No Joke: Vanderbilt's Bobby Johnson Can Coach

Daniel SpurgeonContributor ISeptember 5, 2008

As the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game was set to begin on ESPN, a video of Vanderbilt's head coach, Bobby Johnson, appeared on the screen.  Rece Davis, of ESPN, jokingly said, "Steve Martin."  Everyone laughed.  Not because Bobby Johnson is a joke—but because Bobby Johnson does look a lot like Steve Martin.  (And just between you and me, wink wink, it is because some people still think of Vanderbilt as a joke.)

Once the game started and ESPN was setting the stage for the game, Chris Fowler mentioned that Vanderbilt defeated No. 6 South Carolina last year to begin the regular season.  Impossible!  Surely they were joking.  

On an early play, a Vanderbilt tailback hit an opening at the line at full speed.  Unfortunately, he brushed an offensive lineman as he darted through the hole.  After a brief sojourn into the air, he hit the ground without having been touched by the South Carolina defense.  On another play he was completely engulfed by South Carolina.

The ESPN crew said the tailback's height was 5'7" and then jokingly said, "That might be generous."  But it was no joke—a man with a big heart was heading full speed into the line on every play.

A line from the movie The Godfather: Part II came to my mind at that point.  As Michael Corleone was chatting with Hyman Roth, he mentioned that he had just seen a Cuban rebel pull a pin on a grenade and blow himself up just to kill a few of the government's army officers.  Hyman Roth asked him, "What does that tell you?"  Michael Corleone answered, "It means they could win."

South Carolina loomed large in comparison.  Their National Championship coach was intense.  As the first quarter played out, South Carolina appeared to be the bigger, better team.

Surely it was only a matter of time before they beat Vanderbilt down to Vanderbilt size and went home with the "W" that their fans had already confidently marked on their schedules weeks ago.

Of course, marking a schedule with a "W" before a win is a joke—especially against a team that beat your team the year before at your place.  And what's that old adage, "Speed is the great equalizer."  Sure, South Carolina was bigger, and they had a swagger about them—but they were not faster.

On defense, the Commodores were torpedoes blowing up the Great Visor's plays before they could develop.  It's not a joke.  Speed kills—and these Commodores were, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead."

I had commented to someone yesterday that I thought Bobby Johnson was one of the most underappreciated coaches in all of college football.  Vanderbilt is never listed among the top teams of the SEC as having the best recruiting classes, and yet they manage to beat a ranked South Carolina two years in a row.  They have also taken down Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia in the past few years. 

However, Bobby Johnson teams are not undermanned against the more talented teams of the SEC.  A Bobby Johnson team has plenty of men playing for him—oftentimes more so even than his opponents.

Perhaps the next time Rece catches a glimpse of Steve Martin, he'll quip, "Bobby Johnson."

Now stop me if you've heard this one before: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog..."