For a while, it looked like Derek Mason’s coaching career might not even pan out.

A decade ago, Mason was a frustrated, struggling assistant who was on his seventh school in 10 years – including a junior college, a Division II school and a handful of FCS programs – and uncertain whether or not he’d ever break into the big-time.

But then, he got his break. His mindset changed. During a talk with his mentor, Mason says he came to the conclusion he was entitled to nothing and hadn’t done enough to get a bigger job.

“Then it took two more years and I was at Ohio with Frank Solich and we won, then I went to Minnesota [Vikings] and we had success and I went to Stanford and we had success,” Mason said earlier this year in an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s all the bad and the good on the back end that has allowed me to understand everybody’s got a journey. You just have to be willing to ride it long enough to take the right steps.”

Mason is the fifth African-American head coach in Southeastern Conference history, joining former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, ex-Kentucky coach Joker Phillips and former Mississippi State head man Sylvester Croom.

“It’s got to be the right job,” Mason told the San Jose Mercury News when he was on staff at Stanford.

For Mason, that right job is Vanderbilt.

“This job means everything to me,” Mason told the media upon his hiring in January. “This is where I want to be, this is where I plan on spending the rest of my career.”

Mason –  a native of Phoenix, Ariz. and standout at Northern Arizona – has never been a head coach or coached in the South. He accepted the job in Nashville after spending four seasons at Stanford, the last three of which he was defensive coordinator and assistant head coach.

He turned around a Stanford defense that won back-to-back Pac 12 titles in 2012 and 2013 and was a finalist for the 2012 Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant coach.

Mason follows a guy in Nashville in James Franklin who made the program relevant on the conference, and to a degree, national stage. But he’s a confident guy with a lot of personality – he has gold business cards – who believes the Commodores can be competitive on the field.

“SEC East title, here we come,” Mason said. “Make no bones about it. If you can’t talk about it, you can be about it.”