NASHVILLE - There's nothing quite like the hiring of a new football coach to arouse the passionate fan base of an SEC school.
So you can imagine the electricity surging through Music City as Vanderbilt begins a new era of football.
Since I happened to be in town for Tennessee's bowl game with North Carolina, I had a chance to sample the excitement for myself.
As an icebreaker, I asked, "Who's the Vanderbilt football coach?"
The man behind the Opryland Hotel's information stand shook his head from side to side and said, "I don't even remember who the last one was. He was only there a short while."
That was Robbie Caldwell, whose short while as an interim head coach didn't last half a year.
Undeterred, I stepped inside Bushels and Baskets and asked a clerk, "Do you know who the Vanderbilt football coach is?"
"I'm afraid I don't," she said with a smile.
I liked her T-shirts, though. One read, "Many have eaten here; few have died."
I next asked a middle-aged man in the courtyard if he knew the name of Vanderbilt's football coach.
"I don't know his name," said the Alabama resident. "But he's from Maryland."
Moments later, as I passed through a corridor of the hotel, I overhead a skinny high school student from Georgetown, Ky., asking a maid, "Do you have a plunger?"
Judging from her expression, she didn't speak English. So I didn't bother her with a football question.
I asked the kid in search of a plunger, though.
"No," he said before asking an English-speaking maid for a plunger.
Another out-of-towner: What do you expect?
Thirty minutes later, I checked into the Marriott about 50 yards away from Vanderbilt's football stadium. The prospect of talking Commodores football with someone well versed in local goings-on was encouraging.
I repeated my question.
"No, I don't know his name," he said. "They just changed coaches. Who was that last guy?"
When I maintained a blank expression, he explained, "I follow Tennessee football."
At the registration desk, I asked the same question, and got the same answer.
"No, I don't know his name," she said.
"What about the last coach?" I asked, desperate for progress.
"I should know his name," she said. "The team stayed here during the season (the night before home games)."
But there was no hint of recognition.
I moved on to a bartender on the periphery of the lobby.
She smiled when I asked, as though the question would be followed by a punch line.
When she realized the seriousness of my question, she was apologetic.
"That's something I should know," she said.
"It's no big deal," I said.
"But I know someone who would know," she said before making a beeline for a bellman.
"I thought he would know," she said upon her return.
Failed by humans, she resorted to technology. Blackberry in hand, she said hopefully, "Bobby Johnson?"
"No, but he used to be the coach," I said.
Second later, she asked, "James Franklin?"
He has been on the job only a few weeks and he's practically a household name.
That's just the way it is in SEC country.
John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or email@example.com.