NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason announced the promotion of longtime assistant Gerry Gdowski to offensive coordinator and the additions of Devin Fitzsimmons (special teams coordinator and tight ends), Nick Eason (defensive line) and Tim Horton (running backs).
“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.
“We are very fortunate to bring Devin Fitzsimmons on board at Vanderbilt. Devin has tremendous expertise in all areas of special teams, and has coached some of the NFL’s top specialists while on staff at Detroit. His resume also includes a successful tenure working with Lions tight ends and several years as a collegiate offensive coach.
“I have followed Nick Eason’s coaching career since he retired from the NFL. With Nick joining our staff, we are adding a well-respected and knowledgeable coach who will be a great mentor to our defensive line corps.
“Tim Horton brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our offensive staff, coming to West End after more than a decade working in the SEC. He has a proven track record of working with outstanding running backs and helping them reach their goals of playing in the NFL. I look forward to seeing him doing the same with our running back corps.”
Gdowski joined the Vanderbilt staff in 2014, Mason’s first year on campus. He served as tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator for the 2014-15 seasons, and has mentored Commodore quarterbacks for the last three seasons.
In 2018, Gdowski served as quarterbacks coach for a Vanderbilt offense that 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.
Gdowski mentored senior Kyle Shurmur in 2018 to one of the most productive seasons ever by a Vanderbilt signal caller. Shurmur threw for 3,130 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing 62.2 percent of his passes. Shurmur’s passing yardage and touchdown passing totals last season rank as the second highest in team history.
Shurmur also blossomed under Gdowski’s direction. In three years working under Gdowski’s tutelage, Shurmur threw for 8,362 yards and 59 touchdowns. He completed 58.4 percent of his pass attempts, and threw just 26 interceptions. Shurmur ended his career as the owner of nearly every significant Vanderbilt career passing mark, including 8,865 passing yards, 64 touchdown passes, 722 completions and 1,264 attempts.
In his role as tight ends coach, he mentored Steven Scheu to second team All-SEC recognition in 2014 after Scheu posted team highs with 39 catches and 525 receiving yards.
Gdowski came to Vanderbilt after spending nine years at Ohio. He mentored quarterbacks at Ohio, and also had titles of assistant head coach and co-offensive coordinator. During his tenure at Ohio, Gdowski helped mold Tyler Tettleton into one of the greatest quarterbacks in Bobcats history. Tettleton set Ohio career records in passing yards and touchdowns, and became the only quarterback in school history to post three straight seasons of at least 2,500 yards passing. In 2013, the Bobcats averaged nearly 27.4 points/game and 380 yards of total offense, including 245.4 passing yards. Tettleton also threw for 2,851 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Gdowski mentored Tettleton to another successful season in 2012. The quarterback became the first at Ohio to throw for at least 2,500 yards in back-to-back seasons. He also finished with 18 touchdowns and just four interceptions. The 2011 offense was the most productive unit in modern team Ohio history, totaling 427 points and 6,241 total yards. In all, the Bobcats offensive unit set eight program records during the season. Tettleton set 12 single-season records as first-year starting quarterback, became the first signal-caller in school history to pass for over 3,000 yards, and accounted for 38 total touchdowns.
In 2010, Boo Jackson finished his career as Ohio’s career leader in completion percentage (60.4 percent) and touchdown passes (38). He also finished the season responsible for 26 touchdowns, including 18 touchdown passes. In 2009 Theo Scott set a new single-season school record with 20 touchdown passes while receiver Terrence McCrae tied Andrew Mooney’s single-season mark with nine touchdown catches. Fellow wideout Taylor Price also set the school’s career mark with 149 catches.
In 2008, Gdowski helped mentor Jackson as he set the school’s single-season record for touchdown passes. Jackson also threw for the second-most yards in school history and put himself on three of Ohio’s career passing marks, including completion percentage, passing yards per attempt and passing efficiency at the time. In 2007, Gdowski mentored Brad Bower to then-Bobcat career passing records in yards per attempt and passing efficiency. The 2007 offense also ranked second all-time in Ohio team history for points scored.
In his first three seasons with the Bobcats, Gdowski also helped Austen Everson become one of Ohio’s all-time top 10 passers in several categories. Everson currently serves as director of player personnel for Vanderbilt.
Gdowski went to Ohio after eight seasons at New Mexico State. He was the Aggies’ recruiting coordinator and quarterbacks coach until 2003 when he took over as offensive coordinator. The Aggies ranked second in the Sun Belt Conference in 2004 in scoring offense and passing offense.
Gdowski began his coaching career at Nebraska, working with the quarterbacks, tight ends and receivers as a graduate assistant from 1991-93. He then moved to South Dakota State, where he coached for three seasons. After two years as quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, Gdowski was promoted to offensive coordinator.
As a student-athlete, he earned three letters at Nebraska under legendary coach Tom Osborne. Gdowski was the starting quarterback and team captain for the Cornhuskers in 1989 and was named to the All-Big Eight first team. He was an eighth round draft choice of the New Orleans Saints.
Gdowski excelled off the field at Nebraska as well. He earned CoSIDA Academic All-America honors in 1989 and was awarded the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame Postgraduate Scholarship as well as the NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship. A 1990 graduate of Nebraska with a bachelor’s in business administration, Gdowski also went on to earn his master’s from the school in 1996.
Gdowski and his wife, Sam, have three sons — Isaac, Luke, and Tommy.
Fitzsimmons has spent the last five years in the National Football League, serving as assistant special teams coach for Detroit, helped the Lions establish one of the most consistent and efficient special teams units in the NFL.
He mentored one of the NFL’s top kickers in Matt Prater, who converted on 132 of 153 field goal attempts (86.3 percent) during Fitzsimmons’ five-year tenure. Lions’ punter Sam Martin also averaged at least 43 yards each year during Fitzsimmons’ service, topped by an average of 48.5 yards in 2016.
In 2018, the Lions’ kickoff coverage units ranked among the NFL’s best. The unit tied for second in the league, holding opponents to an average drive start at the 22.4-yard line. Detroit long snapper Don Muhlbach also participated in the 2019 Pro Bowl.
In 2017, Lions rookie Jamal Agnew earned All-Pro recognition as a punt returner with a 15.4-yard average. He also returned two punts for touchdowns that year.
In 2015, Fitzsimmons served as the Lions’ tight end coach for the final eight games of the regular season. In that span, Detroit tight ends Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew and Tim Wright combined for 32 catches, 316 yards and four touchdowns.
Before joining the Lions, Fitzsimmons spent the 2013 season coaching special teams and tight ends at Delaware. As a unit, the Blue Hens special teams group ranked second in the nation in net punting average (41.47) and ninth in blocked kicks (six). Doubling as the team’s tight ends coach, he helped PR/WR Rob Jones and tight end Nick Boyle earn all-conference honors and punter Eric Enderson claim freshman all-America recognition by The Sporting News.
Prior to his time at Delaware, Fitzsimmons was an offensive assistant at Rutgers in 2012 and got his first taste of the NFL as an offensive quality control coach with the Indianapolis Colts in 2011. He also had previous coaching staffs at the Richmond (2010), the Virginia (2009), Kansas State (2007-08), Bucknell (2006) and Shaw (2005).
Fitzsimmons played quarterback and wide receiver at Bucknell, earning a bachelor’s degree in history in 2005.
Fitzsimmons and his wife, Katie, are the parents of one son, Liam.
Eason joins the Vanderbilt staff after serving a four-year stint coaching NFL defensive linemen. From 2014-17, Eason served as defensive line coach with the Tennessee Titans. In his last two years on staff with the Titans, Eason helped develop a defensive line that became one of the AFC’s top units against the rush.
Eason’s front in 2017 was a key factor in Tennessee allowing just 88.8 rushing yards/game, tops in the AFC and fourth best in the NFL. The 2017 Titans defense also ranked third in the league with four fumble recoveries and nine forced fumbles, helping Tennessee reach the AFC divisional playoffs.
That same year, the Tennessee defense ranked fifth in the NFL with 43 quarterback sacks.
In 2016, the Tennessee defense was even stronger against the run, ranking second in the NFL by allowing just 88.3 rushing yards/game and topping the league with allowing only 70 rushing first downs. The Titans defense ranked sixth in the NFL.
Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was among Eason’s top players at Tennessee. Starting in 2015, Casey was selected All-Pro for three consecutive years.
Eason started his coaching career shortly after his NFL playing days ended. In 2013, he served as a defensive line assistant with the Cleveland Browns, then joined the Titan’s staff the following year.
As a player, Eason was a standout defensive lineman at Clemson, selected by the Denver Broncos in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Eason played 10 years in the NFL, contributing with the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. He was a member of the 2008 Pittsburgh squad that won Super Bowl XLIII.
Eason earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Clemson in 2001.
For the last 12 years, Horton has coached in the Southeastern Conference, serving as the offensive assistant coach at Auburn and Arkansas. During that time, he has coached five SEC players of the year and nine all-conference running backs.
Since 2013, Horton has served as Auburn’s running backs coach. He also served as the Tigers’ recruiting coordinator in 2015-16. In 2018, the Tiger offense averaged 30.9 points/game, 389.9 total yards and 167.5 rushing yards. Horton’s top pupil last year, JaTarvious Whitlow, earned All-SEC freshman recognition after rushing for 787 yards and six touchdowns.
From 2013-17, Horton coached four running backs that paced the SEC in rushing: Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason (2013), Cameron Artis-Payne (2014), Kamryn Pettway (2016) and Kerryon Johnson (2017). Mason and Johnson both earned SEC Offensive Player of the Year honors during Horton’s tenure.
In 2017, Horton coordinated special teams for the Tigers and coached kicker Daniel Carlson, who was the SEC’s special teams player of the year. Horton became the only assistant in league history to coach the SEC offensive and special teams players of the year in the same season.
From 2007-12, Horton served a similar capacity at the Arkansas where he starred as an undergraduate in the 1980s. At Arkansas, where he was also recruiting coordinator, Horton was one of just two coaches in the nation to coach four different 1,000-yard rushers from 2007-10, including 2007 Doak Walker Award winner Darren McFadden and All-American Felix Jones.
Horton has coached in 13 bowl games, including the 2013 NCAA national championship game.
Horton has also succeeded in preparing running backs for the NFL. Thirteen different running backs coached by Horton have become NFL starters, including McFadden, Jones, Peyton Hillis, Mason, Artis-Payne, Payton Barber and Johnson.
Prior to coaching at Arkansas, Horton spent the 2006 season as running backs coach at Kansas State and wide receivers and running backs coach at Air Force from 1999-2005. He began his coaching career at Appalachian State in 1990, helping the program to a 67-32 record during eight seasons, including Southern Conference championships in 1991 and 1995 and five NCAA Division I-AA playoff appearances.
Horton was a four-year letterwinner at Arkansas, starting as a split end and punt returner from 1987-89. As a senior captain, Horton earned second-team All-SWC honors after hauling in 23 catches for 453 yards and serving as the team’s top punt returner. During Horton’s Arkansas playing career, the Razorbacks compiled a 38-11 record, won back-to-back SWC titles (1988-89) and appeared in four straight bowl games.
Horton and his wife, Lauren, are the parents of a daughter, Caroline, and a son, Jackson.
Mason also announced that Quinshon Odom has returned to the Commodores as an offensive quality control. Odom served as a Vanderbilt offensive graduate assistant from 2016-17 and spent the 2018 season as a scout with the Green Bay Packers.
Odom was a captain and starting quarterback at Shaw (N.C.) University, helping the Bears to a conference title in a four-year career from 2010-13. After earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from Shaw in 2014, Odom served as an intern on the football staff at Eastern Kentucky in 2015.