The 2001 Vanderbilt Commodores football team represented the Vanderbilt University in the 2001 NCAA Division I-A football season. Led by head coach Woody Widenhofer in his fifth year as the head coach, the Commodores finished with a 2–9 record for the season.
Vanderbilt was led by Greg Zolman who passed for 2,512 yards with 14 TD’s and 9 INT’s he had a 52.1% passing 186 Completes for 357 Attempts 32.5 Attempts per game. Dan Stricker was the top passing target with 65 Receptions and 1,079 Yards 8 TDs. Lew Thomas was top rusher with 675 Yards on 105 Attempts for an Avg of 6.43 and 96.4 YPG 5TDs. Rodney Williams was second in rushing with 590 Yards on 131 Attempts for an Avg of 4.50 4TDs.
Widenhofer, entered into his fifth season at Vandy, on the hot seat needing to improve his record at Vanderbilt. He met with Vanderbilt chancellor Gordon Gee and athletic director Todd Turner in November 2000. The gist of that meeting was clearly defined: There needed to be marked improvement in every aspect of the Vanderbilt program if Widenhofer is going to see a sixth year. The general feeling in Nashville was that Vanderbilt needs to make a bid for a winning season. And if the Commodores don’t get to six wins, they need to at least come very close.
To that end, Widenhofer implemented a three-part plan during the off-season. There was some talk that he might make some changes on his staff. While he did shuffle some things around, he didn’t fire anyone. But Widenhofer had vowed to take a more “hands-on’’ approach the season with his staff and players. The second part of Widenhofer’s plan was to spreading out the special teams responsibilities to every member of the coaching staff. Bill Maskill handled those chores in the last season by himself.
The third part of Widenhofer’s plan was to center around developing leadership among the players. He thought his team lacked leadership the year before. The Commodores returned seven starters on each side of the ball. But the loss of Jared McGrath and Elliott Carson on offense and Jamie Winborn and Jimmy R. Williams on defense could not have been overlooked. New play-makers needed to emerge. And above all, Vanderbilt needed to do a better job of running the ball and stopping the run if it was going to improve on the 2000 season’s 3-8 finish. The Commodores were last in the league in rushing offense (96.5 yards) and tied for last in rushing defense (178.3 yards).
The offense was clearly the strength of this team and had a chance to be one of the best Vanderbilt had had in some time. But the Commodores needed a few receivers other than junior Dan Stricker to make some plays. 2000 Season, Stricker finished third in the SEC and 18th nationally with 90.4 receiving yards per game. Senior QB Greg Zolman entering his fifth year in the program and coming off his most productive season. Zolman had the kind of stability at quarterback Vanderbilt had not had much of over the years.
In 2000 Zolman finished second only to Kentucky’s Jared Lorenzen in passing yards per game. Zolman averaged 221.9 yards and had 2,441 for the 2000 season, the most by a Vanderbilt quarterback since 1988.
The year before, the Commodores were last in the league in rushing offense, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry. McGrath was the main cog in the rushing attack, and was gone after moving to fourth on Vandy’s all-time rushing list.
Defense had been a constant under Widenhofer. That is, until the 2000 season. The Commodores fell off in just about every area. They were 11th in the league in total defense, 10th in scoring defense and tied for 12th in rushing defense.
Good defense always starts in the defensive line, and the Commodores weren’t loaded by any means in their three-man front. The best defensive lineman on the team was red shirt sophomore nose guard Brett Beard. He had 50 tackles, including two sacks. With Winborn giving up his final year of eligibility and being scooped up in the second round of the NFL draft, junior Mike Adam would get the chance fill Winborn’s inside linebacker position.
Lance Garner of Kempner, Texas was the heir apparent to kicker John Markham, who departed as the Commodores’ all-time leading scorer. Markham, who made 14-of-18 field goals in 2000, was the second place-kicker taken in April’s NFL draft, going to the New York Giants in the fifth round 162 pick.
Widenhofer did not make any bold predictions for the year. His only comment to the media before the start of spring practice in March was that he was “cautiously optimistic’’ about the 2001 season.
Widenhofer learned his lesson about making predictions after the 3-8 finish 2000 season. Due to the fact that Vanderbilt won only 2 games, Vanderbilt let Widenhofer go after the season and hired Bobby Johnson.