SEC’s low tier teams look to start winning in 2002

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 4, 2002

BNI Newswire

BIRMINGHAM – The Vanderbilt Commodores have a new football staff, new administration, a new weight room and new stadium surface.

However, the most welcomed item is a new confidence in the football program’s ability to win games in the Southeastern Conference.

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Vandy’s new head coach, Bobby Johnson, said he had to take a close look at the annual SEC Eastern Division cellar-dwellers before making the move from Furman.

The biggest factor in his decision to move, he said, was a change in the administration.

"Chancellor Gordon Gee wants to excel in athletics," Johnson explained. "He has a history of being involved with programs with outstanding athletic traditions, including Colorado and Ohio State. He wants to see us win."

Johnson also said he feels athletics director Todd Turner will be a plus for the program.

"Todd (Turner) has done a great job of pushing this program along…the overall commitment to improving facilities is obvious," Johnson added. "With our administration, athletically we will have a better chance than any other coach has had at Vanderbilt in a long, long time. My staff and I must take advantage of that."

Johnson indicated Wednesday he believes Vanderbilt can be turned into a winner. He believes he and his staff bring a formula to the table, which will be as successful in Nashville as it was while he was head coach at Furman.

"Can this formula work in Division I? I believe it can," Johnson said. "If you work hard and get a staff that works hard and bring in the right kids that are a right fit for this program."

Johnson indicated his team would feature a versatile offense, with two talented quarterbacks already on campus.

Also, with Dan Stricker returning for his senior season, those quarterbacks have a solid target on the corner. Stricker caught 65 passes for 1,079 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

In fact, receiver is the deepest position on the team.

"We have good receivers, there’s just too many of them," Johnson said. "I’d like to have a few more linemen instead of 40 receivers."

Kentucky’s Morriss says football program is better than advertised: Even though the program has been hammered with recent NCAA sanctions, meaning the school will lose scholarships over the next three seasons, things aren’t so bad in Lexington.

And even though the Wildcats have returned to the basement of the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division, University of Kentucky Head Football Coach Guy Morriss said Thursday the program is on the rise.

"If you are just an outside observer looking into the situation, all you ever hear about is gloom and doom…that’s just not true," the coach said.

Even though his team is not as deep as others and wins have been few and far between since he took over the reigns of the UK ship, Morriss said he believes now is the time players should want to attend the university.

"The last couple of years, you have all heard a lot of bad stuff, but Kentucky Football is on the rise. It is in as good a shape as it has been in a long time. We have some of the best facilities in the country and Lexington is one of the best college towns in the country. We have a lot to offer a player."

One of the reasons Morriss believes the situation at Kentucky is a good one is because of his administration.

He cited the commitment of University President Dr. Lee Todd, Jr., as well as that of new athletics director Mitch Barnhart to helping get the Wildcats through the difficulties created by NCAA sanctions. Barnhart officially became the AD at Kentucky in July, and immediately showed an interest in helping Morriss any way possible, which included hitting the recruiting trail.

"That’s amazing and we are going to use him," Morriss said. "We will have to take a coach off the road at times, but it’s nice to know you have an administrator willing to walk into a kids’ home."

Barnhart came to UK from Oregon State University where he served as athletics director from 1998 to this spring.

"We (Kentucky) are the best kept secret in college football," Morriss said. "Now is a good time to come to Kentucky. We are on the rise. It’s all a matter of timing. We have a good plan in place to get the program back to where it needs to be and we are going to stick to it. We have the right people here at the right time to make a difference."