It's a common tactic of a new head coach, arguably the most common tactic: taking a taken-for-granted item away from his new players and making them earn it back.
Nothing says so obviously "Things are going to be different around here!" quite like hauling the pool table out of the players' lounge or ripping the decals off their helmets. Jason Garrett did the latter with rookies when he was the Dallas Cowboys' head coach and Charlie Strong ripped the Longhorn emblem off every Texas helmet for his first training camp, to name two.
Clark Lea is taking that bit a step further at Vanderbilt. He's ripped the numbers off every Commodore's practice jersey.
"We are going to earn everything in this program," Lea said back in April. "Until we understand that we rent those numbers, we don't own them, until we are ready to work within the team, leave them better for the next person to wear them, that will come. I don't want to put a timeline on it."
It's now July, training camp is around the corner, and Vanderbilt still doesn't have a single number to be found on its roster.
Here's the thing, though: Every 'Dore will eventually earn a number. Each Cowboy that made the team got a star, every 'Horn got a longhorn, and every Vanderbilt player will get a number in time for their Sept. 4 opener with East Tennessee State. The NCAA rule book demands it, in fact.
Rule 1-4-2 dictates "all players shall be numbered 0 through 99." See for yourself below.
Beyond that, a uniform number isn't a fashion statement or a creature comfort. It's an organizing tool. Without a number, how are their coaches and teammates supposed to tell, for example, tight ends Ben Bresnahan (listed at 6'4", 244 pounds) and Joel DeCoursey (6'4", 245) apart? Last names on the back of the jersey work well enough on the field, but how do you tell a Jimmy from a Joe on film?
Some players will assuredly earn numbers before others, and that's the whole point here. Lea and the staff will make a point of celebrating him while pointing to the rest of the team about how that player represents "everything we want to be in this program." But does anyone really expect, say, a freshman wide receiver to get to incumbent QB1 Ken Seals' No. 8 before he does?
In the meantime, Vandy players and coaches will have to battle through the Bresnahan/DeCoursey dilemma times 50, all to make a point the NCAA rule book demands they make by the time the opener rolls around.