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Caldwell’s humor disguises strong coaching skills
Caldwell returned to Furman in 1978 after a stint under Dick Sheridan as a high school offensive line coach. He followed Sheridan to North Carolina State in 1986, including two years as assistant head coach. He spent 2000 and 2001 at North Carolina before Johnson convinced his old friend to join him at Vanderbilt.
Johnson said Caldwell’s true strength is his ability to soak in information and teach players so they respond, even to the point of using different approaches to reach individuals whether it’s through music, history or girlfriends.
“He has a great ability to demand a lot from his players, but at the same time care a lot about his players. To me, that’s a great talent to have as a coach,” Johnson said.
Chicago Bears tackle Chris Williams, a first-round draft pick in 2008, is among those very excited that Caldwell now is Vanderbilt’s head coach. He recalled how Caldwell posted a picture of Jim Otto for inspiration, since replaced by photos of the Commodores’ own top linemen. Williams predicts the current team will rally around Caldwell.
“He’s a guy that you want to show up and work hard for. He’s that kind of coach,” Williams said.
Anyone mistaking Caldwell for a teddy bear who can’t discipline his players will be mistaken.
Kansas defensive coordinator Carl Torbush worked against Caldwell for many years before they worked together at North Carolina, and he listened in once when Caldwell called the Western Carolina coach about an incoming transfer. The offending player sat in front of him having skipped classes a couple days.
Johnson retired with coaches temporarily working in the stadium while crews were renovating and expanding the coaches’ offices. Caldwell moved them back in during the first week of August with coaches settling in while workers finished installing base boards, lights and exit signs.
Boxes have been stacked throughout the hall and in Caldwell’s new office with the big window overlooking the stadium. So they faced unpacking at the same time running practices for a team coming off a 2-10 season.
How tough is winning at Vanderbilt? Well, the Commodores’ lone winning season since 1982 came in 2008, when they went 7-6 and won their first bowl game since 1955. Caldwell faces a difficult schedule with SEC games against LSU, Georgia, Arkansas and Florida, while Northwestern, Connecticut and Wake Forest fill up the non-conference slate.
“People should realize Robbie had quite a few chances to leave Vanderbilt because other people wanted him, and he stayed there because of his loyalties to Vanderbilt and Bobby Johnson. Hopefully they’ll do the same thing for Robbie,” Torbush said.
Kind words that Caldwell sees as a comedic opening.
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