Coaching change not likely to mean big differences at Vanderbilt

Thursday, July 15, 2010 at 9:51pm

From Bobby to Robbie.

By sheer virtue of the fact that Vanderbilt will have a new football coach, there’s bound to be some differences from the past eight years under Bobby Johnson,who retired on Wednesday. The fact that interim coach Robbie Caldwell has such as shared history with Johnson, though, those differences might be as extreme as the one between their first names.

“When you’ve been coaching for a long time, obviously you have some thoughts,” Caldwell said Wednesday. “The reason I’m here is Coach Johnson. He invited me to come join his staff, and I liked the way he did things and does things, and our philosophies are similar.

“We were raised under the same coaches, so that made it a lot easier.”

Johnson and Caldwell entered the college coaching ranks together. Faced with the financial realities that accompanied entry-level positions in the mid-1970s, they sold radio advertising in their spare time in order to supplement their incomes.

“He and I started out as (graduate assistants) together in 1976,” Caldwell said. “He was older than me, and he took me under his wing then and I took him under mine.”

With the exception of one season, the two were together on the staff at Furman until 1985. At that time, Caldwell joined the staff at North Carolina State, where he coached the offensive line and eventually was promoted to assistant head coach.

A virtually identical sequence of events took place after he came to Vanderbilt – along with Johnson – in 2002 after he spent two years at North Carolina. Only this time the top spot opened up suddenly, and thus he was in position to become the head coach.

“”I’m very excited,” senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman said. “I love this coaching staff and I love playing for them.

“Coach Caldwell is a great person, a great man and a great football coach. Basically, he and Coach Johnson are cut from the same cloth. They’re best friends and they’ve been together a long time. Not much is going to change, I don’t think.”

Caldwell did not one significant difference between himself and his predecessor.

“(Johnson) didn’t start out wanting to be a coach,” he said. “I did.”

It’s somewhat unlikely, therefore, that Johnson became a head coach in 1994, when he took the top spot at Furman. He held that position for eight years before he came to Vanderbilt.

Caldwell, on the other hand, has been a college assistant since 1978. His only experience as a head coach was in 1977 when he led the baseball team at Hanahan (S.C.) High School.

“Robbie (was) our assistant head coach – he has earned this position,” vice chancellor David Williams said. “We’re 100 percent behind Robbie and the rest of the staff.”

With the start of practice roughly three weeks away, there is not time to make significant alterations to the practice plans or basic schemes, even if wanted.

The schemes were installed during spring football and much of the practice plans were completed in recent weeks.

“There’s a great deal of it that you just have to pick up and go because you don’t have time to make changes,” Caldwell said. “We’ll have our own flavor, I’m sure. I’ll have a little something different. Maybe I’ll lose weight or whatever.

“Seriously, there will be a tweak here or there. … I’m who I am. I’ve been coaching for a long time.”

In other words, one thing he definitely does not plan to change is himself.