie almost died!

"I wanted Bobby for his integrity; it is amazing what kind of person he is. I just knew we had to have him for our defensive unit. Bobby was one of my favorite players and he is a super football coach."

3. Certainly one of the biggest, if not the biggest, influences on Bobby Johnson as coach is Dick Sheridan, the successful ex-head coach at both Furman (1978-85) and North Carolina State (1986-1991). Sheridan's relationship with Johnson goes all the way back to Sheridan's first year of high school coaching, when he coached Johnson on a freshman basketball team.

Johnson later served as an assistant on Sheridan's staff at Furman. When Sheridan jumped to North Carolina State in 1985, Johnson stayed behind to become defensive coordinator at Furman. Coincidentally, Sheridan later coached for two years under Todd Turner when Turner was athletic director at North Carolina State. As a mutual friend of both Turner and Johnson, Sheridan was able to give to Turner a ringing endorsement for Johnson.

"I think Bobby has the ability, the character, and the intelligence to be successful at any program in the country," said Sheridan, who is now retired from coaching. "I think he's uniquely prepared for Vanderbilt. Bobby knows how to successfully recruit while being academically selective. He's been able to find players with potential and develop them. He will attract other top coaches to his staff."

4. Another man with Vanderbilt connections who knows Johnson well is George Bennett. Bennett served as director of the National Commodore Club back when Roy Kramer was Vanderbilt's athletic director, and today holds a similar position with Clemson.

"I've known Bobby's entire family for years," said Bennett. "He was a scholar-athlete and a rock-em, sock-em, hard-nosed kind of football player. He was a real team leader at Clemson.

"He was the defensive coordinator at Furman and he was almost a co-head coach when I was the athletic director there. I was back at Clemson when he was our coordinator in 1993, so I have followed his career closely. Tell the team they'd best buckle their chin straps, as they'll be in for a hard ride. He's a disciplinarian and has high standards of expectation from his team in all areas... he will give the fans a quality program in which they will be able to take great pride."

5. Johnson's teams won two Southern Conference championships during his eight years as head coach. But the Southern Conference is unquestionably a far cry from the Southeastern Conference. Some fans have legitimate worries over whether success at Division I-AA Furman will translate into wins at a Division I-A program like Vanderbilt.

However, did you know...

Four times during Johnson's coaching career at Division I-AA Furman, the Paladins beat or tied a team from Division I-A on the road. In 1982, Furman defeated South Carolina; in 1983 Furman defeated Georgia Tech; in 1986 Furman tied Georgia Tech (coached by Bill Curry); and in 1999, Furman clobbered North Carolina (coached by Carl Torbush) 28-3.

6. Johnson has developed a reputation for motivating his players in a variety of unconventional and creative ways. For example:

Furman's opening game this past season was on the road at Division I-A Wyoming. As bulletin-board material, Johnson posted a copy of the Wyoming pocket schedule in the Paladins' locker room, along with a note that read, in big, bold letters, "WHY ONLY $15?"

Tickets to Wyoming's game against Furman, you see, were cheaper than any of Wyoming's other five home games. Tickets to the Texas A&M game, by comparison, cost $35. Johnson pointed it out to his players as a sign of the obvious disprespect the Cowboys must have for li'l' ol' Furman.

"We're only a 15-dollar game," Johnson told the Greenville Sun, with a wry grin. "I guess they're trying to beg people to come out and watch it."

Furman played well but lost 20-14 to the Cowboys, one of the Paladins' two regular-season blemishes this year.


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