NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt’s offseason received a nice boost in January when wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb, tight end Jared Pinkney and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn all announced they would forgo early entry into the NFL draft and return to the Commodores for their senior seasons.
Among others in Vanderbilt’s football facility, Gerry Gdowski could hardly contain his excitement.
“Anybody who follows Vanderbilt football was cheering when they got that news,” Gdowski said.
That news became even more important to Gdowski earlier this month. On Feb. 13, head coach Derek Mason announced the promotion of Gdowski to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Gdowski, the only full-time holdover from Mason’s original Vanderbilt staff in 2014, had served as quarterbacks coach for the past three seasons. He mentored quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who capped his career last season as the program’s all-time leading passer.
Gdowski said he is excited to take over a Vanderbilt offense with plenty of potential.
“There’s a lot of talent in the room,” Gdowski said. “Obviously, you look at [Jared] Pinkney and Ke’Shawn [Vaughn] and Kalija [Lipscomb], all-conference type guys who have done it at a high level. Then you have the young talent we have at all the different position, whether you’re talking about the wide receivers, tight ends, O-line, quarterbacks. It’s a mixture of guys who have shown they can do it and young guys who have shown flashes. It all makes for a good spring just to see how it all shakes out.”
Calling plays is nothing new to Gdowski. He has served as offensive coordinator or co-offensive coordinator at each of his three previous full-time stops in his coaching career at South Dakota State, New Mexico State and Ohio. He coached with Mason at New Mexico State and Ohio, and that familiarity – as well as the need for continuity with the Commodores’ offense – led Mason to promote Gdowski at Vanderbilt.
“Gerry Gdowski has a proven track record during his five years on West End as an outstanding teacher who works to maximize the abilities of our student-athletes,” Mason said. “Gerry possesses superb knowledge of our offensive scheme and personnel and what it takes to succeed in the Southeastern Conference. I look forward to seeing our offense under Gerry’s guidance.”
Last season, Vanderbilt’s offense averaged 28.5 points/game, the third highest scoring average by the Commodores since 1950. The unit also averaged 411.2 total yards/game, the most by Vanderbilt offense since 1974. That group loses Shurmur, senior running back Khari Blasingame and senior offensive linemen Egidio DellaRipa, Bruno Reagan and Justin Skule.
Gdowski takes over Vanderbilt’s offense as it searches for a new starting quarterback for the first time since 2015. The Commodores will kick off spring with five scholarship quarterbacks: Ball State graduate transfer Riley Neal, juniors Mo Hasan and Deuce Wallace, redshirt freshman Allan Walters and early-enrollee freshman Jamil Muhammad. Gdowski knows that position battle will garner plenty of headlines this spring.
“The quarterback position is probably the biggest thing we’ve got to get figured out,” Gdowski said. “There’s a lot of talent in the room, though. It’s going to be a big job to try to get that sorted out and give guys the opportunity to show what they can do. But I’m optimistic and excited about the group we have.”
Should Vanderbilt fans expect major changes in the Commodores’ offense in 2019? Gdowski said it is too soon to know.
“We have four years invested in the system, the terminology and how we talk and the language,” Gdowski. “What we’ve done scheme-wise, we have a lot invested in that. We didn’t want to make a wholesale change. How we call things and how we look is going to be very similar, but obviously with new guys on the staff, you’re always looking to tweak things and do things a little different, or different altogether, within your system. We’re in the process of putting that all together. For our guys, it was important just to try to maintain that, the terminology and the language and all that, so nobody was starting from scratch from day one.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.