A weekend full of disappointment is over.
Now, Vanderbilt is looking to the future. After losing their season finale and head coach in the same day, the Commodores’ football program is trying to move forward.
A coaching search is underway to replace Robbie Caldwell, who resigned Saturday morning. Several hours later, Vanderbilt wrapped up its second straight 2-10 season with a 34-13 home loss to Wake Forest.
“Well, it has been a rough day,” Caldwell said after the loss.
The first-year head coach took over in mid-July after Bobby Johnson abruptly retired, leaving Caldwell just seven weeks to prepare for the season. There was speculation that Caldwell would get another year to bring in his recruits and show what he could do with more than two months before his first game.
Vice Chancellor of University Affairs and Athletics David Williams, however, talked to Caldwell on Thanksgiving Day and met with him on Saturday. Williams said the two mutually agreed that the “football team and the university needed to go in a new direction.”
It was an emotional day for the Commodores, who were honoring 17 seniors on senior night. The team was told of the news Saturday morning before Caldwell made the announcement official at a press conference.
“The timing was disappointing,” senior linebacker John Stokes said on Saturday. “Everybody knew those kinds of rumors were going around but nobody expected that to happen right before you were playing your last game. It was disappointing and I’m frustrated with how it was handled. ... I think Coach Caldwell would be here if he had the opportunity to be here.”
Williams said he thought the Commodores had a chance to win six games this fall. He said it “certainly would have helped” Caldwell’s situation if Vanderbilt had defeated Kentucky and Tennessee in their two games prior to the contest against Wake Forest.
“What we tried to take into perspective of is even though it was a tough situation for him to come into, we were basically going into a new season looking at what had happened the season before,” Williams said. “We had been 2-10 the season before. Whether it had been Robbie or Coach Johnson, we were going to have to judge based on that season. While I wish that Robbie could have had more time that is the time he had. We were looking for a certain performance out of that and we did not see that.”
Williams declined to comment on specifics of Caldwell’s contract or if he had a multi-year deal worked out as was reported three weeks ago.
“Whatever the contract is, Vanderbilt will honor it,” Williams said. “We always do.”
Williams has retained Parker Executive Search, a firm out of Atlanta, to assist with the process of finding Caldwell's replcement. He did not put a timetable on when he would like to hire a coach.
“It will get done as it gets done,” he said.
A couple names have already popped up on the rumor mill – Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and Navy offensive coordinator Ivin Jasper.
Malzahn is in his second year as offensive coordinator for the Tigers, who are 12-0 and ranked No. 1 in the latest BCS standings. They are averaging 41.5 points and 490 yards a game, which both rank in the top 10 nationally. Jasper’s offense is averaging 31 points and 414 yards through 11 games. Navy is 8-3 going into next week’s game against Army. Jasper is in his 11th year with the Midshipmen and in his third season as offensive coordinator.
On the Southeastern Conference Championship game teleconference call Sunday, Auburn coach Gene Chizik declined to talk about any coaching rumors. On Saturday, George Plaster of WGFX Radio (104.5 FM) said Jasper would be hired within 48 hours, a time frame which has passed. A Navy spokesperson, however, told the Annapolis Capital that Vanderbilt has not contacted the academy for permission to talk to Jasper.
This will be the first big hire for Williams, who has been in charge of athletics since Vanderbilt abolished its athletics department in 2003. The men’s and women’s basketball and baseball programs – the three higher-profile sports besides football – have been consistently successful. Football, on the other hand, is way behind as Vanderbilt has lost at least nine games in six of the last 10 seasons.
Therefore, Williams understands the magnitude of this hire and wants to move forward – and upward.
“We’ve had a lot of success in baseball and basketball and our other sports and Vanderbilt needs to get after that in football,” he said. “That’s the direction we’re going to take."