Column: Bobby Johnson counted

July 14, 2010

Related Link: Johnson retires as Head Coach

Bobby and Catherine Johnson struggled to the difficult conclusion that after nearly four decades it was time for him to hang up his whistle. People noticed their decision, as they should because Bobby Johnson was much more than our football coach. He counted.

Bobby Johnson counted in the dog-eat-dog of shady rule interpretations, recruiting hanky-panky, and an over-the-top sports world that too often has lost its perspective on what should be important. He was a winner in every important way.

Just yesterday Vanderbilt Athletics announced that one of its 10 incoming Hall of Fame members was Grantland Rice, a 1901 grad who once wrote "When the One Great Scorer comes around to write against your name, He writes not if you won or lost but how you played the game." Grantland Rice is no doubt proud of Bobby Johnson because Bobby counts.

There are those, perhaps many, who consider Bobby's timing peculiar. There must be a foul shoe to drop somewhere. There are no shoes to drop. There is no scandal, no need to parse words or split hairs. He and Catherine are in good health.

I've been in collegiate athletics as long as Bobby has coached and I have yet to see a high profile departure where some constituency didn't feel as though things were poorly handled or that someone in the shuffle was slighted. Today's timing was a blur because as late as dawn Vice Chancellor David Williams still held out faint hope that the Johnsons might change their minds. No such luck.

An unfortunate leak in the system unleashed a large and hungry news media upon McGugin Center much earlier today than we had hoped and as a result, some members of the football team heard this through the grapevine first, much to the dismay of Bobby. So much for timing.

Bobby Johnson counted on this campus. He was a model of integrity and that was understood in the corridors of Kirkland Hall, the admissions office, by the alumni affairs people and everywhere in-between. He told his hard-working staff to recruit young men that could win in the Southeastern Conference but to be sure they could also win in the classroom. Winning just one way wouldn't fly. He didn't go ballistic if a prospect was turned down because he got it. There were no clipboards thrown if a compliance ruling went the other way.

Bobby Johnson counted with those of us lucky enough to know him. What you saw is what we got - an intense and fiery competitor who wanted to win at everything he did but also a gentleman that remembered that class counts. Class is remembered after cheap victories are long forgotten.

I can only imagine the lifestyle of a high profile coach. Up at 4 o'clock in the morning and at the office an hour before other early arrivers would crack their doors; leading 100 young men, a dozen assistant coaches, a support staff of videographers, doctors and trainers, equipment personnel, administrative assistants and, oh... thousands of donors, ticket holders and alumni. He couldn't ever say he was weary or admit the slightest discouragement. The money is nice but it's a brutal gig.

When Nashville and Middle Tennessee flooded last May we quickly put together a Red Cross benefit for our next baseball game. We asked all of our head coaches to arrive at the entry gates for assignment at 5 p.m. Care to guess which coach showed up first?

Bobby Johnson counted with everyone that believes in fair play, good humor, hard work and common courtesy. It's a tough day for college football because one of the finest has hung up his whistle. Vanderbilt football has been put in the capable hands of Robbie Caldwell and Black and Gold faithful can feel secure in the continuity of our program.

But today those of us in Commodore Nation have a right to feel a little bit empty. Because when it comes time to write the final score, Bobby Johnson made a difference. He counted. And it was noticed.

We wish Bobby and Catherine all of the best, they've earned it.



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