Grits Blitz 4/10/2014

OYE COMO VA. Ervin Santana was smooth in his Atlanta debut, striking out six in eight innings of scoreless work. He opened the game with 20 straight strikes, and only threw one ball through his first three innings. The bullpen nearly blew the game in the ninth, however, with Jordan Walden and Craig Kimbrel combining to give up three runs before Kimbrel fanned Ruben Tejada to seal the 4-3 win.

Jason Heyward was spectacular, going 3/4 with a leadoff home run and two RBI. Andrelton Simmon added another defensive gem to his already staggering reel of incredible plays, and got some help from another great Freddie Freeman stretch on this highlight.

WE’RE STILL IGNORING THIS. Something happened during the home opener, and where is Rick Monday when you need him?

ONE MORE HANK AARON PIECE. Would Hammerin’ Hank be a Hall of Famer even if he had never hit a home run? Nate Silver over at FiveThirtyEight seems to think so.

THIS IS STILL A BIG DEAL. But, as Sports Illustrated points out, openly gay athletes soon won’t be big news stories — which will represent a great deal of progress. Until then, people like Derrick Gordon will continue to rightly be praised for their courage.

SOCCER! Barcelona stumbled out of the gates and was eliminated from Champions League play by fellow Spanish team Atletico Madrid. Meanwhile, Manchester United scored a brilliant goal against defending Champions Bayern Munich and promptly surrendered three to the Germans. Patrice Evra’s goal will stand out from the game, but it wasn’t enough for the most famous team in the world.

THE PAR 3 CONTEST. SO HOT RIGHT NOW. Once again the fun challenge on Wednesday of Masters Week delivered, bringing us one of the most adorable golfing children you will ever see.

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WHAT WE’RE WATCHING TODAY:

THE MASTERS. STREAMING ONLINE. ALL DAY. Go Bubba. Go Brandt.

NCAA WOMEN’S BOWLING CHAMPIONSHIPS. STREAMING ONLINE. 11:40 am. Yes, we realize how ridiculous this is. It’s also the only sport Vanderbilt has ever won a team national championship in, so we watch it every year.

BRAVES VS. METS. SPORTSOUTH. 7:10pm. David Hale makes his second start of the year, taking on Jennry Mejia in the rubber game of this three-game series.

THE FROZEN FOUR. ESPN2. BOSTON COLLEGE VS. UNION 7:30 pm. NORTH DAKOTA VS. MINNESOTA 11pm. College hockey is incredibly fun to watch but, much like the NHL since the Thrashers left, we don’t watch much until the playoffs are in full swing.

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Grits Blitz 4/9/2014

40TH ANNIVERSARY OF 715. The Braves game last night was somewhat secondary to a celebration of Hank Aaron’s record-breaking 715th home run. The Braves had a great tribute lined up, wearing the same jerseys Aaron wore in 1974 and putting 715 fans in the outfield as he spoke to a sold-out Turner Field. Grant Brisbee (a Giants fan, no less) at SBNation has a great piece on why 755 remains the most revered record in sports.

UNFORTUNATELY A GAME WAS ALSO PLAYED. A heavyweight matchup (literally) between Aaron Harang and Bartolo Colon ended poorly for the Braves as the Mets prevailed 4-0. The home team had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, but Jason Heyward’s fly ball landed ten feet short of the fence.

SOCCER! The UEFA Champions League saw two exciting finishes yesterday, as Chelsea scored a last-minute goal to advance past Paris Saint-Germain on away goals and Borussia Dortmund’s furious rally fell just short against a Ronaldo-less Real Madrid.

We’ve got two more good matchups today, as Barcelona takes on La Liga rival Atletico and Manchester United attempts to unseat defending champions Bayern Munich. Both matches are at 2:45 pm.

YOU ARE LOOKING LIVE. It’s Masters Week in Augusta, and today brings us the always-entertaining Par 3 contest. The contest starts at noon, but won’t air until 3pm on ESPN.

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WHAT WE’RE WATCHING TODAY:

BARCELONA VS. ATLETICO MADRID/MANCHESTER UNITED VS. BAYERN MUNICH. FOX SPORTS 1 and FOX SPORTS 2. 2:45pm.

MASTERS PAR 3 CONTEST. ESPN. 3pm.

BRAVES VS. METS. FOX SPORTS SOUTH. 7:10pm. Ervin Sanatana makes his Atlanta debut, facing off against Georgia-native Zack Wheeler in the second of a three-game series.

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Previewing the 2014 Braves with Ben Weinrib

We’re bringing back Ben Weinrib of The Knuckleblog to help us preview the new Braves season. Ben put out his annual 70-page MLB preview last week, which you absolutely should check out. Just like last year, the questions I sent to Ben are in Bold, his responses are in regular text, and my added snark is in italics. If you don’t understand some of the acronyms we use, FanGraphs has a helpful dictionary so you can translate our nerd talk.

This should be fun. 

1. In your season preview you have the Braves ranked behind the Nationals. This is obviously wrong, but explain your reasoning anyways.

Earlier in the off-season I still had the Nationals ahead of the Braves, and all the injuries to the Braves’ starting pitchers doesn’t help their case. Losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy for the season is big; they’ve combined to have a 2.52 ERA over 446 innings the past two seasons, and Aaron Harang and David Hale are not all that adequate of replacements.

Let me stop you right there, Ben. David Hale has a 0.82 ERA, so if anything he’s an improvement. Sure, that’s only in two career starts, but he was incredible in those two starts. Aaron Harang sucks, but he’s only around for a month.

The main reason I picked the Nationals to win the World Series is because they have so much pitching. Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez are all aces, and Doug Fister isn’t all that far behind. With four starters of that caliber, plus Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, and Drew Storen out of the pen, it’s going to be hard for them not to compete. Add in a promising, young offense, and the Nationals are going to be really good.

Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are aces? That’s like calling Joe Flacco “elite” except that Flacco has won a Super Bowl. Fangraphs (and most reasonable baseball nerds) calls aces the best 30 pitchers in the league. Gonzalez and Zimmermann are very good pitchers, but only Zimermann is in the “Ace” discussion.

I think Bryce Harper takes the leap to become a top-10 NL player, and the eternally underrated Ian Desmond is already a top-5 shortstop.

Desmond is underrated by everyone except Major League managers who somehow think he’s both a better defender and has a better arm than Andrelton

Much like the Braves, so much of the Nationals’ lineup is young that it’s easy to see it improving without any acquisitions this winter.

For what it’s worth, the Nationals have just two positions players on the 25-man roster under the age of 26.

The difference to me, though, is that I have much fewer questions about the Nationals’ lineup than I have about Chris Johnson and Evan Gattis repeating their big years and B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla, and Andrelton Simmons improving.

This was not a satisfactory answer.

2. What needs to happen for the Braves to win the division?

It would be really nice if the Nationals had the same bad luck they had last year with injuries to Harper and Jayson Werth, but that’s something they can’t control. In terms of what the Braves need to do, they need four key players to live up to their ceiling.

Bryce Harper still played in 118 games last season. Jason Werth played in 129. Jason Heyward played in 104. Forgive me if I don’t quite buy that the Nationals would have made up a 10-game difference in the standings last year without injuries.

Dan Uggla and B.J. Upton have shown they can be really good players; outside of last year, they each averaged 3.3 and 3.7 WAR per season. If they can return to even 80% of their old forms, this could be a scary batting order. How likely that is, we’ll get to in a second.

On the other hand, Ervin Santana and Alex Wood may be more important considering how thin Atlanta’s pitching staff is now. Santana has had an ERA under 4.00 in four of the past six seasons, but the other two seasons were disastrous with ERAs over 5.00.

Gio “Ace” Gonzalez has also had two seasons with an ERA over 5.00 in his six years in the majors.

Wood has been excellent throughout pro ball, but his arm action suggest his future my lie in the bullpen. It’ll be interesting to see if he can hold up for 200 innings this season. If these two are as good as they can be, Atlanta’s rotation could be just fine. But if Santana reverts back to his 2012 form and Wood blows out his arm, this team may not sniff the playoffs.

An understandable concern with Wood, though he did throw 140 innings between the minors and Atlanta last season. 

3. Is Julio Teheran an ace? Can the Braves count on him to carry a depleted pitching staff?

I have very little doubts about Julio Teheran eventually being an ace, but I’m not entirely sure if he’ll get there this year. We’ve even seen pitchers take a step back in their second year before (Ivan Nova). Then again, I didn’t think fellow phenom Jose Fernandez would be quite ready last year, and he’s turned into one of the best 10 pitchers in the NL.

Once he’s fully recovered from his… male surgery… Mike Minor becomes the best pitcher on the staff to me, which makes Teheran a very strong number two pitcher. I think the key to Teheran improving this season is to use his changeup more effectively. That pitch has been graded well above-average before, but he only threw it five percent of the time last year. Additionally, a more effective changeup will help his platoon split issues—lefties hit .284 off him and righties hit .201 off him in 2013.

According to WAR, Mike Minor was an “Ace” last season.

4. How good is Craig Kimbrel?

In a few words, Craig Kimbrel is ridiculous. He has by far the highest career strikeout rate for any pitcher with at least 200 innings; Kimbrel has struck out 43.2% of batters he faced, and no one else whiffed more than 40% of their batters. Not only that, but he posts an above-average ground ball rate, and his velocity has ticked up each year he’s been in the majors.

Go on…

The only thing holding him back is how much Fredi Gonzalez uses him. The Braves could get a lot more value out of him if they used him for more than an inning at a time. He recorded four outs just two times last year, including once in the playoffs, and he was only put in 14 non-save situations all year. Come on, Fredi, you’re wasting your best pitcher.

This is a discussion for another day, probably. Yes, I agree that Kimbrel should be used in more non-save situations, because those aren’t always the highest-leverage parts of a game, but I’m not so sure about using him for more than an inning at a time.

5. Dan Uggla and BJ Upton had historically bad seasons last year. Are there any signs of hope that the two will be better this year?

Well you look at how well Uggla and Upton played for the first seven and six years of their career, and it’s easy to see 2013 as outlier seasons. For Uggla, his vision was so bad that he needed LASIK surgery mid-way through the season, although he didn’t improve post-surgery. The hope here is that improved vision will translate to a better eye at the plate.

Can he get surgery on the part of him that strikes out in 31% of all at bats?

As a B.J. Upton fantasy owner for the past four years, I can tell you the guy is equal parts talented and frustrating. He’ll never hit for a high average—he sat between .237 and .246 his last four years in Tampa—but he got incredibly unlucky last year on balls in play. His BABIP was just .266 in 2013, which should stabilize closer to his career .317 BABIP next year.

He also posted the highest strikeout rate of his career at 33.9%, so it wasn’t just the balls in play that hurt his average. That said, he did hit a lot of line drives right at fielders last season, so your point is taken.

I don’t think we see either player return to their previous norm, but you won’t see two hitters below the Mendoza Line again.

6. Grade the Braves’ offseason. Which was your favorite move?

 Considering their budget and contract situations, the Braves had as good of a winter as they could have. It wasn’t a perfect off-season, though, since they make any great trades like the Justin Upton one last year, so I’m settling on a very strong A- grade.

This grade deflation at Vanderbilt is really doing a number on you, Ben.

Signing Santana was very underrated because although they lost their first-round draft pick to sign him, they’ll be able to recoup it next winter should they extend him a qualifying offer and he signs with a new team. However, my favorite move of the winter—which really means my favorite extension of the winter—is Julio Teheran’s extension. Should they pick up his two team options, he’ll make just $23 million in his free agency years, which could easily be half his market value.

Great price for an Ace.

7. What prospect should Atlanta fans look for in the majors this year?

Most of Atlanta’s prospects are in the lower minors, but two names stick out to me. Christian Bethancourt is pretty much the opposite of starting catcher Evan Gattis—an elite defender with a questionable bat—and should see time in the majors if either Gattis or Gerald Laird gets hurt. If he can learn to take a walk every now and then, he could be a lite version of Andrelton Simmons behind the plate.

Just to address your implication that Gattis is a poor defender, advanced catching stats have him above league-average in pitch framing and blocking. He definitely sucks in the outfield, though.

Tommy La Stella is the next guy in line if Dan Uggla continues to hit like he did last season. He has a fairly low upside with no significant tools besides a plus bat, but as an older prospect, he’ll immediately be able to hit for a respectable average and be a solid defender should the Braves need him this year.

8. Is Andrelton Simmons the best defender in the league? Is this just an excuse for me to show 25 minutes of Simba highlights?

According to UZR, Simmons was the fourth best defender in the league last year after Manny Machado, Gerardo Parra, and Shane Victorino. Of course, UZR can vary a lot year-to-year, so take that stat with a grain of salt, but I think it’s fair to say he’s the best defender in the league considering the bazooka attached to his right shoulder (he can reach 98 mph off the mound) and his impressive range.

Shane Victorino? UZR needs to watch some baseball games if it thinks Shane Victorino is a better defender than Andrelton Simmons.

The one other player I could see as a better defender than Simmons is Yadier Molina. Baseball Prospectus found that framing pitches alone can save about 20 runs per season (the equivalent of 2 WAR), and Molina does wonders for the Cardinals’ young pitching staff. Whether you consider pitch calling defense is another issue, but Molina and Simmons are both pretty incredible defenders.

One last note on Simmons is that he’s a just awful hitter. He rarely strikes out, but he could be so much more valuable if he didn’t have a .246/.296/.396 hitting line. If he can ever get that OBP up in the .320 or .330 range, he could be a 6 WAR player.

FanGraphs had him at a 2.2 offensive WAR last season, which can’t really be described as awful. League-average is closer to a fitting-description, which is acceptable given his defense.

As promised, here are 25 minutes of Simba highlights:

9. What is Jason Heyward’s ceiling now? Could he win an MVP Award?

Back in 2010, when most scouting services had Heyward as baseball’s top prospect ahead of Stephen Strasburg, he was thought to have 30 plus home run power. While it doesn’t look like he’ll totally reach his peak, I think he still has a ways to improve, considering he doesn’t turn 25 until August.

I doubt he ever wins an MVP award, but I think he’ll be able to hit .280/.360/.500 during his peak seasons with 32 home runs and 10 steals. That’s still a really good player with his athleticism in the outfield, but I do worry about his durability at times. He’s going to be very similar to Justin Upton, part of the reason I hope both stay in Atlanta for a long time.

In 2012 he put up a 5.8 WAR at age 24, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs says that 6+ WAR is MVP-caliber, so it seems like he’s got as good a shot as anyone at an MVP to me. Not that I was asking a leading question or anything.

10. Let’s try this again. Are the Braves going to win the NL East?

I spent $29 on Bryce Harper in our fantasy baseball auction, so there’s no turning back now.

Damnit, Ben.

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Sources Say: News and Notes from Vanderbilt

I’ll occasionally roll out this segment when a source gives me a couple of interesting tips that don’t quite add up to full story. Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams was busy today, and we’re fortunate enough to have some friends in low places  close to his office.

The biggest news out of the AD office today is that Vanderbilt has offers from three different BCS schools to play a future home and home series with the Commodores. A potential matchup with Stanford — new Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason’s former employer — is the most exciting possibility by far, but some fans would rather see less successful programs in Georgia Tech or Boston College on the schedule. Vanderbilt has never played Stanford in football, but has played Boston College three times (most recently defeating the Eagles in the 2008 Music City Bowl) and former SEC-member Georgia Tech 37 times (most recently in 2009).

Another potentially shocking story comes from our source who says, ”Three of the six recruits that Franklin ‘stole’ from Vandy were denied admission on academic grounds.” What isn’t known is the timeline here: did the recruits flip and then were denied by the school, or did they flip because they were denied?

Our source also told us, “DW and all SEC ADs are opposed to 9 game SEC schedule. Some coaches are in favor.” That’s unfortunate news to this writer, who would be in favor of adding an extra conference game so that teams don’t see non-rivals from the opposite division only once every six years.

A small bit of uniform-centric news: the team will not have names on the back of the jerseys in the fall. Former head coach Bobby Johnson was a big believer in the “team-first” mentality and didn’t have names on the jerseys either, though Franklin did put the names on the uniforms during his tenure.

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Dirty South Sports Radio: January 24, 2014

Dirty South Sports Radio

Former Vanderbilt defensive tackle Jared Morse joins the show to recap the 2013 football season, talk about James Franklin’s departure, and outline the schedule of a Vanderbilt football player during the offseason and school year.

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Dirty South Sports Radio: January 21, 2014

Dirty South Sports Radio

We recap the Derek Mason press conference, break down the NFL conference championships, praise Richard Sherman’s outburst and debate the merits of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady for greatest quarterback of all time.

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Michelle Obama dunks on LeBron James

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That clip comes from the Miami Heat’s visit to the White House this week.

The First Lady can throw it down, and that tomahawk dunk was pretty nasty. However, we all know that the greatest dunking first lady of all time was Hillary Clinton:

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Dirty South Sports Radio: January 17, 2014

Dirty South Sports Radio

 

New coach? New coach. We react to Vanderbilt hiring Derek Mason as its new head coach and preview the NFL conference championship games.

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Dirty South Sports Radio: January 14, 2014

Dirty South Sports Radio

Jackson and Ben are back in the studio to talk about the departure of James Franklin and what comes next for Vanderbilt in its coaching search.

(Note: The audio is a little quiet for the first 17 minutes, then gets to normal volume. Sorry about that.)

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Who’s Next? Examining Vanderbilt’s Potential Head Coaches

James Franklin is gone. Now, Vanderbilt Athletic Director David Williams must scramble to find a new head coach in time to salvage what remains of the 2014 recruiting class. Fortunately, Franklin left the program in much better shape than when he arrived and Williams has a plethora of viable, interested candidates to choose from.

We never actually know what’s going on in a coaching search until an offer is made, but let’s go ahead and examine the candidates anyways:

The Top Two:

We know, via various reports and sources, that these two coaches have been contacted and are being pursued by Vanderbilt for the opening. Both are likely to interview this week and will be the top choices for David Williams.

Chad Morris- Clemson Offensive Coordinator

Morris is a rising star in the coaching ranks, having been named Rivals.com Offensive Coordinator of the Year in 2011 and leading Clemson to the ninth-best scoring offense in the country this season. He is only 45, but is already the highest paid assistant coach in the country. Morris was formerly the offensive coordinator at Tulsa (following co-offensive coordinators Herb Hand and Gus Malzahn) and has put up points in all of his seasons as an OC. If you’re looking for a comparison to a current head coach, Morris reminds many of Gus Malzahn — who was offered the Vanderbilt head job in 2010 and reportedly accepted before changing his mind.

Morris has recruited the South extensively and is an offensive genius, making him an excellent fit for the head job in Nashville. He’s also a personal favorite of mine because he wears visors and speaks exactly like Steve Spurrier:

The concern with Morris is that he’ll leave again in a few years to take a bigger job. Given the way Franklin just exited that’s a realistic fear, but my thoughts are that if the new coach does a good enough job to leave for a bigger job then the Vanderbilt program will again be in a better place. Maybe ten jobs in the country are “destination jobs” and Vanderbilt likely never will be one. Almost any coach who views Vanderbilt as a destination job is one who will settle and that’s not who the Commodores want.

Morris is my top choice for the job because the Commodores have proven that you can build a good defense with a solid coordinator hire, but Vanderbilt needs an explosive offense to “take the next step” and become truly competitive in the SEC. Morris, like if Malzahn had been hired three years ago, will certainly bring that to Nashville. My ideal scenario would have Morris as the head coach, Herb hand promoted to offensive coordinator, and former Vanderbilt head coach Robbie Caldwell coming with Morris from Clemson as the new offensive line coach.

Derek Mason- Stanford Defensive Coordinator

No, not the former Titans/Ravens wide receiver. Mason is another coordinator on the rise as the architect of a stout Stanford defense since 2011. He has plenty of experience recruiting to an academically excellent school and could easily salvage, if not improve, Vanderbilt’s current recruiting class like Franklin did in 2010 and early 2011. Rightly or not, Mason will draw a lot of comparisons to Franklin as a young, energetic, African-American coordinator from an FBS school.

Like Franklin, Mason is a bit of a coaching nomad who has only recently stabilized at one school (this isn’t uncommon with position coaches and assistants). Before Stanford he coached at Mesa Community College, Weber State, Idaho, Bucknell, Utah, St. Mary’s, New Mexico State, Ohio and the Minnesota Vikings. His time at Stanford has been excellent, with the Cardinal having the tenth-ranked scoring defense in FBS this year by giving up just 19 points per game. Mason had plenty of Talent in Palo Alto, but just imagine what he could do with the young depth in Nashville.

Joe Schad, among others, has reported that Mason is locked in for an interview sometime this week.

The Insider

With Bob Shoop reportedly gone to State College, only one in-house candidate remains. He has been granted an interview for the head job, but remains a long shot.

Herb Hand

If you have ever walked past the Vanderbilt practice field on Natchez Trace, then you have heard Herb Hand’s voice. The current offensive line coach is one of the chief motivators in Nashville, and predates the Franklin era having been brought in by Bobby Johnson in 2009. Hand has stayed active on Twitter, interacting with Vanderbilt fans and staff, leading many to believe that he plans on staying in Nashville.

On the note of social media, Hand has become a favorite of both Vanderbilt fans and national football media by showcasing his gregarious personality on the interwebs. He regularly interacts with fans, athletes and writers, giving an insight into the coaching profession unseen elsewhere. If you haven’t read Spencer Hall’s profile of Hand from August, then stop looking at my website and read this right now.

Hand is my favorite college football coach not named Steve Spurrier, so I would love to see him promoted to the top job in Nashville. I was lucky enough to profile him in 2012 for The Vanderbilt Hustler, and it remains my favorite interview I’ve had with anyone in Vanderbilt Athletics. Questions remain about whether he can be the top man at a program, but Hand is certainly uniquely equipped to handle the challenge. If he were to get the promotion, it’s likely that Hand could keep at least some of the coaching staff together in Nashville, and maintain relationships with current recruits.

Oh yeah, he’s also an incredible chef.

The Small-School Longshot

Many coaches have reached out to David Williams about the opening in Nashville (20-25, by his own estimation) but with the big names already out and scheduled for interviews it seems unlikely many will be considered. One stands out, however, and could get a shot if the top choices decide not to come to Nashville.

Mark Hudspeth

The current head coach of Louisiana-Lafayette, Mark Hudspeth is a small-school coach that will get a big job sooner rather than later. He was the head coach at Division II North Alabama for seven years, going 66-21, before going to Mississippi State as a position coach then taking the head job of the Ragin’ Cajuns in 2011. Since starting in Lafayette, Hudspeth has gone 9-4 and won the New Orleans Bowl in all three of his seasons.

Though a long shot, Hudspeth will be a consideration for the top job. If Morris and Mason decide not to move to Nashville, Hudspeth will be thrust to the top of the pile of outside candidates. He’s been mentioned to fill several head coaching vacancies already this season, and will likely get a big job either this offseason or next. Hudspeth can win, the question is if he can recruit at the high level needed to compete in the SEC.

Just Now Heard This Name And It Won’t Happen But It Would Be Awesome

This was brought up on a sports talk radio show as I was writing this article and I loved it so I’m going to profile him even though it won’t happen.

David Culley

The wide receivers and assistant head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, Culley played quarterback for Vanderbilt in the early 1970s. He was recruited to Nashville by then-linebackers coach Bill Parcells (yes, that Bill Parcells). While his playing career in Nashville was uneventful, he immediately turned to coaching and was back on West End as a wide receivers coach from 1979-1981.

Culley has been in the NFl since 1994, serving essentially as Andy Reid’s right-hand man since he was hired as the Philadelphia Eagles wide receivers coach in 1999. Culley is likely a non-candidate for this job, but it’s an interesting name with plenty of experience.

The Dark Horse No One is Talking About

Giggity.

Houston Nutt

Just kidding.

Rumors

Like any good coaching search, this one has borne some really juicy tidbits that we can’t confirm are actually true. As is our nature, we’ll speculate about them anyways. These are entirely things that we’ve heard through the grapevine.

Mike Gundy

A man. A man who is now 46. I didn’t expect to be placing Gundy on this list, but there are reports that the Oklahoma State head coach has supposedly reached out to Vanderbilt expressing interest in the job.

To be honest it makes no sense to me why Gundy would have any interest in leaving his alma mater for Vanderbilt. Yes, he very nearly left for Tennessee last offseason, but he makes $3.75 million coaching the school that he played quarterback for to consistent top-25 seasons. He’s been close to breaking into the national title picture for several years, and one weird loss to Iowa State in 2011 is all that kept him from breaking up the LSU-Alabama title game that year.

That said, if he is actually interested in leaving Stillwater then Vanderbilt would be extremely lucky to have a prodigal coaching talent like Gundy on the sidelines. He may only be nationally know for his famous “I’m a man! I’m 40!” rant, but Gundy has turned Oklahoma State into a juggernaut that has won at least nine games, and as many as 12, in five of the last six seasons.

Kirby Smart

In college football you can have no better recommendation than Nick Saban. Kirby Smart is the man that Saban has trusted with his most precious asset, his defense, since 2008. Smart is the name that comes up any time an SEC school has a vacancy, and has long been thought to be waiting on the Alabama or Georgia (his alma mater) job to open up. There are already rumors that Smart may defect to Athens as a defensive coordinator with a “head coach in waiting” tag this offseason.

Therein lies a major problem for Vanderbilt in potentially pursuing Smart: he will absolutely leave once a bigger opportunity comes along. And he will be leaving for another SEC school, that the Commodores will have to play quite frequently. As good a defensive mind as Smart is, it’s tough to see David Williams pursuing him for that very reason. Other coaches are a risk to use Vanderbilt as a stepping-stone, Smart is a certainty.

Though Smart has been a popular name among fans, we haven’t heard anything about any actual interest from the school.

Pep Hamilton

This is a new name that has been linked to the coaching search, and one that many Vanderbilt fans likely aren’t too familiar with. Hamilton is currently the offensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, and was the OC at Stanford before that under David Shaw.

Hamilton is a young coach at just 39 years old. He played quarterback at Howard University from 1993-1996, and has been coaching ever since with stops at Howard, the New York Jets, San Francisco 49ers, and the Chicago Bears before Stanford. His name only came up when reported by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Hamilton fits the mold of a young guy with ties to an academic school that many at Vanderbilt are looking for, but he’s coached nearly his entire career in the NFL and would likely be looking for a return to the league if his stint in Nashville goes well. We don’t have much tying him to the vacancy other than Schefter’s tweet, but it wouldn’t be surprising for Hamilton to at least get an interview with David Williams.

Brian Schottenheimer

This is another one brought to us by Adam Schefter’s twitter feed, as the ESPN report tells us that Schottenheimer will interview for the head coaching position Wednesday.

Schottenheimer is similar to Lane Kiffin in that neither has exactly lit the world on fire anywhere they’ve been, but they’re often hailed as talented offensive minds who keep getting jobs (you can read whatever you want into the fact that both have famous coaches as fathers). Schott is best known from his time as offensive coordinator for the New York Jets, where his teams never finished much better than league-average in offense (though they were hampered by having Mark Sanchez as a quarterback for the most part). He was forced out of New York in 2012, when he moved to St. Louis as Jeff Fisher’s offensive coordinator.

It’s hard to see a fit here, as Schottenheimer has only spent two years in the college coaching ranks, and would almost certainly return if offered an NFL head coaching position. He also played quarterback for Florida, which is kind of a deal-breaker for me. It speaks a lot to Vanderbilt’s growing influence that Schottenheimer would interview with the program, but this doesn’t feel like a good fit or a good hire.

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