2022 Vanderbilt Commodores
|Athletic director||Malclom Turner|
|Head coach||Clark Lea|
|1st year, 0–0 (.000)|
|Home stadium||Vanderbilt Stadium|
|Stadium surface||Field Turf|
|Location||Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.|
|Division||SEC Eastern Division|
|All-time record||609–629–50 (.492)|
|Postseason bowl record||4–4–1 (.500)|
|Claimed national titles||0|
|Conference titles||14 (0 SEC)|
|Colors||Black and Gold
|Marching band||Spirit of Gold Marching Band|
The Vanderbilt Commodores football team represents Vanderbilt University located in Nashville, Tennessee. The Commodores are a member of the NCAA FBS Southeastern Conference and play their home games at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. The Commodores are currently coached by Clark Lea.
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 2–0 3–2 from 1901 –1903. That same year, Vanderbilt began one of its oldest rivalries: the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss rivalry. Even so, Dan McGugin's arrival as coach from his brother-in-law Fielding H. 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.
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:
- The game between Vanderbilt and Michigan had a carnival-like atmosphere.
- Dignitaries and politicians were invited to participate at Dudley Field, the largest football-only stadium in the South at that time. The guest of honor for the dedication game was Cornelius Vanderbilt, the great-great grandson of the university's namesake.
- Accompanied by his wife, Vanderbilt arrived at Nashville's Union Station on the morning of the game, his first trip to the city. The day's first event was a luncheon for the young Vanderbilt couple, which was held at the Hermitage Hotel and hosted by Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.
- Thousands of Vanderbilt students and alumni met downtown for a parade with Tennessee Governor Alf Taylor riding in the lead automobile. Decorated in orange and black, their automobile began the parade at Twelfth and Broadway, weaving through the side streets to a reviewing stand at the foot of the Capitol Building.
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 1898.
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—joined the other SoCon schools south and west of the Appalachians in founding the Southeastern Conference. The other charter members were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Georgia Tech, and Tulane.
Vanderbilt football has not won a conference championship since 1923. Vanderbilt has competed in only five bowl games (see below), with a combined all-time post-season record of 2–2–1. By comparison, none of the SEC's other charter members have fewer than 14 bowl appearances. Vanderbilt has finished ranked once, in 1948, when it finished #12 in the AP poll after an 8–2–1 season.
The Commodores have found the going especially difficult since their last period of sustained success in the mid-1950s. Since 1959, Vanderbilt has posted only four winning seasons—in 1974, 1975, 1982 and 2008.
This trend seemed to be abating in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, 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, George MacIntyre's 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.
MacIntyre was unable to put together another winner, and left after the 1985 season. From 1986 to 2001, when Bobby Johnson was hired, Vanderbilt was led by five coaches who averaged only four wins per season. During this time, the Commodores won only 18 games in SEC play. Included in this run were three 1–10 overall records, as well as five winless SEC records.
Bobby Johnson was hired in 2002 as the head football coach. Johnson had previously coached at NCAA Division I-AA power Furman, leading the Paladins to the Division I-AA title game in 2001, his final year. However, at the time, some questioned the wisdom of hiring a I-AA coach to lead a program in what has widely been reckoned as the strongest football conference in the nation.
Vanderbilt 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.
Radical administrative restructuring
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. Intercollegiate athletics are now part of the Division of Student Life, overseen by Williams as Vice Chancellor of University Affairs.
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.
Difficulty in the 2000s
Since the start of the 2000 season Vanderbilt has record of only 42–99 and 16–80 in SEC play. This averages to only 3.5 wins and 8.3 losses a year.
In 2005, Vanderbilt finished with a 5–6 record, the program's best finish since 1999.
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.
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 season against Wake Forest 17–31.
In 2008, Vanderbilt began the season winning their first four games, beating Miami (OH), South Carolina, Rice and Rice on the road. Vanderbilt lost its next four games, however on November 15, 2008, Vanderbilt defeated the Kentucky 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 Boston College in the Music City Bowl on December 31, 2008. In a come-from-behind win, Vanderbilt narrowly 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.
On July 14, 2010, Bobby Johnson announced his retirement. With less than two months until the season opener, the move was a shock to many players and fans. Said Johnson "I’ve decided to retire, not resign,".
Leaving Robbie Caldwell as head coach, not improving on the 2009 season of 2-10 just hours before the Commodores squared off with Wake Forest to conclude the 2010 season, Caldwell announced that he will resign his position as football coach immediately after the Wake Forest game. 
James Franklin era
James Franklin, formerly a staff member for Maryland, was hired in 2011 as the new head coach after a disappointing 2-10 2010 season under an interim coach. Coach Franklin started out the 2011 season bringing the Commodores to a 3–0 start with wins against Elon, Connecticut, and SEC rival Ole Miss. This was the best start for a new Vanderbilt coach in 68 years. After losing three games including a close loss to Georgia, Vanderbilt improved to 4 wins with a homecoming victory against Army. After losing a 28–31 game against SEC opponent Arkansas and Florida 21-26, the Commodores under Franklin defeated conference opponent Kentucky at home in Nashville by an impressive 38–8, improving to 5 wins on the season. After a close loss to in-state and SEC rival Tennessee, Vanderbilt capped the season with a 41–7 road win against Wake Forest, finishing the season 6–6, with a 2–6 record in the SEC, and earning a trip to the Liberty Bowl in Memphis against the Cincinnati Bearcats with a loss of 24 – 31 Vandy finished 6–7.
Franklin becomes the first Vanderbilt head coach to lead a Commodore team to a bowl game as a first-year head coach.
|2020||Derek Mason; Todd Fitch||0-9|
- College Football. Tennessee Historical Society. Retrieved on 2006–11–29.
- All-Time Records for Vanderbilt. Stassen.com. Retrieved on 2006–11–29.
- James Howell. Vanderbilt Historical Scores. Retrieved on 2006–12–01.
- Southeastern Conference. College Football dictionary dufus. Retrieved on 2006–12–08.
- Bill Traughber. CHC- Vandy Ties Michigan in 1922. Vanderbilt University. Retrieved on 2006-12-08.
- Southern Conference media guide, p. 167
- As witnessed by its win/loss records to that date
- See Southeastern Conference for more.
- Source: Vanderbilt 2011 Football Media Guide