There’s an African proverb that’s quoted in an old Vanderbilt football hype video that says: “If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do us no harm.”
If we’re being completely honest, for Vanderbilt fans, there have been many times when it’s felt like the university and administration’s commitment to winning in athletics has been the “enemy within” – the greatest hindrance to untapped potential. That’s pretty difficult when you compete in the best athletic conference in the world, that being the SEC. No team in this cutthroat conference can afford to have an “enemy within.”
A recent podcast series on the state of Vanderbilt Athletics from Vandysports.com’s Chris Lee offered a candid and honest (yet not malicious or unfair) view of the department from former assistant to the AD Tommy Smith. I noted some of his thoughts and quotes below:
-A lack of a verbal, tangible, and institutional commitment to winning.
-He heard the statement: “A dollar spent on athletics is a dollar not spent on academics.”
-On positive change for the department: “Change can’t be verbal, it’s gotta be tangible.”
-On “the Vanderbilt way”: “There is no ‘way’. You’re constantly changing, learning…”(to win, improve, compete).
-At Vanderbilt: “The word ‘win’ never comes up.”
-And finally: “The athletic department does not mirror the excellence of the rest of the University.”
Now, this article isn’t meant to pile on to the harsh criticism Vanderbilt University already receives about it’s prior clear lack of athletic commitment compared to the rest of the SEC (or even peer institutions like Northwestern, Stanford, Wake Forest, and Duke). It is meant to be a call to action, a beacon of hope, and a signal for change.
On Monday night, Commodore Nation was delighted to hear from Chancellor Daniel Diermeier during the Commodore Hour with Joe Fisher. He was candid, endearing, and honest. (You can listen to the full interview here.) He is clearly a sports fan and, despite no clear plans of facility upgrades yet, he did mention that more needs to be done, especially with “high visibility sports” like football and men’s basketball. He also affirmed his decision to choose Candice Storey Lee as AD: “The thing I saw was the tremendous respect that Candice had with the coaches. Then I spent time with her on my own and saw that she is the correct person [for the job].”
After the show, he tweeted this quote to summarize his thoughts from the interview: “We’re fully committed to athletics. I think a successful athletics program is an enormous asset to a university. This is a great university, we need to have a great athletics program.” -Chancellor Daniel Diermeier.
It’s clear we still have a long way to go. Football facilities are lightyears behind and overdue for upgrades. Fans are restless for success and any inkling of commitment to athletics. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were rumors about football getting a $5 million dollar locker room rehaul before this season, which didn’t happen. We’ve even heard horror stories of broken AC in the football facility over the summer. Chancellor Diermeier has, at least in word, spoken about his commitment to athletics, as has AD Candice Storey Lee. Any true Commodore fan is rooting for them and hopes that they, and the whole athletics department’s goals and mindset can transform to one goal: a mindset of winning.
As James Franklin said in his introductory press conference in 2011, before one of the most successful head coaching stints Vanderbilt has ever seen: “It’s time that this football program (and I’d add athletics department) starts reflecting everything else on this campus, and that’s a commitment to excellence.”
It can be done at Vanderbilt. Franklin proved it. Tim Corbin proves it year in and year out, and anyone who doubts that can talk to the Vandy Boys’ two national championship trophies. You can win and win big at Vanderbilt. Commodore Nation’s hopes rest on you Chancellor Diermeier and Athletic Director Candice Lee. All eyes are on you.