Vanderbilt hired Stan-ford’s Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason as the program’s 28th head coach exactly one week after the departure of James Franklin to Penn State. Franklin won 24 games, 11 SEC games, two bowl games, and two games against Tennessee in three seasons. But Mason has been a part of even bigger successes, including four successive BCS bowls (with the Rose Bowl the last two seasons).
This hire seems on firmer ground today than Franklin’s three years ago. Mason has experience at the top levels of college football, having to compete in a tough conference with the distinction of doing it at a high academic setting. While Stanford plays a physical ball-control offense, it is highly dependent on its defense. It came through time and again.
Mason, now 44, earned his letter at Northern Arizona and immediately went into coaching. After bouncing around for eight years, Mason got his big break in 2002. He was hired by Urban Meyer as Wide Receivers Coach/Special Teams Assistant at Utah. His turn into a defensive coach occurred in 2007 when he was a Secondary Assistant with the Minnesota Vikings. Jim Harbaugh at Stanford hired him in that capacity in 2009. In 2010 he was elevated to Co-Defensive Coordinator. Once Harbaugh left for the 49ers, new coach David Shaw retained Mason and named him Defensive Coordinator in 2011. The results followed.
Stanford quickly grew a reputation as a tough outfit on both sides of the ball, a definite throwback in this age of spread offenses. Stanford’s top competition, the Oregon Ducks, who averaged 54.8 points per game against everyone else, scored but 14 and 20 in two straight losses to the Cardinal. Mason had a term for what he most wanted in a player, “intellectual brutality.”
“When you put those two words together, it is a strong statement,” Mason said. “When you can be intelligent and beat the brakes off people when they look to step in front of you, it means something.”
This hire was surrounded by innumerable questions from Vanderbilt fans, many more in number than three years ago. James Franklin’s departure, though seemingly neat and clean at the outset, has turned messy with Franklin recruiting Vanderbilt commits to Penn State after making a big production about being able to seek a different kind of athlete there. On top of that, the full-page ad placed in town was paid for by Penn State—disingenuous at best.
So Vanderbilt fans, and administration for that matter, want some idea as to whether their new coach would see this as a destination job or a jumping point.
“When this job at Vanderbilt came available I wanted that job,” said Coach Mason at the introductory press conference. “This job means everything to me. This is where I want to be. This is where I plan on spending the rest of my career.”
“He wasn’t just looking for a head coaching job,” Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor/ Athletic Director David Williams said. “He had turned some down. He was looking for the special place.”
Mason spoke of standards, ones set already and ones to strive for. He mentioned winning the SEC East. Winning the whole SEC is just one step beyond that, limits need not be placed. Mason has a good pedigree, and sounds good. He made a special point to say he would not be another James Franklin—that he is Derek Mason. Can he keep the good times rolling? Vanderbilt people everywhere sure hope so.