Football: My take on the coaches

I watched Vanderbilt's first four practices, pretty much complete. Of course I couldn't see everything that was going on at all times during the practice. Most of Vanderbilt football practice is actually a series of separate practices. The linebackers have their own practice under the supervision of that position coach, the offensive linemen have their own practice under their coach . . .

. . . .and so on.  About the first 60 percent of a practice is spent with the different position coaches giving specialized training to the player placed under their leadership.  Because of this it's impossible for a person to completely monitor an entire practice.  But as an onlooker watches all the little practices going on for the first 60 percent of a practice, a few things jump out at you about the staff:

  • All of them are "in shape".  They run with the players, demonstrating proper technique. They are high energy men.
  • They are organized.  They have an overall plan.  The practice is divided into phases and all the assistants know what's next on the agenda.  A horn sounds to keep everyone of them on same agenda. 
  • They enforce standards.  These coaches aren't afraid to correct a player.  They explain and demonstrate carefully to a player what they expect and then ensure that the player does the drill correctly.  If needed, they institute remedial exercises for players that fail to grasp a concept.
  • They are a team.  Coach Johnson is creating a great team concept and this has started with his assistants.  They work together for a common goal: winning football at Vanderbilt.
  • They are men of integrity who care about their players.  Sure they will chew a player's butt in an instant if he fails to properly perform, but it's obvious that they have the best interests of the player and the team at heart.

Bruce Fowler, Defensive Coordinator-  Bruce comes off instantly when you talk to him as a good man, full of football knowledge.   I spoke with him for a few minutes before a practice (interview posted on VM) and he was a true gentlemen that was a joy to talk with.  Then I saw him on the football field!  I thought "My gosh! Is that the guy I just talked to over by the tunnel?"  He was eating those players alive for not doing what they were told. Yelling and hollering and doing great things to help our players get ready for the stress of a football game.  I was impressed.  Fowler is 43.  He's from Cincinnati, Ohio and served for 16 years on the Furman coaching staff after starting as a graduate assistant in 1984.

Warren Belin, Linebacker coach-  This guy is another knowledgeable coach who has quickly earned his players respect.  He has his players attention for sure. I watched him conduct drills.  He's a motivator.  I heard him say to a player something to the effect of "are you afraid to hit that man?".  On the next play the kid unleashed a viscous hit on the other player.  He's a loud guy who as a player you don't want to get his attention in an adverse way.  I was very impressed.  He'll do great things for our linebackers.  Belin, 34, came to Vandy from SMU where he performed in a similar capacity for the past 5 years.  He is a native of Marshville, NC. 

Jamie Bryant, Defensive backs-  Jamie is an excellent teacher, as all the coaches are but I think he may be the best at teaching fundamentals to the players.  Really good at demonstrating proper technique to the players and then having them do the task while he gives a critique.  He's not as big on yelling and hollering as some of the other staff members, but he can do that if required.  Bryant came to Vandy from North Carolina where he also coached defensive backs.  He's a native of Fredericktown, OH.

David Turner, Defensive line- David is a very intensive guy who demands 100% effort.  He will not accept 99 per centers.  He reminds me of a Marine Corps Drill Instructor.  I heard him saying on the first day "that's not good enough, not good enough.  We got some guys out of shape here!".  They won't be out of shape long, trust me.  This guy is the real deal.  I steered clear of him at the practices.  He'll definitely help improve and toughen the defensive line.  Turner came to Vandy from Minnesota where he coached defensive ends.  He's been coaching in the college ranks for 16 years.  He is from Goldston, NC.

J.D. Hall, Wide receivers-  J.D. is a sound coach that I frequently would see chasing after wide receivers during the drills and scrimmages, critiquing them as he ran along side them: "don't look to the side, look up! It'll come to you.  Looking to the side slows you down."  That right there is a good example as to why it's important to have coaches that are in shape.  He's a motivated young coach that I think relates well to the players.  He'll help the receiving corps get even better.  J.D. comes to Vandy from Connecticut. He's 34 and is a native of Jacksonville, FL.

Jimmy Kiser, Quarterbacks-  I didn't really watch this coach as much as the others.  I do remember seeing him encouraging and critiquing the quarterbacks after every play during scrimmages.  He looks to be a sound coach as evidenced by the good performance of his quarterbacks in just a few sessions of practice. Jimmy comes to Vanderbilt from Richmond. He is 45 and has 20 years experience coaching at the collegiate level.  He is a native of Cleveland, OH.

Robbie Caldwell, Offensive line/ Asst. Head Coach- Robbie is a good ole country boy.  I was impressed by his ability to motivate these giant men.  They definitely respond to him.  His big focus is trying to get the players to get away from the previous mode of strictly pass blocking (2 point stance) and into run blocking (3 point stance).  It's obvious that he cares about his players by what I witnessed.  He works them hard but treats them as if they were his own sons. From what I hear he's going to be an asset in helping Vanderbilt pick up fine recruits in the Carolinas. Robbie comes to Vandy from North Carolina where he also coached the offensive line.  He's 48 and is a native of Pageland, SC.

Charlie Fisher, Running backs-  I didn't get to watch this coach in action as much as the others.  However, the running backs looked good in practice which is a good indicator of his coaching abilities.  He comes to Vandy from Temple.  He is a native of Allenwood, PA. 

Ted Cain, Offensive coordinator/ tight ends- I didn't get to watch Ted much either.  He was roving around a lot monitoring the quarterbacks, running backs, and offensive line.  He did spend a lot of time with the tight ends.  He had them going through a number of blocking and tackling drills.  I saw him get on a tight end pretty hard when the player jumped off sides during a scrimmage.  A former officer in the Army he's bound to have developed some good leadership skills from that experience.  He also has two years of head coaching experience at VMI which should be valuable.  He came to Vandy from Furman where he coached tight ends and wide receivers.  He is 49.


All in all I believe Coach Johnson has put together one of the finest staffs in college football. I have never felt better about the future of Vanderbilt football.

Commodores Daily Top Stories