Searching for Superman 11/27/01 (Orginally appeared in the Flagship)

By the time you are reading this, nearly every sports pundit in the state probably has weighed in on what Vanderbilt should do in hiring its next football coach. From what we've seen in the first few days of speculation, opinions range from insightful to almost wacky.

The beauty of a high profile search is that until it's over, its sometimes hard to tell which idea is insightful and which one is wacky. What seemed perfectly logical in the last hire may no longer make good sense today. What was thought to be absurd before may now be in vogue.

One of the early media themes which, when you think about it seems almost George Carlin-like, was this one: "Vandy Can't Afford to Make a Mistake".

Duh! Name any job hire in your business when you would think you could afford to make a mistake. Would you hire a kid to mow your front lawn and tell your spouse, "Well, honey, if we find out he is undependable, over-priced and mulches our flower bed that's OK because we can afford to make a mistake."

It was correctly pointed out that the surprising, early resignation by Coach Woody Widenhofer gave this administration the gift of some precious time in looking for his replacement. With recruiting entering an important phase, every day prior to the February letter-of-intent signing is important.

So, as basketball coaching legend Johnny Wooden used to say, it will be important to "be quick but don't hurry." Vanderbilt has the proper system in place to accomplish this objective.

There are no bulky search committees in this hire. Director of Athletics Todd Turner is essentially a one-man committee, although he will obviously seek advice and counsel from Chancellor Gordon Gee and several other members of the University leadership.

Don't under-estimate the importance of this streamlined approach.

A couple of years ago, when Florida defensive coordinator Bob Stoops was a red-hot head coaching prospect, he was being courted by two leading contenders - Iowa and Oklahoma.

The Sooners were represented in the search by their Director of Athletics, who was empowered by the University President to speak for the institution. He was able to cut to the chase quickly with Stoops.

However, Stoops is an alumnus of Iowa and played for Hayden Fry in the early 1980's. He had a strong pull toward the Hawks and story has it he went to Iowa City to talk about returning to his alma mater. Iowa had a search committee that was not able to give Stoops a quick answer.

The rest is history. Stoops called his agent and told him to take the Oklahoma offer. Two years later the Sooners were national champions.

Which brings us to another good question. What makes a good coach?

Let's see. A good coach needs to have an incredible knowledge of the game of football. A good coach must be able the organizational skills of your basic Chief Executive Officer. A top coach must know how to inspire men, leading them into each Saturday battle.

If that's not enough, a good coach should have excellent public relations skills to get along with a sometimes-cynical media or to charm the alumni during public speaking appearances. And let's not forget that a successful coach must have masterful salesmanship skills to recruit 17-year old high school boys when over 100 of his coaching peers are trying to sell the same super star.

On top of that, you need to find the right "chemistry" with your hire. The perfect guy at one school might be a mismatched failure at another.

Its no wonder why Turner said, half seriously, that he was looking for Superman. It takes a super man to fill the shoes.

These days you need someone with the energy level of the Energizer rabbit, the wit of David Letterman, the motivational skills of George Patton, the gridiron knowledge of Vince Lombardi, the oratory expertise of Ronald Reagan and the discipline of a monk.

Other than that, it's pretty easy. Those people meeting those qualifications should apply in person to Todd Turner immediately.

But stay tuned. Someone coming close to that description will soon be wearing black and gold and humming "Dynamite" on his way to work.


Vanderbilt Athletic Department
2601 Jess Neely Drive
Nashville, TN 37212
615-322-GOLD (4653)