Tim Corbin: Tennessee's gold standard

David Climer's top 25 college coaches in state

Friday, June 3, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 23

The best college coach in Tennessee takes most Saturday afternoons off in the fall. He never argues with an official in a striped shirt. He doesn’t wear a whistle at practice.

And he has suggested he might one day walk away from his ultra-secure job to coach underprivileged youth – for free.

Meet Tim Corbin, baseball coach at Vanderbilt. In a state stocked with upper-crust college coaches, he’s the best of the best.

That is the conclusion after taking a long, hard look at the college sports landscape of Tennessee. While there is strong competition, Corbin stands alone at the top.

At age 54 and in his 14th year at Vanderbilt, he has built Commodores baseball into a national power that sends players to the pros while continuing to challenge for championships.

Vanderbilt won the College World Series in 2014 and played in the national final again last season. The Commodores have become an elite program on Corbin’s watch.

When it comes to ranking coaches, there is plenty of room for debate. The easy thing to do would be to go down the list of salaries and rank coaches accordingly. If you make the most money, you must be the best coach, right?

Sorry, but that’s not how it works. Someone who achieves success at a low-budget NAIA or NCAA Division II program is actually doing more with less than a coach making 10 times more in salary at a major university.

There is a sliding scale here. Given their varying situations and budgets, who is achieving the greatest success with the resources at his or her disposal?

On top of that, how do you compare a football coach with 85 scholarships at his disposal with a baseball coach, who must figure out a way to stretch the NCAA-mandated 11.7 scholarships into a quality roster?

It’s purely subjective, of course.


No doubt, you’ll find some names missing from this list of the top 25 college coaches in the state. For one, new Vanderbilt women’s basketball coach Stephanie White arrives in Nashville with a sparkling resume.

She is leaving the WNBA, where she has coached the Indiana Fever to the finals, and appears to have a bright future with the Commodores.

But with no previous college head coaching experience (she was an assistant for three different schools in 2004-07), White has yet to prove that she can be the deal-closer in recruiting as a head coach. Until she does that, it is impossible to evaluate her as a college head coach.


On the other hand, White’s counterpart at Vanderbilt, Bryce Drew, has five years of college head coaching experience at Valparaiso. It remains to be seen how he will perform in the SEC, but early signs are encouraging.

You also have to factor in the level and depth of competition a coach has faced. For example, John Williamson coached Vanderbilt to a national championship in bowling in 2007 and has remained a national contender in subsequent years.


However, only 62 schools sponsor bowling as a varsity sport – including only Nebraska and Vanderbilt in a so-called “power” conference.

Likewise, John Luthi is in charge of a national powerhouse rodeo team at UT Martin, winning a championship at the College National Finals Rodeo in the 2013-14 season. But the NCAA does not include rodeo among the 26 sports for which it holds championship competition.

On a side note, who is the best athletics director in the state when it comes to identifying and hiring coaches in all sports? Based on the across-the-board success of his program, that honor goes to David Blackburn of UT Chattanooga.

He has a stable of quality coaches. When basketball coach Will Wade left for VCU, Blackburn hired Matt McCall off the Florida staff. McCall went 29-6 as a rookie head coach.


Don’t overlook what’s going on at Middle Tennessee where Chris Massaro continues to hire quality coaches and upgrade facilities. And Larry Carpenter has done a great job shepherding Lee University from the NAIA to NCAA Division II.

Things certainly are headed in the right direction under Philip Hutcheson’s guidance at Lipscomb.

For those keeping score, the top 25 list breaks down this way: nine men’s basketball coaches, five women’s basketball coaches, three football coaches, three baseball coaches, two track/field coaches, one women’s tennis coach, one softball coaching tandem and one women’s golf coach.

Clearly, the state of Tennessee has across-the-board coaching depth. And the best of the bunch is Tim Corbin.

Reach David Climer at dclimer1018@yahoo.com and on Twitter @DavidClimer.