A bit nervous, Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell took an open approach to his first regular season press conference Monday.
“If I give ya’ll an honest answer I don’t have to worry about what I said," he said. "Everybody seems to think that’s a new idea.”
While holding a press conference is something new to Caldwell, preparing for big-time college football games is not.
Caldwell has over 20 years experience as an assistant coach in the SEC (Vanderbilt) and ACC (North Carolina State and North Carolina). However, Saturday's season opener against Northwestern will be Caldwell’s first game as a head coach.
He said that emotions will be running high, but from sheer excitement rather than apprehension.
“I’m going to have to try to stay calm because I got pretty emotional before a game as a position coach,” he said. “I’m not nervous, what the heck? I’ve been doing this a long time. We’re going to get after it, have some fun and try our hardest to win the game.”
Caldwell’s confidence comes from a history of preparation.
Throughout fall practice he has led the Commodores through every foreseeable scenario against Northwestern. Last Saturday, the team walked through pre-game rituals at Vanderbilt Stadium to familiarize younger players with the process. On the practice field, Caldwell goes through a list of potential game-time situations, down to minute details.
“Every day we try to check off several things and cover certain situations that can occur during the game from even playing in overtime,” he said. “We’ve had one overtime session and we hope to get another one this week. We did not do the coin toss so we literally plan to do that because I want them to know what our plan is.
"Those are some simple things it seems, but all it takes is one wrong answer to the official.”
It’s been speculated that former head coach Bobby Johnson timed his resignation so close to the start of the season in order to ensure his replacement would be someone from his staff.
Caldwell has relished the opportunity. True to his modest character, he made no predictions about Week 1, or the season. Instead. expressed faith in the offseason work of his team and staff.
“Everyone’s asked me ‘How are you gonna do?'" he said. “You don’t know until you get there. I’ve been going out on the field for a long time but I’ve never had that sole responsibility that you’ve got to make the call so that’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’ve got very good coaches around me; that will help.”
With his jocular nature it is easy to lose focus of Caldwell’s work ethic and competitiveness. But moving past 2009’s 2-10 season is a unanimous aspiration in Vanderbilt’s locker room. Robbie Caldwell’s Commodore’s want to win.
“I want to win at everything,” Caldwell noted. “Whether I pitch horseshoes with you or shoot marbles, I want to beat you and that’s just my nature.”
• Vanderbilt’s running backs have taken a beating this offseason with at least four different injuries. Caldwell said redshirt-freshman Wesley Tate (foot), sophomore Zac Stacy (knee strain) and fifth-year senior Kennard Reeves (hamstring) would play against Northwestern. Tate was cleared after a recent X-ray came back negative.
“(Stacy) won’t be 100 percent but I think he’ll be enough to really give us a boost," Caldwell said. "None of them will be 100 percent yet, even Kennard. He hasn’t gotten back from starting camp with a hamstring.”
• Warren Norman, the 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year, is still questionable.
Norman had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Aug. 25 to clean out some cartilage. Caldwell noted that he will ultimately err on the side of precaution and the advice of Vanderbilt’s medical staff, but Norman is ready to play.
“He did not have much swelling (Monday), which is a great sign,” Caldwell said. “Warren says he’s gonna be ready and that’s kind of what I go by.”
• Caldwell feels injuries may have helped the Commodores in regard to preparing for Northwestern’s up-tempo defense. Low numbers forced VU’s first strings to square off in fall practice, resulting in higher quality reps.
• The impact of VU’s celebrated 2010 recruiting class will be tested immediately. Caldwell said he could have 14 freshmen see the field against Northwestern.
• Kicker Ryan Fowler’s accuracy has been up in recent weeks, a development Caldwell lauded. Fowler has added to his maximum rang and has mase kicks from 52 yards in practice.
“Our goal is inside the 40 make 100 percent of our field goals and, knock on wood, he’s kind of done that in fall camp here,” Caldwell said. “The only mishaps have been with a false snap or a miscount.”
• Defensive captain Adam Smotherman could use a Week 4 bye as a window to return from injury. Smotherman tore knee ligaments this spring and required surgery. He has been pushing his rehabilitation to return as soon as possible.
“We’re kind of working towards that (Connecticut) game (Oct. 2) after the open date,” Caldwell said of Smotherman’s return. “But that’s just a point, it’s not set in stone. He’s thinking quicker than that.”