November 27, 2010
Well, that didn't last long: Barely four months after being hastily assigned as Bobby Johnson's successor at Vanderbilt – and subsequently charming the pants off reporters with his down-home turn at SEC media days – Robbie Caldwell is out as the Commodores' head coach. Tonight's finale against fellow 2-10 bottom dweller will be his official going-away party.
The timing isn't the only surprise. The university dropped the "interim" tag from Caldwell's title in August, and the title of head coach at Vanderbilt has tended to come with a certain degree of job security, as long as there's some sign of an intermittent pulse on the field. The Commodores are 2-10 with six straight losses by an average of 27 points, but they did manage to upset Ole Miss on the road in the SEC opener, and it's never been about winning at Vanderbilt, anyway. Johnson lasted eight years, only two of them ending outside of the SEC East cellar, and probably could have kept going as long as he wanted.
More likely, a career assistant who openly basks in his turkey-inseminating roots just isn't the best fit as a the face of the SEC's answer to the Ivy League. When he also struggles to keep the team within two touchdowns of almost anyone else in the conference, well, you've got yourself a mutual divorce in less than six months.
The first name of the lips of the rumor mill to fill Caldwell's seat: Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who's successfully renovated the pass-happy spread that led the nation in total offense at Tulsa two years in a row in 2007-08 into more run-heavy version to suit the unparalleled strengths of his quarterback, Cam Newton. Malzahn isn't going to find another talent like that anywhere else, but he is almost certain to get more attractive overtures than Vanderbilt – unless, of course, he's just waiting for the perfect opportunity to take his show to a school with no formal athletic department and virtually no talent at all relative to the teams it plays on a weekly basis. Once Vandy gets its hands on a guy willing to embrace that challenge, it should hold on for dear life, no matter who he is.