It didn’t take Robbie Caldwell long to make a switch.
After Saturday’s 21-7 loss to South Carolina, Vanderbilt's first-year head coach alluded to the possibility of changes on offense but did not clarify whether it would be a shakeup among his players or coaching staff.
He cleared that up on Monday at his weekly press conference when he announced running backs coach Des Kitchings would take over for Jimmy Kiser as offensive coordinator.
The 32-year-old Kitchings is in his third year at Vanderbilt. Like Caldwell, he graduated from Furman and, before coming to Vanderbilt, Kitchings spent four years as an assistant coach at his alma mater.
"He has paid his dues here,” Caldwell said. “In 35 years (of coaching) I have never seen a young man take to it as quickly, moving into a new setting as he has. (By having roots at Furman) our system is kind of ingrained in him. I have been very impressed.
“He is excited. Our staff is excited. I think our players will be refreshed and ready to go and it can be good for us.”
Kiser was in his first year as offensive coordinator and was returned to quarerbacks coach. In his ninth year at Vanderbilt, he spent the last three years as co-passing game coordinator before he replaced Ted Cain, who is now the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.
“The thing that impresses me as much as any is how Coach Kiser feels about it,” Caldwell said. “He has been a champion about it and ready to go. Vanderbilt is very lucky to have him here and I am proud to have him on my staff. I am very fortunate to work with a bunch of men that are dedicated to this university, that want what is best for it.”
Through seven games this season, the offense ranked last in the Southeastern Conference in scoring offense (18.9 points per game) and total offense (305.9 yards a game), 11th in passing offense (159.6 yards a game) and eighth in rushing offense (146.3 yards a game).
Maybe the two most telling statistics are third-down conversion percentage (23.6 percent) and average time of possession (25:23) – both rank last in the SEC.
“In football you got to win two downs – first down and third down,” Kitchings said. “If we are able to do that and we can stay on the field longer, we’ll have more plays, more yards and more opportunities to score points.”
Caldwell wouldn’t say whether the Commodores would stick with the no-huddle, hurry-up offense that his predecessor Bobby Johnson installed last year in his final season as head coach.
He did hint that the running game, especially talented sophomore tailbacks Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, would play a bigger role.
After the team rushed 21 times for 85 yards in the first half against South Carolina, Vanderbilt went away from the run after halftime. In the second half, quarterback Larry Smith threw the ball 19 times and the Commodores had just nine rushing attempts for 23 yards.
“We don’t have playmakers offensively,” Caldwell said. “The closest things we do have to it are running backs and we got to find more ways to get them the ball.”
Caldwell said he gave “a great deal of consideration” to promoting offensive line coach Herb Hand to the coordinator post. Hand, in his first year at Vanderbilt, spent the last three years as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator.
“Every guy in our room has been a coordinator and has been a very good one at different points in their career,” Caldwell said. “It has been a carefully thought out plan by all of us and we’re excited about it.”
Kitchings, who was told of Caldwell’s decision Sunday, hasn’t decided if he will coach from the sidelines or the press box during Saturday’s game at No. 19 Arkansas.
• Center Joey Bailey might be sitting out his second straight game with an ankle injury sustained against Georgia on Oct. 16. The senior did not dress against Vanderbilt and wore an orthopedic boot.
Caldwell said Bailey is still struggling with pushing off his foot. Therefore Logan Stewart could be making his second straight start. The freshman from Boiling Springs, S.C. made his first career start at center against his home state. Though Stewart missed a couple snap counts against South Carolina, Caldwell said he was proud of his performance.
“He did some things that surpassed Joey in some areas,” Caldwell said. “That was impressive.”
• Vanderbilt has lost four of its last five contests against Arkansas, with its last win coming in 2005 at Fayetteville. In that game, the Commodores rallied for a 28-24 victory. Caldwell, who was Vandberbilt’s offensive line coach at the time, says he remembers that Arkansas had more than 200 yards of offense after the first quarter, while the Commodores were held to less than 20.
But that didn’t last long as two current Chicago Bears stars took over.
“All of a sudden we started lighting them up,” Caldwell said. “Jay Cutler caught on fire. We had a guy make some catches. Didn’t we have a guy named Earl Bennett? I think so. He caught a few and then all of a sudden we hit it big.”
• Casey Hayward recorded his fifth interception of the season when he picked off South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia in the third quarter. The junior cornerback is tied with Alabama’s Robert Lester for the SEC lead and is one of just five players in the nation with five picks this year.