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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Press Conference Notes: Interim head coach Todd Fitch eases himself, Fuller and his team into position

With Mason out and Fitch in, the Commodores are tackling personnel changes on both the player and coaching rosters, as players remain in isolation and enter the transfer portal.
Todd Fitch in his first press conference as interim head coach on Dec. 1, 2020. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

News of Sarah Fuller’s recruitment to the football team ushered in national attention. And within two days, the 41-0 shutout by the unassuming Missouri Tigers ushered in the beginning of the Todd Fitch era. 

In Tuesday’s press conference, Vanderbilt interim head coach Todd Fitch revolved all his talking points around the normalcy he longed for. With eight players entering the transfer portal, only one listed kicker and the looming eighth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs scheduled for Saturday, this week is only a microcosm of Vanderbilt’s 2020 team, which is perhaps en route to becoming the first winless team in school history. 

The Commodores know a thing or two about losing players to COVID-19, opt-outs or the transfer portal, but it’s been the 53-player threshold keeping them alive for competition. 

“Right now, we are [above the 53-player threshold]. We’ve been close all year, so it’s not like we’re comfortably over ever,” Fitch said in Tuesday’s press conference. “And we’ve got a couple more tests for COVID this week obviously… Every time you do that, you kind of cross your fingers and hope. Knock on wood, we’ve been pretty clean here lately. So hopefully we can continue to do that.” 

Emotions appear to have run rampant following Derek Mason’s firing, as evidenced by players wanting to play only for the coach who recruited and gave them an opportunity. Fitch alluded to two players who considered opting out. 

“There’s been a couple guys we’ve talked to. I don’t have any specifics right now on where we’re at with all that,” Fitch said. “It’s an emotional time, and when these things happen on a staff, there’s a reaction right away. So we’re trying to teach patience [and] communicate with our guys.” 

Vanderbilt’s kicking specialists remain in isolation, meaning Fuller remains on the roster. 

“None of the guys that were out last week are back,” Fitch said. “We’re trying to provide the best situation for the team that we can, but Sarah’s out there. She kicked today for us. We’ll continue to evaluate guys on the roster.”

Ryley Guay, Vanderbilt’s primary placekicker for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, is currently a first-year student at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, but he has one year of eligibility remaining. Fitch revealed that his staff is considering bringing Guay back to the team. 

“There’s been some discussion about him,” Fitch said. “There’s a lot of steps that we’d have to go through in terms of eligibility and bringing him back. But just like anything, we’re researching. If it’s a possibility that we could get him back, we’ll certainly take a look at him if he can make our team better.” 

Fitch was tasked with mending a team whose wounds include the firing of its leader, a materializing winless season and national humiliation; he opened up accordingly. 

“I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t challenging the last day or so… We’re trying to get a lot of communication with the players [who] had questions on Sunday night, Monday, on our off day,” Fitch said. “I think we have to lead by example, because if they see us running around unorganized and things like that, then they’ll have the same reaction. It’s taken some time. It’s taken a lot of communication within the staff.”

He elaborated further on his approach to uniting the team. 

“I think the first thing you try to do is be open and honest with the guys. Don’t put your head in the sand and act like nothing’s going on. Address the issues straightforward,” Fitch said. “Our message has been simple: we’re gonna prepare and make sure the players are thought of first.”

Vanderbilt’s offense under Fitch has used a redzone package with Mike Wright, the team’s backup quarterback, to capitalize on his athleticism and composure, producing a rushing and passing touchdown in the Kentucky game. Tuesday’s press conference was no different with Wright, the true freshman, as poised as on the field. 

“Our goal every week, despite who we’re playing, is to go 1-0,” Wright said, before talking about the quarterback competition. “It’s fun competing against guys that are going to make you better. I’m improving as a quarterback, and I’m improving as a person. I can’t really ask for anything else.”

The kicking lineup, on the other hand, indicates anything but competition, with the depth chart released on the morning of Dec. 1 marking the first time senior kicker Sarah Fuller was listed. She said in an interview with ESPN reporter Holly Rowe that, like Fitch, she values interplayer communication.

“I was a little pissed off at how quiet everyone was on the sideline. I mean, we made a first down, and I was the only one cheering,” Fuller said. “I said exactly what I was thinking: we need to be cheering each other on; this is how you win games; this is how you get better—is by calling each other out on stuff, and I’m gonna call you guys out, and we need to be supporting one another.” 

Fitch has that level of confidence in her. 

“She indicated that she wanted to continue,” Fitch said at the press conference. “She’ll be with us on the trip to Georgia, and we’re gonna put the best people out there. If she’s our best option, we’ll continue to work with her and we’ll do the best we can for the team.”

Fuller demonstrated two things: she can kick and allow for zero return yards, and there aren’t any immediate plans of her leaving. 

“I’m sticking around until someone tells me to go,” Fuller said merrily. “[Devin Fitzsimmons], my special teams coordinator and everything, came up to me after the game, and he’s like, ‘Hey, we’d love to have you around!’ And honestly, I would love to learn more. I’ve been having a lot of fun doing this… it’s something I know I can do.” 

With the Tennessee game still looming, the Commodores play their season’s penultimate game on the road against the Georgia Bulldogs at 3:00 p.m. CST on SEC Network.

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About the Contributor
Basim Naim
Basim Naim, Former Staff Writer
Basim Naim ('24) is from Birmingham, Alabama. He’s a staff writer for the Sports section and is a student in the College of Arts and Science majoring in medicine, health, and society and minoring in human and organizational development. His hometown and college-town teams — the Alabama Crimson Tide, Mississippi State Bulldogs and Vanderbilt Commodores — have him covered from men’s disc golf to baseball. He can be reached at .
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