Derek Mason Named Vanderbilt Head Coach

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 17, 2014

USA Today

Derek Mason is reportedly leaving his post as associate head coach and defensive coordinator of Stanford to become the head coach at Vanderbilt.

The Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge provided news of Mason's decision to take over the Commodores:

Lockridge also supplies Mason's thoughts on his new job:

“Who’s not going to say yes?” Mason said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to be in a place that does it right. James Franklin did a wonderful job of putting this program on the map. He made it relevant. That debt of gratitude is definitely owed to him.

“I saw it when Jim Harbaugh did the same thing (at Stanford). You like guys like that for their vision, for their work, you see great things and then from there, you just look at what the program is. (Vanderbilt) is a program steeped in the right temperament, the right accruement for success.

“It plays in one of the best football conferences in the country, the SEC, and I think when you put those two together between the academics and the football accruement, I think it can be a winning combination.”

Mason told reporters on Saturday that he planned on staying with the Commodores for a while, according to Teresa Walker of the Associated press:

Vanderbilt later released a statement of its own:

"Derek Mason is the leader we trust to continue the challenging but exciting work that has elevated the Vanderbilt football program to unprecedented heights," Zeppos said. "He embodies integrity, strategic thinking and a demonstrated commitment to success. He understands the important role that athletics plays in the life of a vibrant university, and that outstanding scholarly pursuits and top-notch sports are integral parts of the Vanderbilt experience. We are thrilled to welcome him to the Vanderbilt community."

"We are very pleased with our search. It was evident that the football world is aware of the tremendous progress our program has made and that was reflected by the deep pool of talent that showed an interest in our position," Williams said. "We talked to outside experts and did our own evaluations and the person that always seemed to be in the spotlight was the same person that was at the top of our list and that was Derek Mason.

"We are so excited to be introducing him as our head football coach because we are confident he can build upon our successes on and off the field and that he will take us to the next level. Derek will be an asset to our university," Williams added.

Mason, 44, certainly paid his dues to reach this point. His coaching career started two decades ago at San Diego Mesa College, where he was the wide receivers coach. He also coached at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, St. Mary's, New Mexico State, Ohio and with the Minnesota Vikings, never as a full-time head coach.

The Athens Messenger's Jason Arkley reports that Mason has started filling out his staff:

Mason has been at Stanford since 2010, getting promoted to his role of associate head coach and defensive coordinator in 2011. 

The news comes after Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports reported that Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton opted to remove his name from consideration:

Although Mason doesn't have experience leading a program, his background is impressive. 

He thrived as defensive coordinator with Stanford, as the unit ranked 10th in the country in points allowed this past season. Perhaps his best work came in slowing down the high-flying Oregon attack, giving up just 34 points to the Ducks over the past two seasons.

Mason takes over a Vanderbilt squad that went 9-4 during the 2013 campaign (4-4 SEC). The Commodores also won their bowl game, a 41-24 triumph over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The success was enough for James Franklin to generate widespread interest before he eventually accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Penn State.

His exit opened up an opportunity for Mason, who apparently impressed the Vandy brass enough to believe he can keep the program moving in the right direction.

The biggest task he faces is finding a way to help the Commodores become consistent contenders in the SEC. It's a tough task, with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina among the top programs battling it out on the field and the recruiting trail every year.

Franklin laid a strong foundation, though. Vanderbilt is certainly a far more attractive job than it was a handful of years ago, and Mason must keep building off that positive momentum in order to become another force out of the nation's top football conference.

The hire certainly comes with some risk since Mason finds himself in uncharted territory on a personal level. But that's outweighed by the upside of a coach who's enjoyed plenty of success at Stanford and elsewhere and appears ready to lead a program.

It's the dawn of a new era at Vanderbilt.