In 2015, the Commodores were coming off their most successful three-year stretch of the modern era. James Franklin led the program to bowl appearances in all of his first three seasons, but left Nashville for the head coaching position at Penn State in January 2014.
Vanderbilt hired former Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason six days later, hoping he would find immediate success much like his predecessor. But Mason struggles as the Commodores finished 3-9 with a winless record in eight conference games.
Vanderbilt had weaknesses in several areas, but the quarterback position was its most glaring. The Commodores started all four quarterbacks and failed to find a consistent starter. In Week 1, three players made appearances under center during Vanderbilt’s 37-7 loss to Temple.
Patton Robinette was the original starter but was rattled with injuries. The redshirt sophomore provided the Commodores with their first win of the season against UMass in Week 3 and showed promise the following week before suffering a concussion against South Carolina.
Robinette would miss the majority of the team’s remaining games before returning against Florida in Week 11. In March, the rising junior announced his plans to retire from football, citing injuries and his intention to enter the Vanderbilt School of Medicine this summer.
“This has been a very difficult decision to make,” Robinette said in a statement. “This team means the world to me and I love playing football more than anything. It’s been tough coming to a decision that is right for my family and I, and protects my health and future.
“I’ve been very deliberate in coming to this decision. It’s difficult but I’m really excited to move forward to the next chapter of my life and really to see what the field of medicine has in store for me.”
Johnny McCrary took the reins in Robinette’s absence and was otherwise the only quarterback close to productive for the Commodores. McCrary led Vanderbilt with 985 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions on 78-of-152 passing. He also tied Jay Cutler and Bill Wade’s single-game school record of five passing touchdowns against Old Dominion on Nov. 1.
But McCrary also showed his inexperience against inferior SEC opponents. Still, the redshirt freshman showed the most potential of any Vanderbilt quarterback, providing a dual-threat option to a lackluster offense that ranked last in the SEC.
With the departures of Robinette and Stephen Rivers, the rising junior will compete with Wade Freebeck, who burned his redshirt in 2014 by appearing against UMass. But McCrary should be the favorite to start in Vanderbilt’s opening game against Western Kentucky on Sept. 5.