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ATLANTA – Sometimes the greatest thing about Media Days is the clean and fresh feel of a new season.
Particularly for a football program like Vanderbilt, where 0-0 can be flat beautiful, particularly after a 2-10 last season.
To make matters worse, the freshly pressed SEC media guide listed one of the Commodores’ wins last year – 24-21 at Colorado State – as a 24-21 loss. It’s not like there were a lot of wins to total up, my God!
The 2-10 mark under first-year coach Clark Lea was still significant improvement. Vanderbilt was 0-9 in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Before that, there were six 2-win seasons from 2002 through 2010.
The Commodores last won a Southeastern Conference game on Oct. 19, 2019, in Nashville. They have lost 21 straight in the league since – the last four that year, nine in 2020 and eight last year.
Vanderbilt is just three more consecutive SEC losses away from breaking its league record of 23 set from 2000-03.
This is why Lea’s comment on Tuesday afternoon at the SEC Media Days was unquestionably the quote of the day, the quote of the Media Days past and future and perhaps the quote of the century.
“We know in time Vanderbilt football will be the best program in the country,” Lea said during his opening.
“As I said a year ago, there are no cheat codes, shortcuts, no hacks that will allow this to happen overnight,” he said.
But are there hallucinatory drugs?
“This is still about going the long, hard way, independent of the trends and headlines generating the most attention right now in college football,” he said. “We are engaged in what has become a unique form of team building.”
Would that be cloning players from Georgia and Alabama perhaps?
“We are a relationship-driven, student-athlete-focused program that values the holistic development of our people over all else,” Lea waxed on.
Holistic. Is that a new defense? Or is it former LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini’s old one from 2020? That had a lot of holes.
“When you do the right things, the right way, with the right people, with respect and appreciation, you will not be denied,” said Lea, who has obviously not been at Vanderbilt long. The Commodores have been denied as much as any football program in history.
“When you’re smart in design and disciplined in your approach, you win out in time,” he said. “That’s Vanderbilt football.”
So, that’s Vanderbilt football! Wow, I’ve always wondered what it is.
Yes, James Franklin worked miracles during his stay in Nashville from 2011-13 after inheriting a 4-20 team as he had back-to-back 9-4 seasons after a 6-7 start. But he must have known it wouldn’t last. He booked for Penn State quick. It was an aberration. Vanderbilt has won more than seven games three times since 1955, and Franklin had two of those.
Lea’s confidence is admirable, but it is delusional.
When the questions began, reality seemed to set in.
“It’s been a while since Vanderbilt won an SEC game,” one questioner started. “Your first three SEC opponents this year (Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia) were a combined 37-6 last year. Two played for the national championship. How much is the losing streak weighing you down?”
You could almost hear a thud. And, by the way, Georgia beat Vanderbilt 62-0 last year.
“Well, I respect your question,” Lea said. “We don’t talk about that.”
That’s a good strategy.
“We don’t spend time on it. We don’t tally up the collective records of our opponents. That’s just not who we are,” he said. “We’re not fighting to win an SEC game. We’re fighting to become a dominant force within the conference. Obviously, winning in the SEC requires winning that first game. But when that happens, it’s not going to be a huge celebration.”
If Lea is still around when that happens, maybe it should be.
But if Vanderbilt does become “the best program in the country,” will the SEC media guide be able to count all the wins?
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