SEC MEDIA DAYS: Jovial Caldwell steals show on day 2

By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal

HOOVER, Ala. – Robbie Caldwell might not win many games at Vanderbilt this fall, but he won the press conference on Thursday.
The 56-year-old was handed his first head coaching job last week when Bobby Johnson abruptly resigned after eight years. So he barely had time to prepare for SEC Media Days, where he met the press on Thursday.
Didn’t matter. Caldwell doesn’t use notes, anyway. The Pageland, S.C., native kept even the most hardened journalists in stitches during the lengthy Qamp&A segment, his Southern drawl only adding to the effect.
“I told my wife, if it’s two days or 20 years, I will now be able to say, ‘Hey, I was a head coach one time,'” Caldwell said.
At the end of Caldwell’s segment, SEC moderator Chuck Dunlap said, “Sadly, we are out of time.” Caldwell exited to unapologetic applause.
He was certainly a tough act for media darling Steve Spurrier of South Carolina to follow.
Prior to Caldwell’s time with the press Thursday, ESPN’s talking heads were examining the question, “Who is Robbie Caldwell?” The coach seems to revel in his anonymity, and it was a common source for his self-deprecating humor.
“Last night I was opening a door for people, and they gave me a tip,” he said. He wasn’t making that up, either. Caldwell gave the $1.50 back to the tipper.
Thrilled at opportunity
Caldwell was Vandy’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach the past eight years, and he also served in that capacity at N.C. State from 1997-99. He said being a head coach at the high school level used to be his goal, but he’s been a college assistant since 1978, and he said being a head coach at this level never “consumed” him.
But he’s ready for the challenge.
“Here I am, I go from lining the field to I’m a head coach in the SEC,” he said. “I’m telling you, what a thrill.”
The Furman graduate coached high school football and baseball in Hanahan, S.C., in 1977. His work history includes more than coaching, though.
Caldwell said his first hourly wage job was on a turkey farm, where he worked on the “inseminating crew.” Insemination is the process of fertilizing the female egg with the male’s sperm, a process Caldwell offered to show a curious reporter.
He’s a blue-collar guy at a white-collar school, but he loves it at Vanderbilt and said the administration has always been straightforward with him. And he believes a school known more for academics can excel in athletics.
“We want to be a consistent program and win, go to bowl games every year. We think we can accomplish that,” he said.
That comment would draw derisive laughter in some corners, but the Commodores did go to a bowl in 2008 before slipping to 2-10 last year. Some key parts are back this year, including linebacker Chris Marve and running back Warren Norman.
The biggest adjustment in this regime change will be the players getting to know Caldwell. He was the team’s disciplinarian, but now they see another side of him.
“He knows when it’s time for business and when it’s time to make jokes,” Marve said.
Cracking ‘em up
It was mostly humor Thursday. A further sampling of Caldwell’s media address:
n On his family’s reaction to Johnson’s resignation: “They were all in an uproar, crying, carrying on. They never heard about the part about me getting to be interim head coach.”
– On his fellow SEC head coaches: “They have no idea who I am.”
– On growing up in Pageland: “If you played a sport, you didn’t have to work during a practice time. That’s why I played basketball. I was probably the worst there’s ever been, but I played it so I wouldn’t have to go pour concrete.”
– On becoming a college coach: “When I took a pay cut to go to Furman as a full-time assistant, my daddy said, ‘You’re an idiot.’ I’ve continued to live up to his words, I’m sure.”
– On handling the Nashville media: “Well, I’m from New York originally, you can tell by the way I talk.”
– “I don’t write things down when I speak to you because I speak from the heart. It gets me in trouble sometimes. But I am what I am and I can’t change and won’t change.”
After Thursday, nobody wants him changing a thing.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or brad.locke@djournal.com.