How the VandyBoys became one of the SEC's best programs, regardless of sport
Vanderbilt is heading to Omaha, which isn’t exactly a surprising development these days.
The Commodores will make their fourth College World Series appearance this decade in hopes of capturing their second title in 6 seasons. Even just making the final — something that doesn’t seem far-fetched at all — would mark the Commodores third finish of second place or better in that 6-year stretch.
Somewhere between a Patrick DeMarco moonshot and Kumar Rocker delivering the first no-hitter in Super Regionals history, the question had to be asked — how many SEC programs have been as good as the VandyBoys in recent memory?
It’s simple, really. Not many.
And to be clear, we’re talking overall SEC programs. That includes basketball and football teams. But for now, let’s stick with baseball because that conversation is worth having as the SEC continues its dominance on the diamond.
If you go back to 2010, no SEC team has had more Super Regional appearances than Vandy:
- Vanderbilt: 8
- Florida: 7
- LSU: 6
- Miss. State: 6
- South Carolina: 6
- Arkansas: 5
- Texas A&M: 3
- Auburn: 2
- Ole Miss: 2
- Alabama: 1
- Kentucky: 1
That’s like going to 8 New Year’s 6 Bowl games in a decade (Alabama is the only SEC team to have done that) or like going to 8 Sweet 16s in a decade (Kentucky is the only SEC team to have done that).
In that same stretch, Vandy now has 4 College World Series appearances. That’s tied for second in the SEC behind only Florida with 7. So why aren’t the Gators leading the way in terms of the SEC baseball team of the decade? After all, Florida is tied with 1 title and 2 finishes of second place or better since 2010.
Besides the fact that Vandy’s run is ongoing — and promising — while Florida’s season is over, the MLB Draft numbers for the Commodores are staggering.
Last week, Vandy matched the SEC record with 13 players selected in the MLB Draft. That included J.J. Bleday going No. 4 overall to the Miami Marlins, which made him the program’s 16th first-round pick in the past 15 years. In 4 of the past 5 years, Vandy had at least 8 players drafted.
Since 2007, Vandy led the SEC in:
- No. 1 overall picks (2)
- Top 10 picks (7)
- First round picks (15)
- Top 3 round picks (27)
- Top 5 round picks (34)
So how did this all happen? And why? Was it as simple as David Price paving the way back in 2007?
Possibly, but this is a credit to what Tim Corbin built since arriving in Nashville in 2003. You know, back when the program had just 3 NCAA Tournament appearances. Ever. It wasn’t like Corbin took over a program with rich history like John Calipari at Kentucky or Nick Saban at Alabama.
Since 2004, Vandy only missed 1 NCAA Tournament, and that was in Year 3 of the Corbin era. Dating to Price’s squad in 2007, the Commodores either won the SEC regular season/tournament title, made a Super Regional or won 50 games in 9 of those 13 seasons. Since 2006, nobody in college baseball has won more games than Vandy.
What’s arguably just as impressive is that the 2014 national title squad, which was led by No. 1 overall pick Dansby Swanson, is completely different from the group that’s bidding for another ring this year.
The common denominator is Corbin, who raised the standard of the program to Alabama football and Kentucky basketball-like expectations. At least that’s how he approaches it.
Two months ago, No. 7 Vandy allowed 5 runs in the 9th inning and blew a 2-run lead to No. 12 Arkansas. That prevented the Commodores from earning what would have been an impressive series sweep. After the game, Corbin said he should “be fired.” That led to a flood of Vandy supporters taking to Twitter to give the longtime Commodores coach an internet pat on the back as if to say, “don’t be so hard on yourself, coach. We can’t imagine life without you.”
In a sport that’s flooded with more cliché, ho-hum postgame quotes than any because of the number of games played, Corbin’s blunt self-criticism was rare, to say the least. That kind of accountability certainly made Corbin beloved among the Vanderbilt faithful, who have learned to take what they can get in basketball and football against SEC competition.
Corbin already is getting big-time support from his new boss, athletic director Malcolm Turner. Two weeks ago, he announced that Hawkins Field will get new artificial turf and scoreboard upgrades. That’s saying a lot for a place that hasn’t had a major renovation to its football stadium in 38 years (that’s also part of the athletics renovation plan).
Vandy hasn’t been shy about its often lean approach to athletics, but Corbin is one of the highest-paid baseball coaches in America at $2.3 million annually (that was in 2016 when his contract was last made public). It’s a long way removed from the 20-something Presbyterian head coach who slept out of his car on recruiting trips to Florida because he didn’t have a budget.
Three decades later, Corbin is searching for his second finish atop the college baseball world. After storming back to take down Duke in the Super Regional, it looks like there’s a good chance of that happening. At least that’s what Vegas thinks. VegasInsider.com has the Commodores tied with Arkansas as 3-to-1 favorites to be the last ones standing in Omaha.
No matter what happens in the next week, though, VandyBoys earned the right to be considered one of the great SEC forces of the past decade.
And if 2019 is any indication, that train has all sorts of steam heading into the 2020s.