NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tim Horton had never met Vanderbilt’s Ke’Shawn Vaughn prior to this spring. But last December, while Horton was serving as running backs coach at Auburn, he caught the Commodores’ appearance in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl on television. That’s when Vaughn exploded for 243 rushing yards against Baylor, enough to make Horton, a longtime assistant coach in the SEC, raise an eyebrow.
“I watched the bowl game and thought, golly, that’s a good player,” Horton said.
Little did Horton know he would be Vaughn’s position coach the very next spring. Horton joined Vanderbilt’s staff in February as its new running backs coach, which means he gets a front-row seat to Vaughn’s final season in black and gold.
But in Horton, the Commodores also get to add an experienced SEC coach to their roster. He spent the past 12 years as an assistant at Auburn and Arkansas, mentoring five SEC Players of the Year and nine all-conference running backs during that stretch. Horton likewise brings with him plenty of big-game experience, having coached in 13 bowl games in his career, including the 2013 BCS national title with Auburn.
“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,” head coach Derek Mason said. “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.”
A rundown of Horton’s former pupils reads like a laundry list of All-SEC ball-carriers. He coached Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis at Arkansas while overseeing Tre Mason – a Heisman Trophy finalist (2013) — Cameron Artis-Payne, Payton Barber and Kerryon Johnson at Auburn. Horton’s stint in Fayetteville featured four different 1,000-yard rushers during a four-year stretch from 2007-10.
“Talent-wise, the SEC is the closet you can get to the NFL,” Horton said. “Everybody at every school, everybody is good. I’ve always enjoyed that arena. This will be my 13th season coaching in the SEC and at my third school. I had six good years at Arkansas and six good years at Auburn. I just hope I can make a difference in kids’ lives at Vanderbilt like I have at those places.”
Horton has liked what he’s seen from Vaughn in the early stages of spring practice. The rising redshirt senior ran for 1,244 yards in 2018 despite missing almost two full games with injury and topped the SEC in averaging 7.9 yards/crush. Vaughn’s 243 yards against Baylor in the Texas Bowl set a Vanderbilt bowl record and became the third-highest postseason rushing total ever by an SEC player.
But Horton said he has been most impressed by Vaughn’s work ethic this spring.
“You don’t know their personality and you don’t know them as people before you get here,” Horton said. “But Ke’Shawn is a very driven person and has been very coachable. He’s eager to learn. You see what he does on the field, but off the field I’ve been very impressed. He wants to get a degree from Vanderbilt and play pro football. He’s trying to be a pro before he hopefully becomes a pro.”
Vaughn, of course, is not the only key face on Vanderbilt’s 2019 offense. The redshirt senior returns for his final season alongside wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney, both fellow All-SEC honorees in 2018. The Commodores must replace four-year starter Kyle Shurmur at quarterback and fill holes up front, but many pieces are back from an offense that averaged 28.5 points/game last season, Vanderbilt’s third-highest scoring average since 1950.
Horton has seen his share of top-tier talent in the SEC. That’s why he’s excited about what lies ahead for Vanderbilt.
“Every year is kind of a rebirth,” Horton said. “Every team is different. With this team offensively, you’ve got to feel good about the skill guys. There’s a lot of pieces you like in the puzzle. But my responsibly as a coach is to take them to the highest level they can be. It doesn’t matter if it’s a five-star recruit or a walk-on, let’s make them the very best they can be.”