Greg Zolman Vanderbilt

General Bill Traughber

Commodore History Corner: Greg Zolman

Record-breaking quarterback reflects on Vanderbilt career

When Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur passed for 192 yards against Arkansas on Oct. 27, he became just the second Commodore to pass for 2,000 yards in three consecutive seasons. Shurmur, the son of New York Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, joined former Vanderbilt great Greg Zolman (1998-2001) with that achievement.
 
Zolman ranks second all-time in Vanderbilt career passing with 7,981 yards, trailing Jay Cutler (8,697 yards) for the school record. Shurmur sits at 7,772 career yards – 209 behind Zolman – with at least three games remaining in his Commodore career.
 
"I know he [Shurmur] came in a young guy like I did and has played pretty well," Zolman said from his Connecticut office. "I believe records are made to be broken and I'm happy for him. I love to see Vanderbilt succeed in any sport and wish him the best of luck and hopes he makes a run at Jay's record."
 
Zolman, from Dayton, Ohio, broke several passing records for Miamisburg High School prior to his Vanderbilt career. The lefthander had scholarship offers from Stanford, Michigan, Northwestern Miami (Fla.) and West Virginia, but he chose to play for coach Woody Widenhofer at Vanderbilt.
 
"Vanderbilt offered me the chance to play right away," Zolman said. "We had Damian Allen who was a senior, Hi Lewis, Jamail Carter and a couple of other guys. When Woody took over he went to a pro-style offense, which fit my style. My parents were teachers, and an education was the most important to them. Athletics were secondary.
 
"At the other schools, I would have been No. 2, but at Vanderbilt I was the only quarterback in my signing class. I grew up rooting for the Big Ten, but after studying my options I decided the Southeastern Conference was best for me."
 
Zolman redshirted his first year. In his redshirt freshman season, the Commodores went 2-9 (1-7 SEC), losing their first six games. Zolman became a starter in the seventh game against South Carolina on Dudley Field. He threw for 279 yards in the Commodores' 17-14 win.
 
"I was on the sidelines for the first five games and came in at halftime against Georgia in game six," said Zolman. "I threw my first touchdown pass and won the job. From that point I started 37 games -- 35 straight. Everybody wants to come in and compete. It was frustrating watching six games from the sidelines.
 
"I got the start against South Carolina and we got the win. It was the first win of the season and first SEC win in three years. I worked hard to put myself in a position to play. My family, friends and high school coaches were at the game from Ohio. It was a great win for Vanderbilt, the fans and myself."

The next season, the Commodores improved to 5-6 (2-6 SEC) while Zolman started all 11 games. He became the first Commodore to pass for 2,000 yards in a season since Eric Jones in 1988. During a game against Ole Miss, Zolman's effort in the 37-34 Vandy victory earned him SEC Offensive Player of the Week after passing for 344 yards. Zolman also tossed two touchdown passes, ran for another and caught a scoring pass from receiver Tavarus Hogans.

"It was a double overtime victory and on the road," said Zolman. "It was also the first SEC road win for us in years. The team came together in a hostile environment. It was a true team victory. Jared McGrath, Todd Yoder, Elliott Carson, Tavarus Hogans and Dan Stricker played really well. Sometimes I felt that I played better on the road than at home. We proved we could win in tough stadiums on the road when our backs were against the wall.

"One of our drives went for 95 yards with not much time left to tie the game. I hit Tavarus, who took it down to the five-yard line. Then I threw a tight end screen to Elliott over the middle where he scored. We won in overtime. The Ole Miss fans were so upset, I was told it was silent after the game in 'The Grove'."

As a junior, Zolman finished second to Florida's Rex Grossman in the SEC with 221.9 yards per game and engineered a streak of 56 straight pass attempts without an interception. He passed for 250-plus yards six times. Vanderbilt was 3-8 (1-7, SEC).

"That was a frustrating year," Zolman said. "We couldn't put it together on the offense and defensive side of the ball. When I got there, Vanderbilt's defense was No. 1 in the SEC. Our offense was last and we kind of flip-flopped by the time my senior year came around. We started out that season losing to Miami (Ohio).

"We had a couple of guys out like Jamie Winborn and Jimmy Williams. They made an impact on defense. It was a great season for the offense. Coaches Steve Crosby, Jeff Rutledge and Ed Lambert turned the offense around. We could score a lot of points. Our offense was feared. But we couldn't put it together with the defense."

Zolman entered his senior season ranked third in Vanderblt career passing behind Whit Taylor and Kurt Page. The Commodores finished that season 2-9 (0-8, SEC). Zolman was known for an above-average arm strength, mobility, scrambling ability, confidence and decisiveness.

"I broke the record against Auburn," said Zolman. "I had passed Kurt Page and Whit Taylor. I can still remember the pass that broke the record. We were running a no-huddle at the time. I was yelling at the guys to get up to the line of scrimmage while I was looking to the sidelines for the play to run.

"Then the referee stopped the game. They stopped the game because I had broken the record. I knew I was close. Auburn was a very good team led by Jason Campbell. The offensive line my entire career did a fantastic job protecting me. I think when someone accomplishes a career milestone it is a testament to the team. I was thankful to have known all those guys."

After the season, though it would not affect Zolman, Widenhofer was dismissed and replaced with Bobby Johnson. But it was Zolman's quarterback coach that gained his admiration.

"I loved Woody," Zolman said. "He was a great coach. I felt more fortunate to have played for Jeff Rutledge, my quarterback coach. He was like my father who was a football coach. Coach Rutledge took care of me and developed me as a quarterback. I still to this day believe he was the best quarterback coach that I ever played for and I was on five NFL teams, plus a season in NFL Europe.

"Even at that level, Jeff was the best. He was successful at every level of football. He won two state championships in high school, a national championship at Alabama with [Paul] Bear Bryant and he has two Super Bowl rings. He showed me how to be prepared to play on Saturdays. I credit Coach Woody and Coach Rutledge for being the quarterback I became."

Zolman played in the Blue Gray Classic, which would be the last year of existence for that postseason bowl. He said he was disappointed not to have been selected in the NFL draft. Though Zolman never appeared in an NFL game except for the preseason, he was on the practice squads for Buffalo (2002), Green Bay (2002), Indianapolis (2003), St. Louis (2003) and Tampa Bay (2004). Zolman also played one season in Europe with Rein Fire (2004). But Zolman said he did enjoy nice experiences and relationships connected to the NFL.

"I played with a few Hall of Fame quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Brett Farve, Kurt Warner, and Drew Bledsoe," said Zolman. "I got to see the best of the best up close. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback I ever played with. Not only was he a tremendous football player, but he was also a tremendous leader. Brett Farve had the strongest arm I would ever see in person. He had a cannon. Kurt Warner was a smart player who thrived in Mike Martz's system. I got to spend time with those players on a personal level."

After retiring from professional football, Zolman went back to Vanderbilt and earned an MBA from the Owen Graduate School of Management. He moved to New York to work with Morgan Stanley Investment and worked six years in the hedge fund world for Dan Loob at Third Point Asset Management. Currently, Zolman is a portfolio manager for Point72 and Steve Cohen. The company is based in Connecticut and Zolman specializes in investing in technology median telecom stocks.

Zolman said he still harbors fond memories of his career as a Commodore.

"It was a phenomenal experience," Zolman said. "Going to Vanderbilt changed my life, since coming from Ohio. It allowed me to compete at the highest level in athletics and the highest level in the classroom. I believe Vanderbilt has done a fantastic job improving the school and the quality of the degree since I left. It gave me the opportunity to play in the NFL, but set me up to be successful after school and after football. I had a great five years at Vanderbilt. Nashville will always be a very special place for me."
 
If you have any comments or suggestions on the Commodore History Corner, contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.
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