The runup to the 2010 college football season took an unexpected turn on Wednesday when Bobby Johnson quit as Vanderbilt’s head football coach after eight seasons.
“There is not a great time for a college football coach to retire,” the 59-year-old Johnson told reporters at an early afternoon news conference in Nashville. He emphasized that it was a personal decision and that Vanderbilt officials had urged him to stay.
“I’ve decided to retire, not resign,” an emotional Johnson said. “It is a tough decision with which my wife Catherine and I struggle. … It’s about what we want to do with our lives.”
A week from today, Johnson was slated to appear at SEC Media Days in Birmingham. He was headed into this season as the second-longest-tenured head football coach in the league behind Georgia’s Mark Richt.
Instead, the Commodores will be represented by Robbie Caldwell, who woke up Wednesday morning as Vandy’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach and went to bed last night as interim coach. “This is quite a shock,” Caldwell told reporters.
Caldwell, a longtime assistant, was promoted by vice chancellor David Williams – Vanderbilt does not have an athletic director. Williams said he was shocked by the development.
“I tried to talk him out of it yesterday. I tried to talk him out of it last night. I tried to talk him out of it this morning,” WIlliams said. “We at Vanderbilt wish that wasn’t his decision, but we respect his decision.”
Johnson’s surprising decision comes three weeks before the start of fall practice and seven weeks before the team’s Sept. 4 opener against Northwestern.
Johnson went 29-66 at the helm of the Commodores’ program, with just one winning season – 7-6 in 2008, including a victory over Boston College in the Music City Bowl. That was Vandy’s first bowl victory in 53 years.
But he had four two-win seasons, including last year’s 2-10 campaign, and went 12-52 against SEC competition. Vandy went 0-8 in the SEC last season.
Johnson went 4-8 against Ole Miss (3-5) and Mississippi State (1-3) and 9-44 (.169) against all others in the league.
Last season, Mississippi State beat Vandy 15-3 and Ole Miss won 23-7. The Commodores visit Oxford on Sept. 18.
But the numbers don’t entirely reflect Johnson’s success in making the SEC’s only private school more competitive in an SEC that has produced the last four national champions. Vanderbilt lost 26 games by seven points or less during his tenure.
“People had to play well to beat us,” said Johnson, whose salary was estimated at about $1 million a year.
The resignation was first reported Wednesday morning by veteran Nashville sports talker George Plaster.
“Football is not life, it’s a way of life,” said Johnson, who was a successful coach at Furman before taking the Vandy challenge. “It consumes your life. You only have so many years to live. Some guys will coach with one foot in the coffin. I want to do other things with my life.”
Contact John L. Pitts at 678-1522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
John L. Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal