Robbie Caldwell has developed sort of a grim take on his profession.
“I coached all my life for nothing and then when you start making some money, you get a little age on you and they think you can’t cut the mustard no more,” he said.
That might be the case for some programs, but one that believes Caldwell, 61, still has what it takes to coach football is Clemson.
That’s No. 1-ranked Clemson, which is headed to the College Football Playoff as the top seed with a 13-0 record to play No. 4 Oklahoma.
Caldwell landed as the Tigers’ offensive line coach after spending the 2010 season as Vanderbilt’s interim head coach.
He went from being unceremoniously dismissed at Vanderbilt (the administration announced he would not be retained prior to the final game) to spending a few weeks in limbo before being hired over the phone and without an interview by Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
“Vanderbilt didn’t even want me to coach that last game; didn’t want me to shake the seniors’ hands or nothing, and I never could figure that one out,” Caldwell said. “But anyway, I was unemployed there for a little bit and didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Caldwell had served as the Commodores’ offensive line coach under Bobby Johnson the previous eight years.
During that time, he had developed a friendship with former South Carolina coach Brad Scott, who would come to visit his son John, a medical student who was doing his residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Scott was coaching the Clemson offensive line at the time.
“Brad was ready to retire from the field, and he put in a word with Coach Swinney for me,” Caldwell said. “And then there was (Clemson associate athletic director for football administration) Woody McCorvey, who I had crossed paths with quite a few times in our careers, and so he put in a word for me.”
Such strong recommendations made it easy for Caldwell to reach out to Swinney.
“When I called Coach Swinney and asked him for a chance to talk to him about the job, he just said, ‘Hey, don’t worry; you’re here,’” Caldwell said. “It was pretty good.”
Since Caldwell arrived on the staff, Clemson has gone 55-11 and had four Top 25 final rankings with another guaranteed to come this year.
“I’m having so much fun right now I feel like I’m 18,” Caldwell said. “I don’t know I’m old until I look in the mirror. As Coach Swinney always says, ‘The fun is in the winning.’ ”
While his time at Vanderbilt might not have ended the way he would have liked, Caldwell said being on the Commodores staff was beneficial.
“It gave you a great sense of pride about the pure student-athlete,” Caldwell said. “At Vanderbilt, we weren’t intimidated by the academics. That gave me a hunger for the academic side of it. And then when it came to coaching, we had to develop players. You had to take some diamonds in the rough. You find a lineman that’s tall and lean and develop them and grow them, and you saw it pay off.”
Caldwell is still close to Johnson, who is on the College Football Playoff selection committee.
“We talk about once a month,” Caldwell said. “I try not to bother him at this time of the year because he’s so busy with that playoff committee.”
Caldwell admits to being surprised when he looks back on Johnson’s decision to retire just before the 2010 season. That is what led to Caldwell taking over the program on an interim basis.
“I knew he wouldn’t coach much longer, and I was scared to death he might be in bad health and that’s why he did it,” Caldwell said. “I was really glad that wasn’t the case. Coach Johnson always said he was not going to coach until he was so old he couldn’t do anything else. He enjoyed golf and fishing and hunting. None of us really knew when he would do it. He had three years left on his contract and we didn’t think he would probably fill that, but didn’t know it was going to happen quite as fast as it did.”
UT hoops transfer shining at Columbia State
Tennessee transfer Braxton Bondsalready has made a big impact at Columbia State.
The former Christ Presbyterian Academy star played all 40 minutes and had 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists in a 93-86 win over Southwest Community College this past week.
Bonds, the nephew of seven-time National League MVP Barry Bonds, left UT in the summer after sitting out last season because of NCAA rules. He originally enrolled at Liberty.
Familiar coaches still in the mix at Austin Peay
Former McGavock football standout Walt Wells and former Middle Tennessee State coach Andy McCollum are believed to be among the finalists being considered for the Austin Peay coaching position.
Wells and McCollum both played for the Governors.
Austin Peay received about 100 applicants for the position after Kirby Cannon was fired Nov. 23.
Wells was the assistant head coach and offensive line coach at Eastern Kentucky where coach Dean Hood was fired at the end of this past season.
McCollum, who was the coach at MTSU (1999-2005), is the linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Georgia Tech.
Former Alabama State coach Reggie Barlow, Chattanooga passing game coordinator and receivers coach Will Healy and Delta State coach Todd Cooley also are believed to still be in the mix.
Austin Peay athletics director Ryan Ivey plans to name a new coach by Dec. 21.
Heavy interest in Tennessee Tech position
The search for a new football coach at Tennessee Tech is not as far along as Austin Peay’s, but there appears to be just as much interest.
I spoke with Tech athletics director Mark Wilson on Thursday and told him Austin Peay had about 100 applicants.
“I don’t know exactly how many official applications we have right now, but I can tell you in terms of phone calls and emails, if everybody follows through with those, we will have significantly more than that,” Wilson said.
Watson Brown retired Dec. 2 after nine years at Tech.
Wilson said a committee has been appointed to assist in the search.
After the finalists are brought in for interviews, Wilson and president Philip Oldham will decide whom to hire.
Wilson said ideally a new coach would be on board by Christmas, but that is not a firm deadline.
Wilson confirmed that acting head coach Dewayne Alexander, an assistant head coach on Brown’s staff, has expressed interest in the position and is being considered.
Alexander was the coach at Wilson Central and Cumberland University before arriving at Tech in 2013.
MTSU professor is track athlete of the year
William Yelverton, a music professor at MTSU, was named the USA Track and Field Athlete of the Year (50-59 age group).
Yelverton, 55, won the national title in the 400-meter dash (55.29 seconds). And he posted a time of 24.48 seconds in the 200-meter dash. Both times were the third-best in the world.
Yelverton also won four medals at the World Masters Athletics Championship in Lyon, France, in August. That was the most medals by any American in his age group.
Pair of holes-in-one made by same group
Holes-in-one were made by two different players in the same threesome on Wednesday at Country Hills Golf Course.
Ron Pruitt aced the 145-yard, No. 2 hole using a 5-iron, and Ken McDuffie aced the 150-yard, No. 14 hole using a 9-iron.
James Lamberson, the other player in the threesome, witnessed both shots.
Pruitt, McDuffie and Lamberson are members at Country Hills who play nearly every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Stratford football great dies
Stratford football great Doug Harris died Tuesday after battling cancer. He was 67.
As a senior, Harris was captain of the 1965 Spartans football team, the fourth in the school’s history, under coach Herschel Moore.
Harris was a scrappy, hard-nosed defensive guard who, as a junior, helped Stratford beat Franklin-Simpson (Ky.) in the Portland Strawberry Bowl.
He went on to become an avid Vanderbilt fan and also was active in Stratford’s athletic alumni association.
MTSU track great Yarbrough hired at Cumberland
Former Hunters Lane track star Linnie Yarbrough, who became an All-American at MTSU in 2006, was hired Thursday as an assistant on the new track and field program at Cumberland.
Yarbrough holds the Blue Raiders records in the 55-meter hurdles (7.20) and 110-meter hurdles (13.67).
In 2006, he signed to run professionally with Nike and was an Olympic qualifier in the hurdles in 2008.
Yarbrough began his coaching career at Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando, Fla.
Cumberland will begin competition in track and field in 2016-17.
Scholarships available for baseball players
Tuesday is the deadline for high school senior baseball players to apply for scholarships from the Nashville Old Timers Baseball Association.
The group has provided nearly $350,000 to scholarship recipients over the past 17 years. Applications can be downloaded at otbaseball.com.
For more information, call Bart Leathers at 615-586-0352, Farrell Owens at 615-269-7348 or Rip Ryman at 615-319-8459.
Austin Peay 2016 inductees announced
Rowdy Hardy (baseball, 2003-06), Stephanie Champine (volleyball, 2008-11), Carrie Burggraf (track and field, 2007-10) and Paul Aaron (basketball, 1946-49) will be inducted into the Austin Peay Athletics Hall of Fame during halftime of the Governors basketball game against UT Martin on Feb. 13.
If you have an item for Midstate Chatter, contact Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.
SPORTS ON NASHVILLE TV
The top five ratings for local sporting events on television for Nov. 30-Dec. 6.
1. NFL: Titans-Jaguars, 22.0 rating
2. College football: SEC Championship (Ala.-Fla), 18.6 rating
3. NFL: Panthers-Saints, 15.2 rating
4. NFL: Packers-Lions, 14.0 rating
5. NFL: Colts-Steelers, 12.3 rating
SEC Network ratings not available. Each rating point is equal to 9,902 Nashville homes.
Source: Mark Binda, WTVF-5 programming & research director