July 14, 2010
Between Lane Kiffin, Mike Leach, Pete Carroll, Jim Leavitt, Charlie Weis and Mark Mangino, it was a bizarre, banner offseason on the proverbial coaching carousel. So why not add another stunner to the list in the dead of summer: Per 104.5 the Zone in Nashville, Bobby Johnson has abruptly retired as Vanderbilt's head coach. The local Tennessean and über-connected SEC guru Tony Barnhart have both confirmed. The university is setting up a press conference at 1 p.m. Central time.
Obviously, the timing is ... unorthodox, to say the least, and suggests a more serious motive than exasperation with years in the SEC cellar. (Presumably Johnson is not embarking on a new career as a professional Steve Martin look-a-like.) Speculation over possible interim coaches is already rampant.
Do not underestimate the feat of enduring for eight full seasons at Vanderbilt. Only one other Vandy coach since World War II (Art Guepe, 1953-62) made it longer. Johnson outlasted fired counterparts at Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Tennessee, and beat most of them at least once. He ended a 22-year losing streak to rival Tennessee and a 26-year bowl drought. He brought GameDay to the campus, for heaven's sake.
Johnson had an understandably terrible record (29-66), and bookended his tenure with winless seasons in SEC play. But he never seemed to view Vandy as a stepping stone or graveyard, and he goes out as respected as any coach in the conference for making the Commodores a consistently tough out with a fraction of the resources. He was one of the good guys, and we sincerely hope his sudden exit isn't due to any bad news.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.