- Associated Press - Saturday, August 21, 2010

NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - Robbie Caldwell might have missed his true calling _ the Blue Collar Comedy Tour.

The South Carolina native with a thick Southern accent has a way of telling stories with perfect comic timing. Just listen to him explain away the 15 pounds he lost in his first couple weeks in his new job.

“I know it’s hard to believe, but a fat man forgets to eat,” the Vanderbilt coach said with a deadpan delivery.

His good ol’ boy persona was so refreshing that he earned a round of applause from a room of reporters, including a standing ovation from a few, in his debut at Southeastern Conference media days last month. Coincidence or not, his bosses later removed the interim from his title and started work on a new contract.

Good thing Caldwell has a sense of humor.

He’ll need it in the SEC’s toughest job at the league’s smallest school and its only private one. Even so, his friends say he’s more than ready for his first top job and caution against underestimating him because of his accent or humor.

Bobby Johnson, who retired July 14 to clear the path for Caldwell’s promotion, has been close friends with him since both were graduate assistants at Furman in 1976.

“We’ve heard those stories many, many years, and Robbie has them down. He does a good job. They are true. It’s all true. But Robbie also has a good way of spinning it, trying to make you think he’s just not serious about everything,” Johnson said. “Robbie’s down to earth, tells you exactly what he’s thinking, and I think that’s going to be a great asset for him.

“He won’t abuse it. He won’t do crazy things. He’s smart.”

Caldwell enthralled reporters at SEC media days talking about his first job working at a turkey farm, using up all 40 minutes allotted to him. His answer to how that happened?

“I had no agenda. No plan. I was just going in to be honest and answer everybody’s questions. I was dead serious, and they thought it was hilarious,” Caldwell said.

Virginia Tech quarterbacks coach Michael O’Cain has seen Caldwell’s skills up close from the time he was the quarterback and Caldwell his center at a North Carolina-South Carolina all-star game. They also worked together as assistants at North Carolina State, and he couldn’t be happier that his old friend finally has his first head coaching job at the age of 56.

O’Cain cautions that Caldwell comes across as an unsophisticated country boy. Don’t fall for that act. He says Caldwell is very smart, a skilled recruiter, an excellent football coach and a great person.

And yes, Caldwell is much funnier than he is.

“I could tell the same story, and it wasn’t very funny at all. He’d tell the story, and everybody would roll out of their chair laughing,” O’Cain said. “He’s got that knack about him. He’s a very good people person, enjoys people and has a lot of fun.”

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