Dec 27, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason at press conference for the 2013 Rose Bowl at the L.A. Hotel Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-USA TODAY Sports

New Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason

In the ultra competitive SEC, it’s a rarity to have years in which at least one head coach does not get fired. That anomaly happened last year, but due to the departure of James Franklin to Penn State, the SEC will have one new head coach next year. After Franklin’s departure, Vanderbilt turned the fate of its football program to Stanford Defensive Coordinator Derek Mason.

Previous Coaching Experience

Mason, as stated previously, came to the Commodores after serving as the Defensive Coordinator at Stanford since 2011. The Cardinal made consecutive trips to the Rose Bowl from the Pac-12, and the defense was a major contributing factor to both of those appearances. The Cardinal were impressive on defense in his time there, as they ranked in the Top 15 for defensive efficiency the past three seasons.

Just how impressive was Mason’s defense at Stanford? Consider these numbers and where they ranked in 2013.

  • 3rd in the NCAA in rushing defense (89.4 yards)
  • 10th in scoring defense (19.0 points)
  • 16th in total offense (343.1 yards)

Keep in mind that is in a very offensive minded conference as well. Defense is not always valued in the Pac-12, so to put up those types of numbers is very impressive from Mason’s defense.

Mason was considered one of the top coordinators in College Football. He was a finalist in 2012 for the Broyles Award which is given to the top assistant coach every year. The Cardinal put up some of their best defensive numbers in the history of the program that year. 2012 saw Stanford break their best ever sack totals, and topped the Pac-12 in almost every significant defensive category including:

  • scoring defense (17.2 points)
  • total defense (336.2 yards)
  • rushing defense (97.0 yards)

Before joining The Cardinal coaching staff, Mason spent time as the Defensive Backs Coach for the Minnesota Vikings. He also was a coach on the staff at Ohio University in 2005 that took a team that went 4-7 the previous season and finished the 2005 season 9-5. Mason has had other coaching stops as well, and 2014 will be his 21st season in the coaching profession.

2014 Outlook

Most analysts and college football reporters believe that hiring Derek Mason was a great hire by Vanderbilt. The Commodores face similar obstacles to the Stanford Cardinal, so it shouldn’t be a difficult transition for Mason to go from Palo Alto to Nashville. Both schools have some of the most challenging academic standards in major college football. Mason should be able to do well at Vanderbilt by filling his staff with solid assistants, and identifying players who can meet the academic requirements and thriving on the field. It is no easy task, hence the reason Vanderbilt went from 1982 to 2008 between bowl game appearances, but Mason should be prepared to handle the challenge.

The problem is that it won’t be so easy this year. Mason has a steep challenge ahead of him, and that is the reason we at are picking them to finish last in the SEC East in 2014. Not only are they losing some key contributors, only 10 starters return from last season’s team that went 9-4, James Franklin convinced most of a solid recruiting class to go with him to Penn State. Others also see the Commodores struggling this year, as Phil Steele sees Vanderbilt as one of only three SEC teams to not make a bowl game.

The one caveat to all this is that I do expect the Commodores to be well coached. Pulling off one or two upsets would not surprise me, especially if the game is in Nashville. The Commodores have always played well against Ole Miss, but Vanderbilt may have given up their home field advantage in that game by moving the game to LP Field, the home of the Tennessee Titans. The Commodores home game against South Carolina is a possibility as well since the Gamecocks are notorious for having one loss that makes everyone scratch their heads and possibly keep them from making a trip to Atlanta the first weekend in December.

As much as I hate to say it, if everything plays out the way most people think that it will, Mississippi State’s game against Vanderbilt the week before the Egg Bowl has all the makings of being a trap game for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State will be coming off a likely hard fought game in Tuscaloosa, win or lose, and will have arch rival Ole Miss after we play Vanderbilt. It’s a game the Bulldogs should win if everything goes as expected, but may be closer than what many of the Bulldog faithful would like.

Mason has the coaching pedigree to succeed at Vanderbilt. 2014 may not be the year the Commodores see that success though. Expect the Commodores to take a step back to what we have become accustomed to in 2014 and 2015, but Mason could get them back to the level they were playing at under James Franklin in 2016.


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