Caldwell comfortable at Clemson
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP)
Robbie Caldwell stole the show at last year's Southeastern Conference media gathering with his folksy tales of pipefitting and turkey farms.
''This has just been ideal, really amazing,'' Caldwell said this week. ''I'm really lucky to be here.''
Caldwell has been one of the most respected line coaches in the game, working his way from his alma mater at Furman to work at North Carolina State, North Carolina and Vanderbilt. He loved teaching players and was as shocked as anyone when Commodores coach Bobby Johnson retired in the middle of July and Caldwell was elevated to head coach.
It was only a week before SEC coaches were to meet the league's media and put Caldwell in an unfamiliar spot.
''Lord of mercy, I'd just gotten the job and those people scared to death. They tried to school me up on how to do it,'' Caldwell remembered. ''I said, `Boys, we can't worry about it. I ain't smart enough to handle all this.''
So Caldwell did what he does best - spoke from the heart in his thick Southern drawl. He joked that some at the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., tipped him because they thought he was the doorman instead of Vanderbilt's coach.
He talked of his life growing up in rural Pageland - about an hour south of Charlotte, N.C. - pouring concrete, pipefitting and framing. The biggest laughs came when he detailed his time at a turkey farm.
''I was on the inseminating crew. That's a fact,'' Caldwell told the SEC media last July. ''I worked my way to the top. Best job I ever had.''
Caldwell got a round of applause from reporters when he was done.
The cheers weren't as rousing during the season as Caldwell and the Commodores followed up a bowl appearance in 2009 by going 2-10. Caldwell resigned several hours before Vanderbilt's final game last fall.
When Clemson coach Dabo Swinney needed a replacement for retired line coach Brad Scott, Caldwell jumped at the chance to finally join the Tigers.
The 57-year-old Caldwell recently sat in a plastic folding chair with about dozen reporters listening in, what some might see as a big come down from the scores of cameras and hot TV lights at the SEC. Does he miss it?
Yes and no.
''It was a lot of fun because I like talking to people,'' Caldwell said. ''But it was also very discouraging about my profession.''
Caldwell said when he thanked hotel and restaurant workers that week in Alabama, they told him they don't typically get that appreciation from other SEC coaches.
''That was heartbreaking to hear that,'' Caldwell said. ''Just disappointing. Life's about people and I enjoy them.''
Caldwell has loved his time at Clemson so far. Senior offensive tackle Landon Walker said Caldwell has a similar style to Scott that has made the transition easier. But Caldwell brings a fiery tone and some pointed wisecracks to the mix, Walker said.
''I've never been around a coach like Coach Caldwell,'' Walker said. ''It's inexplainable.''
Clemson's head coach has also had his jaw-dropping moments with the affable Caldwell. Swinney said Caldwell reported to work and told his new boss he didn't need a job description. ''I'll blow up the balls, cut the grass, do anything to help this team, I'm so happy to be here,'' Swinney remembered.
Caldwell is impressed with his new players, both in their talent and their attitude. He wondered if the Tigers might be emotionally down from their 6-7 season that included demoralizing losses down the stretch to Florida State, rival South Carolina and South Florida in the Meineke Bowl.
Instead, Caldwell said the players were eager to return to the field and put last year behind them.
Caldwell has apparently put last year behind as well.
''I really missed the coaching aspect of it,'' Caldwell said of moving up to head coach. ''I guess it's implanted in me. Sometimes, if you're not careful, you get what you wish for.''
Caldwell enjoyed his time at Vanderbilt and wishes his former players the best. He couldn't imagine a better place for him to be, though, than with the Tigers coaching the offensive line.
''I really feel like that's my calling,'' he said.