Vanderbilt football has produced plenty of recent players who have gone on to the pros—most notably Jay Cutler, BS’05, of the Bears and Jordan Matthews, BA’13, of the Eagles.
But not as many former Commodores have pursued coaching at the collegiate level. Of the approximately 1,100 assistant coaches in major-college football, only three are Vanderbilt graduates. One of those three, Chris Marve, BS’11, has returned to coach at his alma mater.
“It is a blessing to be at Vanderbilt,” says Marve, a former All-SEC player who is in his first season as the inside linebackers coach on Head Football Coach Derek Mason’s staff. “This is an amazing opportunity, and it’s very humbling that I get to do it here. I don’t take it for granted. I love it every day.”
It’s common for SEC programs to have alumni serving on their coaching staffs; this season, nine of the league’s 14 schools have at least one former player serving either as a position coach or coordinator. At Vanderbilt, however, it’s a rarity. Marve is the first Commodore to coach at the university since 1999, when Dennis “Big Foot” Harrison, BS’78, was the defensive line coach for Woody Widenhofer.
Marve arrived at Vanderbilt in the summer of 2007 as an undersized and lightly recruited linebacker from White Station High School in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated four and a half years later as a three-time All-SEC honoree and the first defensive player in school history to start in two bowl games.
Now, fewer than five years after playing his final game for the Commodores—the 2011 Liberty Bowl in his hometown—Marve, 27, is the second-youngest position coach in the SEC and a rising star in the field.
“Chris Marve has exactly what you’re looking for,” says Coach Mason, who promoted Marve from graduate assistant to inside linebackers coach in January. “He has insight and passion, and he cares deeply about his players. He cares about their stories. He cares about the legacy they will leave.”
Marve seemed an unlikely candidate to break Vanderbilt’s alumni coaching streak when he graduated in December 2011 with a double major in human and organizational development and sociology. Coaching, at that point, simply didn’t interest him. In fact, he turned down an opportunity to join James Franklin’s staff after the former Vanderbilt head coach took the same position at Penn State.
Marve originally planned to attend Vanderbilt Law School, but instead signed up for a two-year stint with Teach For America, where he taught math and coached basketball at LEAD Academy, a charter school in Nashville. It was at that point he realized he wanted to be a coach.
“Teaching in the classroom eventually led me to coaching,” Marve says. “That is what coaching is: It’s teaching, building young men in the game of football.”
Marve also cares deeply about Vanderbilt, which makes him, perhaps, the staff’s most effective recruiter. While all the coaches preach Vanderbilt’s unique combination of elite academics and SEC football, Marve lived it.
“I walked where the guys who are playing here walk,” he says. “I played in that stadium. I went to the classes they go to. I slept in the dorm rooms they are sleeping in. I can give valid feedback as to what that experience is like and the value of the experiences they will get.”
MITCH LIGHT, BA’93