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One Rebel's Take on Bobby Johnson's Retirement

The story's been told once or twice before, but upon such an occasion it is appropriate to explain the origins of my esoteric bloggeur pseudonym. It was 2007, the last year our Ole Miss Rebels were coached by Ed Orgeron. Brian Walker's Elbow, 25 Day's a Week, BWE's brother, and I all flew from Oxford to Nashville - in a plane that certified pilot BWE had rented and piloted himself, no less - to watch our Rebs take on Bobby Johnson's Commodores.

We flew over the farmlands and forests of northeast Mississippi, followed the meandering path of the Tennesse river, and watched the rolling hills of central Tennessee evolve into the metropolis that is Nashville. We landed, met with some local friends and family, ate a pizza, then made our way to the Vanderbilt campus.

Finding the stadium, and then our seats therein, we began to discuss the Rebel prospects for the game.

We discussed Brent Schaeffer's shortcomings, the look of our defense, the bowling-ball type running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Shortly into the chat, our discussion centered itself on the Commodores. We were worried, but not overtly so - I mean, it's Vandy. But, still, we were Ed Orgeron's Rebels.

We discussed Chris Nickson's athleticism, Earl Bennett's status as the then-best receiver in the conference, Jonathan Goff's defensive prowess, and Cassen Jackson-Garrison's, err, name. The natural progression was then to, of course, discuss coaching.

"What is there to say about Bobby Johnson," we asked ourselves. "He and his players stay out of trouble; compete in the toughest conference in America with the most limited of resources and at the weakest program; and, hell, he snags wins here-and-there and has put a fair share of guys into the NFL." What about him could we criticize, consindering the context.

Then my dumb ass piped in, "the ghost of Jay Cutler will forever haunt Bobby Johnson."

Blank stares. All around. Even from a few eavesdropping Vandy fans. "But Jay Cutler isn't dead."

"Think about it," I pathetically argued, "he's the only coach in the SEC who can legitimately say 'I couldn't win games despite having the best quarterback in the conference.' Look at what Eli Manning or David Greene did for their programs." This went on for a while and devolved into further insanity and goofyness. Brian Walker's Elbow, naturally, found the entirety of the situation laughably ridiculous.

The absurdity of my notion became an inside joke of sorts amongst the Cuppers in the pre-Cup days and, naturally, became my nome de plume on these here internets as a result.

Vanderbilt won that day, just as every single other SEC opponent we played that season would. The one uncouth Commodores fan in our vicinity was easily counterbalanced, if not altogether eliminated, by the multitude of fans who were quite cordial to us, the opposition, and fiercely loyal to the program led by Bobby Johnson. And while that loss hurt, it gave me a newfound respect for Johnson.

But that loss was nothing compared to what was to come.

Just one season later, Ed Orgeron was fired and Houston Nutt was hired. There was a new life in our program. We were excited about the potential that our new coaches and quarterback (Jevan Snead - remember back when we were all excited about him?) gave to the team. We opened our season well and, despite a heart-breaking last-second loss to the then-ranked Demon Deacons, felt very good going into the Vandy game. Friend of the Cup EtOHReb even bought a cigar to commemorate what would surely be the first SEC victory for the Rebels since November of 2006.

It wasn't.

The most misery I've ever felt as a Rebel fan was that night, and I am certain many of you all feel the same way. Vanderbilt was beaten up and down the field but, Rebel inadequacies mingled with Commodore opportunism to produce a bizarre, horrible game on that evening in Vaught Hemingway.

Those two games will forever linger in my mind as my prevailing memories of not only Vanderbilt football and the unique relationship it shares with Ole Miss football, but also Bobby Johnson's legacy.

Bobby Johnson wasn't the best X's and O's guy in the SEC. He wasn't the best recruiter. He wasn't the best motivator. He wasn't the best at dealing with the media. Frankly, he wasn't the "best" at much of anything - save from taking the biggest pile of lemons any SEC school can be given and turning it into a lemonade which, while hardly the best around, was a lemonade you, I, nor any Vanderbilt fan would mind drinking.

High admittance standards, a small athletics budget, a small fan base, a weak football tradition, and - most damningly - a lack of administrational support all served as obstacles to Vanderbilt's success. To put it in the simplest of terms, there are numerous factors which make it very hard to get quality athletes to play football at Vanderbilt University. Yet, somehow, Bobby Johnson did that. He never assembled a truly good, deep team on both sides of the ball, but he put together competitive teams. He had NFL talent on his teams. He had (many) all-SEC players on his teams. He had quality students, athletes, and people on his teams.

And he coached them well and put them in good positions to win. The only schools which Bobby Johnson's Vanderbilt teams couldn't ever defeat were Alabama, LSU, and Florida. Yeah, they beat Tennessee in Neyland, Georgia between the hedges, and Arkansas in Razorback Stadium.

Why he has so bluntly decided to retire at such a bizarre moment, I haven't a clue. Nor is it something on which I feel I should waste time speculating. Rumors are likely to mill about for the next few weeks but, honestly, I could care less. Coach Johnson says he's just getting out of the game because he wants something else, something which isn't so demanding of him, to spend his time with. That's fine with me coach, because you've definitely earned it.

Bobby Johnson is a coach who is impossible to disrespect. Vanderbilt players and fans were lucky to have him lead their program for nine seasons, something to which I can guarantee they all will attest. Coach Johnson, this Rebel wishes you the best of luck in everything you do.