2009-10: As the 2009 season approaches, Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson can look back and know that many of the goals he set for himself and the Commodore program when he arrived on campus in January 2001 have come to fruition.
With the help of a stable and experienced coaching staff that has only seen three personnel changes in seven years, Johnson has produced a winner at Vanderbilt, giving followers of the program a postseason celebration for the first time in decades.
Since capturing a thrilling Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl victory, numerous accolades have come to Johnson. A share of SEC Coach of the Year honors was followed by inclusion into the American Football Coaches Association board of directors. Just 10 days before the start of spring drills, local officials named Johnson as Nashville's 2008 Sports Person of the Year.
Quite simply, Johnson has accomplished a task many observers thought would be extremely tough: respect has been restored to the Vanderbilt football program.
Johnson understands what the 5-0 start, a four-week run in the national rankings, a record seven national TV appearances, playing host to ESPN's College Football GameDay, and a thrilling Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl victory means to the program.
"We're beginning to see the results of the hard work everybody has put in as we build this program the right way, building on a foundation intended to continue for years to come," Johnson said. "I expect to see more of the things we witnessed this season in future years."
Vanderbilt fans, too, are buying into Johnson's improving Commodores. In 2008, season ticket sales were the highest in more than a decade.
From his first day as the Vanderbilt coach, Johnson has stressed that a successful Commodore program would be built upon the same principals he had followed as the successful mentor at Furman University - that players excel not only at the fundamentals of the game but in the character, integrity, effort and passion they exhibit both on and off the field.
Off the field, university administrators are strong believers in Johnson's success. The university has supported a series of facility upgrades, including stadium enhancements, and given Johnson enough stability to coach an eighth straight year in 2009, the first such achievement by a Commodore football coach in nearly 50 years.
The 2008 achievements by Johnson and his squad should come as no surprise to those who have followed the program. The last four Commodore squads have been the program's most competitive in nearly 25 years, and have made Johnson the university's fifth winningest coach in team history. Those teams have garnered 21 victories, including the 2009 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl title and an impressive string of road wins against SEC foes Tennessee, Georgia, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Kentucky and South Carolina.
Off the field, Johnson's Commodores perform like national champs. In January, he accepted the AFCA's Academic Achievement Awards saluting Vanderbilt as the nation's best in regard to graduating its football athletes. The squad also set a new Southeastern Conference mark with 39 football players earning All-SEC Academic Honor Roll in 2008-09.
Johnson came to Nashville from Furman fully expecting to turn the Commodores into a perennial winner that competes for titles - and he hasn't wavered at all from that intent.
As Johnson continues to reshape the program, his impact on the 2009 squad will be more pronounced than ever before. Johnson believes the team he welcomes in August is also well positioned to compete effectively and consistently in what most observers believe is America's premier conference. And compete they will.
Johnson's plan for ultimate success places as much emphasis on coaches and efforts in recruiting as it did players and conditioning - everyone had to get better.
The Commodore coaching staff, from its coordinators to the strength assistants, almost mirrors the group Johnson selected in his first months on campus. When the rare coaching vacancies during Johnson's tenure became available, he acted quickly to attract highly qualified replacements. In the last two years, he has expanded the roles of four current coaches. With his hand-picked conditioning director John Sisk in place, Johnson has witnessed a revival of the Commodores' conditioning effort. Commodore studentathletes lift weights and practice in modern facilities that did not exist prior to Johnson's arrival on campus. The head coach has even enhanced the way players and coaches study game film by installing the latest in video and computer technologies. The second phase of major improvements to Vanderbilt Stadium will welcome players and fans this season, and more more upgrades are planned. College football observers and pro scouts have taken notice of Johnson's efforts to upgrade talent on the Commodore roster. Former quarterback Jay Cutler earned Pro Bowl honors last year and has Chicago Bears fans beaming with excitement for the upcoming year. Cutler is one of 14 former Commodores on NFL teams, believed to be the most in program history. Johnson became the first Vanderbilt coach in 48 years to have two players selected in the opening round in a three-year span when 2007 offensive tackle Chris Williams joined Cutler as a first rounder.
Others besides Cutler and Williams have enjoyed success as a Commodore. Receiver Earl Bennett became the SEC's all-time leading receiver, finishing his career with 236 receptions. Three top defenders - linebackers Moses Osemwegie and Jonathan Goff and cornerback D.J. Moore - have received consecutive first team All-SEC recognition.
Under Johnson, 25 Commodores have earned All-SEC recognition. Johnson has mentored 17 freshmen All-SEC selections, including Kwane Doster, Vanderbilt's first SEC Freshman of the Year in 2002.
Off the football field, the engaging South Carolina native is as comfortable encouraging Radiothon callers to open their wallets in support of the Charles Davis Foundation as he is talking to young Commodore followers at Dore Jam fan activities.
A native of Columbia, Johnson was a three-sport standout at Eau Claire High School. He continued playing at Clemson, where he lettered as both a receiver and defensive back, and graduated in 1973 with a bachelor's degree in management. In 1979, he was awarded a master's degree in education from Furman.
He is married to the former Catherine Bonner of Charleston, S.C.