First off congratulations on your impressive victory over Mississippi State. In what has been a challenging season, it was great to see you and your team enjoy some well-earned success.
You have forgotten more basketball than I’ll ever know, so I certainly would never presume to tell you how to coach. However, as a Vandy basketball season ticket holder for almost 30 years, perhaps I can share some perspective from the fanbase you’ve experienced for a season and a half. I also offer a bit of unsolicited advice: Tune out the noise and take it down a notch.
It’s true, Vanderbilt fans can be a cynical bunch. The fact is, we don’t have a history of much athletic success. Six or seven wins constitutes a “good” season in football. Women’s basketball had a great run from the 90’s to around 2010 but is no longer nationally relevant. Until Tim Corbin built baseball into a national power, the words “National Championship” associated with any high-profile team sport was a laughable pipe dream.
Vanderbilt basketball for myself and many others has been the flagship program of the university for the modern era. Sure, it’s only a moderately successful program, especially compared to a blue blood like North Carolina where you played, but we almost always had a competitive team that played hard and was fun to watch. While we watched some dismal football over the years, at least we could always say “just wait until basketball season.”
There was a time when the atmosphere in Memorial Gym was like no other. On any given day, with a little “Memorial Magic,” Vandy could beat anyone on their homecourt. Fans like myself who remember that want nothing more than to get back to that point. The last couple of seasons have been a low point. We’re frustrated. We know the situation isn’t all on you and we’re sure you’re frustrated too. That said, creating an antagonistic relationship with the fanbase isn’t going to go well… for anyone.
Some of the grumbling began last season with the end of the three-point streak. Your dismissive attitude after the fact was tough for us to swallow. It might seem silly to you, but that was a huge deal for a lot of Vandy fans. Even thinking about it now, it feels like a gut punch.
Another source of frustration comes from the perception of Vanderbilt as a “stepping-stone” job for “bigger” opportunities. You are obviously attuned to social media chatter. We are too. Fair or not, the national narrative that you’re killing time while waiting for an NBA coaching job remains a hot topic. To your credit, you have denied NBA interest and affirmed your commitment to Vandy. You have to forgive the fans’ skepticism here; we’ve just been burned so many times before. Intentional or not, you give off the vibe that you’re just… here.
Obviously, nationwide political and racial tensions are high. Why bring these issues up against the fanbase? Who cares how many fans voted for Trump, and what does that have to do with what’s happening this season? I promise, we aren’t rooting against you because of your race. Our previous football coach, who was black, was here seven years without a winning season before he was fired, which is unheard of in the SEC. Our athletic director is black. Our women’s basketball coach, who is white, happens to be married to a woman. The university, and its fans, appreciate and celebrate diversity. But we also like winning. The irony here is that by insulting so much of the fanbase, you’re just mirroring that same political divisiveness you’re supposedly condemning.
I would also suggest easing up on Twitter. It can be a cesspool, especially after a loss. Every coach for every program in America comes under criticism. It’s sometimes unfortunate, but it’s also part of the reason power five coaches are so well paid. Fans, for better or worse, are going to be fans. As the head coach, you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. DM fights with random fans, calling them “miserable” and “fake ass fans,” blocking everyone who says something you disagree with, it’s just not a good look for you, the university, or potential recruits. Even as I write this, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be the next victim of your block list.
I don’t know you personally, but you seem like a no-nonsense person. I’m guessing the schmoozing of boosters and kissing babies isn’t your favorite part of the job. That’s okay, but for us to embrace you, please stop alienating us. We aren’t perfect, but so much of the friction you’re feeling is self-inflicted. Your goal should be gaining new fans, not driving away the few that remain. Promote the program! You are the face of Vanderbilt basketball. If you want positivity from the fans, be that beacon of hope as the coach. At the very least, act like you want to be here.
An apology would likely go a long way in toward mending the bridges you’ve already burned. Unlike a sizable portion of the fanbase, I’m not advocating for your termination. I think you’re an excellent coach. Players, and teams, show clear improvement under your tutelage. It would be nice for all of us, fans and coach, to be of one accord in building on this Mississippi State win and start racking up many more in the future. When fans are allowed to return, we would appreciate feeling welcomed by the coach so we can do our part to help you get those wins.
If you’ve made it this far, I appreciate your attention. If you take away nothing else from this, please realize the Vandy fanbase is full of good people. It’s a small group, but fiercely loyal. Frankly, we have to be to put up with as much losing as we have. We want to give you a chance, but for that to happen you have to give the university, and the fans, a chance too.