|Vanderbilt Commodores football|
|Head coach||Bobby Johnson|
|7th year, 26–56–0 (.317)|
|Home stadium||Vanderbilt Stadium|
|Stadium surface||Field grass|
|All-time record||551–542–50 (.504)|
|Postseason bowl record||2–1–1|
|Claimed national titles||0|
|Colors||Black and Gold|
|Marching band||Spirit of Gold Marching Band|
The Vanderbilt Commodores football program is a college football team that represents Vanderbilt University. The team currently competes in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision as a member of the Southeastern Conference. The Commodores currently play their home games at Vanderbilt Stadium, located in Nashville, Tennessee.
Vanderbilt and the University of Nashville played the first college football game in the state of Tennessee in 1890. In 1894 Vanderbilt was among the seven founding members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Just after the turn of the century, the team enjoyed fairly substantial success, with a composite record of 20-3-2 from 1901-03. Even so, Dan McGugin's arrival as coach from his brother-in-law Fielding Yost's Michigan program in 1904 showed an immediate impact. The 1904 squad outscored its opposition by 474 to four in winning all nine games. McGugin's tenure spanned the years 1904-17 and 1919-34 with a record of 197-55-19 and two national championships.
In 1922, Vanderbilt hosted the University of Michigan to inaugurate Dudley Field. The game ended in a 0–0 tie and figures prominently in the program's history. VU football historian Bill Traughber chronicles the event:
A young, Earnest Albert Craft, born in 1898, employed with the construction team that built the Dudley Field wooden stands was in attendance the day of the game vs. Michigan. Earnest was called on to raise the first American flag during the national anthem. Later, Rev. Earnest Albert Craft would become city councilman of in the West Nashville area and 40 year pastor of Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville. Clippings of this event are documented in archives of the old Nashville Banner newspaper. A copy of this newspaper account is held today by grandson by adoption, Albert D. Mitchell. Albert, named after E. A. Craft, lives on the west side of Nashville in Bellevue. He was a graduated of Cohn High School and later return to teach and coach at Cohn High School, finally retiring from the Metro Nashville School system in 1989.
1922 was also the year that Vanderbilt entered the Southern Conference as a charter member. The Commodores tied for the conference championship in 1922 and 1923 and continued to finish in the upper half of the conference standings for the next decade.
In 1932, Vanderbilt—at the pinnacle of its athletics dominance in the South—helped found the Southeastern Conference, with Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Georgia Tech, and Tulane.
However, Vanderbilt football has not won a conference championship since the founding of the Southeastern Conference in 1932. Its last winning season was in 2008 under coach Bobby Johnson. Vanderbilt has competed in four bowl games (see below), with a combined all-time post-season record of 2–1–1. Vanderbilt has finished ranked once, in 1948, when it finished #12 in the AP poll after an 8-2-1 season.
It was in the 1970s and early 1980s that it seemed this trend could be abating, with two of Vanderbilt's post-season appearances coming in 1974 and 1982, and with several near-winning season records.
The last Commodore team before the Bobby Johnson era with a winning record, the 1982 squad (with a record of 8–4), played in the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to the school's third all-time bowl appearance, the 1982 team's season-ending win against Tennessee, in which Vanderbilt quarterback Whit Taylor threw for 391 yards, marked a special season—but a season that proved an exception to years following, when a return to previous levels of mediocrity saw a veritable merry-go-round of head coaches.
From the period 1982 to 2002, when Bobby Johnson was hired, Vanderbilt was led by six coaches, who averaged barely four years per coach.
Bobby Johnson was hired in 2002 as the head football coach. At the time, many questioned the University administration's decision to elevate a Division I-AA coach to what some perceive as the nation's premier college football conference, the SEC. Johnson had previously coached at Furman University, a Southern Conference team, leading the Paladins to the Division I-AA title game in 2001, his final year. Vanderbilt administrative officials had pursued and offered the position initially to Gary Barnett and Tyrone Willingham, both of whom had steered small, private universities (Northwestern and Stanford, respectively) to football success. Both turned down the job for different reasons.
The same critics that questioned Johnson's initial hiring also derided the loyalty given to Coach Johnson by the Vanderbilt administration after his first three seasons at the school led to three consecutive 2–9 records. During this time, however, Johnson was continuing to recruit players that had been passed over by major-power schools, but whom Johnson and his staff believed could be molded into SEC-caliber players. Johnson's 2008 team won the Music City Bowl, 16-14 over #24 Boston College. The bowl win, a first since the 1955 Gator Bowl, capped off a 7-6 season, Vanderbilt's first winning record since 1982.
Along with this concerted program-development, Johnson joined Vanderbilt's Chancellor E. Gordon Gee and Vice Chancellor David Williams II in creating what the Administration called "a new culture in college athletics" at Vanderbilt. The University Administration, with Johnson's public support, abolished the Department of Athletics as a separate entity within the University's administrative structure, along with the job of Athletic Director -- a first among universities in a major Division I-A athletic conference.
The Administration's loyalty to Johnson, which had paid dividends in his support for the radical changes in administration of the inter-collegiate athletics program also yielded on-the-field results in Johnson's fourth season at the helm of the Commodores.
In 2005, Vanderbilt finished with a 5–6 record, the program's best finish since 1999. For the first time since 1982, and for the first time in Knoxville since 1975, Vanderbilt defeated its in-state rival, the Tennessee Volunteers, in a 28–24 victory.
All-SEC Quarterback Jay Cutler, the team's offensive captain that season and the offensive player of the year in the SEC, was selected 11th overall in the 2006 NFL Draft by the Denver Broncos and named starting quarterback for the last five games of his rookie season.
The pre-game pigskin party, "Vandyville", also took off in the early 2000s, and has become a large staple of the Vanderbilt athletics tradition.
In the 2006 season, Vanderbilt finished with a 4–8 record with sophomore Chris Nickson at quarterback. The 2006 team's peak performance came with a 24–22 defeat of conference rival #16 ranked Georgia at Sanford Stadium, the first time Vanderbilt had ever defeated a ranked opponent on the road. The team came within seconds of defeating Arkansas and Alabama in consecutive weeks.
Vanderbilt fans approached the 2007 season with considerable optimism, given the return of many experienced starters, including WR Earl Bennett and the closeness of the Arkansas and Alabama losses. Vanderbilt started the year strong with a decisive victory over Richmond, but hopes for a win against Nick Saban's Alabama squad fizzled in a 10-24 loss marked by several controversial penalties. Vanderbilt rebounded with strong wins against Ole Miss and Eastern Michigan, but the Ole Miss victory came at a cost, as quarterback Chris Nickson suffered an injury that negatively impacted his future performance and led to his mid-season replacement by Mackenzi Adams. While Vanderbilt appeared to be en route to a convincing homecoming win against #21 Georgia, a late-game Bulldog rally coupled with a costly Vanderbilt fumble in the final minutes of the fourth quarter led to a disappointing 17-20 loss. Vanderbilt rebounded with a stunning upset of #6 ranked South Carolina 17–6 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, beating a top 10 team for the first time in 33 years and a Steve Spurrier-coached team for the first time ever. It was the highest ranked team Vanderbilt had beaten since defeating #6 LSU in 1937. In the following home game against Miami (Ohio), junior wide receiver Earl Bennett made history by breaking the SEC record for most career receptions. Vanderbilt would go on to win the game 24–13. With a 5-3 record entering the last four games of the season, the Commodores seemed primed for bowl eligibility. After a lopsided defeat against Florida and a close loss to Kentucky, the Commodores went to Knoxville to play Tennessee at Neyland Stadium for the first time since their 2005 win. Despite entering as heavy underdogs, Vanderbilt jumped out to a 24-9 lead at the end of the third quarter, but the Volunteers scored 16 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the game by one point. Vanderbilt went on to lose its final game of the series against Wake Forest 17-31.
In 2008, Vanderbilt began the season winning their first four games, beating Miami (OH) and Ole Miss on the road, and Rice and nationally ranked South Carolina at home. This perfect start, combined with an upcoming game with nationally ranked Auburn, led to ESPN choosing Vanderbilt as the site for their popular show, College GameDay. In the 5th game, the Commodores defeated SEC rival Auburn for the first time since 1955, when backup quarterback Mackenzi Adams led them back from an early 13-point deficit. At that point, Vanderbilt was ranked #13 in the AP and #14 in the ESPN Coaches football polls. The Commodores were 5-0 for the first time since 1943, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time since 1950, and one victory away from being eligible for their first bowl appearance since 1982.
Vanderbilt lost its next four games, but history was made on November 15, 2008, when Vanderbilt defeated the Kentucky Wildcats to become bowl eligible for the first time since 1982. The Commodores finished the 2008 regular season with losses to Tennessee and Wake Forest, completing the regular season with a 6-6 record (4-4 in the SEC).
Their 2008 finish was good enough for the Commodores to earn an invitation to play the Boston College Eagles in the Music City Bowl on December 31, 2008. In a dramatic come-from-behind win, Vanderbilt beat Boston College by a score of 16-14, to win its first bowl game in fifty-three years.
The 2008 Vanderbilt Commodore football team is also noteworthy because it won the 2008 Academic Achievement Award from the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA). This award recognizes graduate rate successes on the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision level. Vanderbilt was recognized for graduating 95 percent of its 2001 freshman class, the highest graduation rate among all 119 FBS teams.
Junior cornerback D.J. Moore received All-SEC first team honors for the second straight season and second team All-American honors following the 2008 season. He was later drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
The upward trajectory of Vanderbilt football took a step back in 2009. Despite returning 18 starters from the 2008 bowl-championship season, the Commodores finished a disappointing 2-10. Numerous injuries contributed to the team's troubles, as several starters were lost with season-ending injuries, including Ryan Hamilton (Safety), Jared Hawkins (RB), James Williams (OL), and Larry Smith (QB). In addition, transfer WR and projected starter Terrence Jeffers was not academically eligible to play the entire season.
As of December 2008, the Vanderbilt Commodores have won more games than they have lost. However, records show that in the mid- and late-twentieth century, the Commodore football program experienced a considerable down-swing in success on the playing field.
|December 31, 1955||Gator Bowl||Vanderbilt||25||Auburn||13|
|December 28, 1974||Peach Bowl||Vanderbilt||6||Texas Tech||6|
|December 31, 1982||Hall of Fame Bowl||Vanderbilt||28||Air Force||36|
|December 31, 2008||Music City Bowl||Vanderbilt||16||Boston College||14|
|1890||None||Elliot H. Jones||1||0||0||1.00|
|1891||None||Elliot H. Jones||3||1||0||.750|
|1892||None||Elliot H. Jones||4||4||0||.500|
|1894||None||Henry Worth Thornton||7||1||0||.875|
|1897||SIAA||R.G. Acton||6||0||1||.857||SIAA Champion|
|1901||SIAA||W.H. Watkins||6||1||1||.750||SIAA Champion|
|1903||SIAA||J.H. Henry||6||1||1||.750||SIAA Champion (shared)|
|1904||SIAA||Dan McGugin||9||0||0||1.000||SIAA Champion|
|1905||SIAA||Dan McGugin||7||1||0||.875||SIAA Champion|
|1906||SIAA||Dan McGugin||8||1||0||.889||SIAA Champion|
|1907||SIAA||Dan McGugin||5||1||1||.714||SIAA Champion|
|1910||SIAA||Dan McGugin||8||0||1||.889||SIAA Champion|
|1911||SIAA||Dan McGugin||8||1||0||.889||SIAA Champion|
|1912||SIAA||Dan McGugin||8||1||1||.800||SIAA Champion|
|1915||SIAA||Dan McGugin||9||1||0||.900||SIAA Champion|
|1918||SIAA||Ray Morrison||4||2||0||.667||Dan McGugin did not coach due to service in World War I.|
|1922||Southern||Dan McGugin||8||0||1||.889||Southern Conference Champion|
|1923||Southern||Dan McGugin||5||2||1||.625||Southern Conference Champion|
|1943||Southeastern||E.H. Alley||5||0||0||1.000||Red Sanders did not coach due to service in World War II.|
|1944||Southeastern||Doby Bartling||3||0||1||.750||Red Sanders did not coach due to service in World War II.|
|1945||Southeastern||Doby Bartling||2||4||0||.333||3||6||0||.333||Red Sanders did not coach due to service in World War II.|
|1948||Southeastern||Red Sanders||4||2||1||.571||8||2||1||.727||Finished #12 in final AP poll|
|1955||Southeastern||Art Guepe||4||3||0||.571||8||3||0||.727||Defeated Auburn in Gator Bowl.|
|1974||Southeastern||Steve Sloan||2||3||1||.333||7||3||2||.583||Tied Texas Tech in Peach Bowl.|
|1982||Southeastern||George MacIntyre||4||2||0||.667||8||4||0||.667||Lost to Air Force in Hall of Fame Bowl.|
|2008||Southeastern||Bobby Johnson||4||4||0||.500||7||6||0||.539||Defeated Boston College in Music City Bowl.|
As of 2009, the following persons were on the Vanderbilt Football Coaching Staff:
|Bobby Johnson||Head coach||8|
|Warren Belin||Linebackers/Recruiting Coordinator||8|
|Jame Bryant||Defensive coordinator/Defensive backs||8|
|Ted Cain||Offensive coordinator/Tight ends||8|
|Robbie Caldwell||Assistant head coach/Offensive line||8|
|Desmond Kitchings||Running backs||2|
|Bruce Fowler||Defensive Assistant Head coach||8|
|Rick Logo||Defensive line||3|
|John Sisk||Strength and conditioning||8|
|Player||Years at VU||NFL Team|
|Reshard Langford||2004-2008||Philadelphia Eagles|
|D.J. Moore||2006-2008||Chicago Bears|
|Sean Walker||2004-2008||St. Louis Rams|
|Earl Bennett||2005-2007||Chicago Bears|
|Marcus Buggs||2004-2007||Buffalo Bills|
|Curtis Gatewood||2004-2007||Detroit Lions|
|Jonathan Goff||2004-2007||New York Giants|
|Chris Williams||2004-2007||Chicago Bears|
|Jay Cutler||2002-2005||Chicago Bears|
|Justin Geisinger||2001-2004||Carolina Panthers|
|Jovan Haye||2002-2004||Tennessee Titans|
|Hunter Hillenmeyer||1999-2002||Chicago Bears|
|Matt Stewart||1998-2001||Dallas Cowboys|
|Jamie Winborn||1999-2001||Denver Broncos |
|Todd Yoder||1997-2000||Washington Redskins|
|Corey Chavous||1995-1998||St. Louis Rams|
Vanderbilt Commodore football personnel have been inducted into the National Football Foundation's National College Football Hall of Fame.
|Name||Position||Years at VU|
|John J. Tigert||Fullback||1901-1903|
|Josh Cody||Tackle||1914-1916, 1919|
|Name||Years at VU|
|Dan McGugin||1904-1917, 1919-1934|
|Red Sanders||1940-1942, 1946-1948|
Vanderbilt Commodores personnel, including coaches and players, have received recognition from the Southeastern Conference for their performances on the football field.
|Jack Jenkins||1941, 1942|
|Earl Bennett||2005 - 2007|