Johnson Confident in Caldwell Era at Vanderbilt

Johnson Confident in Caldwell Era at Vanderbilt

Published Jul. 16, 2010 10:07 a.m. ET

AP Sports Writer

July 15, 2010

Tenn. -- Robbie Caldwell has a thick drawl thanks to his South Carolina
hometown, a place he notes had a population of 1,500 counting cats and

There were so few people he used to hunt dove out of his backdoor.

But Caldwell says he has always wanted to be a head football coach.

he's getting his shot in arguably the toughest job in the mighty
Southeastern Conference -- at Vanderbilt, the smallest school in the
SEC and the league's only private institution.

And to make his task even tougher, Caldwell is replacing his old friend Bobby Johnson just seven weeks before the season opener.

who first coached with Caldwell as graduate assistants at Furman in
1976, says "Robbie ... tries to give you that little hayseed act a
little bit."

"He is a really smart guy, and he'll do a great job."

was introduced Wednesday as Vanderbilt's interim head coach following
Johnson's retirement from college football. Caldwell, 56, went from
dressed in shorts to line a football field for practice to promotion
from assistant head coach to the top job all within a couple hours. He
needed a quick shower before meeting reporters.

Now he has only
a week to prepare for an even bigger introduction at the SEC's annual
media days in Birmingham, Ala., where Caldwell will face hundreds of
reporters. Vanderbilt officials scrambled to reflect the change in the
team's media guide, and the clock just keeps ticking. Fall practice
opens in about three weeks, and the opener is Sept. 4 against

Whether he keeps this job past the season finale
Nov. 27 against Wake Forest remains to be seen. Vice chancellor David
Williams is giving Caldwell the chance to earn the job, but winning and
how the Commodores play will be a big part of the decision at a program
that has had just one winning season since 1982.

Caldwell said he isn't feeling any pressure -- yet.

I haven't had time to think about it, but there's pressure every week.
We put pressure on ourselves more than other people, so we're kind of
used to that," Caldwell said.

Caldwell has been a head coach
only once before in 1977 when he coached the Hanahan High School
baseball team to a 14-2 record. But Caldwell said he was the one who
wanted to be a head football coach, not Johnson, when the men first
started working together.

A Furman graduate and native of
Pageland, S.C., Caldwell returned to Furman in 1978 and coached there
through 1985. He moved to North Carolina State in 1986, a place he
stayed through 1999 coaching the offensive line. He was named assistant
head coach for his final three seasons, then moved to North Carolina
for 2000 and 2001.

Then Johnson came calling, asking Caldwell to
join him after being hired in December 2001 as Vanderbilt's head coach.
Caldwell quickly said yes. He has coached the Commodores' offensive
line since 2002 and was promoted to Vandy's assistant head coach a
couple years ago.

"We've come a long way from selling radio ads to supplement our salary to this point here," Caldwell said.

again, I just thank Vanderbilt for the opportunity. And quite frankly
when I came here people thought I was crazy. I left a major
institution. We were doing well. ... We saw and we believed. We still
believe. We think we should get it done and continue to do so. That's
our goal."

Folksy charm aside, Caldwell helped turn Chris
Williams from an undersized project into the 14th pick overall in the
2008 NFL Draft. He has had seven players drafted by the NFL in his
coaching career.

Center Joey Bailey has worked with Caldwell the
past five years, and he thinks Caldwell is ready for the pressure of
coaching in the SEC. He sees a coach so committed to his players that
men he hasn't taught in 20 years still call or drop by to talk with
Caldwell, yet a man so competitive he can't wait to get back onto the
field after a loss.

"He knows football in and out. He works hard
as anybody I think in the nation making sure we're prepared. He knows
everything the defense is going to do before they do it. He knows
everything our offense should do. Without a doubt, he's ready," Bailey

"He might not like to admit it. He's a very humble man. But without a doubt, he's ready to do it."

Johnson did his best to prepare the program for his departure with all the schedules and plans in place for this fall.

this is a program that went 2-10 in 2009, finishing the season on an
eight-game skid. The Commodores must improve an offense that ranked
110th nationally, averaging a mere 16.3 points per game in a number
that was much worse against SEC competition.

Caldwell may tweak
Vanderbilt a bit here or there. But the coach groomed by the same men
who taught Johnson doesn't have the time to make wholesale changes.

who I am. I've been coaching for a long time. Some say I've gotten too
soft in my old age, but I look forward to the challenge," he said.