Confident Derek Mason ushers in new era at Vanderbilt
Few media members noticed Derek Mason, the only coach with metal business cards, walking through radio row toward the interview room at the Hyatt Regency inside the Winfrey Hotel on Monday at SEC Media Days.
Vanderbilt’s blue collar first-year coach doesn’t have the recognizable face of his peers and arguably inherits the league’s toughest gig this season replacing a leader who directed the Commodores to consecutive nine-win seasons for the first time in school history.
But the expectations won’t change.
Mason wants to win.
“I think our opportunity to compete for an SEC East title is now,” Mason said. “We want to make sure that we work extremely hard day in and day out to be men of character, men of integrity. We’re going to play extremely hard.”
The former Stanford defensive coordinator has made quite the impression in short time locally and carries a quiet confidence to a place he believes is on the verge of sticking around the Top 25 for several years. Mason wouldn’t have left Palo Alto, Calif., where he instructed one of the nation’s top defenses if he didn’t trust that Vanderbilt could emerge as a contender under his direction, a team on the precipice of competing for division titles — and more.
Hired in January two days after his initial interview, Mason began assembling a West Coast-heavy coaching staff between several sleepless nights salvaging a 22-player signing class. The Commodores’ once nationally-ranked list of expected signees nearly bottomed out and was down to single digits before Mason hit the trail hard prior to NSD and stabilized a respectable class featuring five late flips.
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Mason passed his first test and acknowledged future plans to broaden Vanderbilt’s recruiting footprint across the nation. On Monday in Birmingham, he expressed confidence in the current roster, a collection of players he largely knew nothing about six months ago. Mason estimates as many as 17 newcomers could see the field this fall as true freshmen.
One intense segment was Mason breaking down his definition of developing ‘Vanderbilt men’ and the process involved with molding two- and three-star players into standouts.
“I don’t care about the 2‑ or 3‑star,” Mason said. “Tell you what, you go back and you look at a guy like Jordan Matthews, 2‑star player. Richard Sherman, was he even a star? I don’t care about the stars. I care about what they put on tape.
“Does the tape look like what I needed it to look like? Does the play look like what I needed it to look like? Does he know how to play the game? If I can measure those things, then I think I’ve got a football player. Last time I checked, games were won between the lines”
Projections from outsiders are tempered in Mason’s first season following the exit of record-setting wideout Jordan Matthews and the entire starting secondary, but certainly higher than the average Vanderbilt offseason since the Commodores became a charter member of the SEC in 1933.
Mason touched on quarterbacks and said he’ll name a starter in late August. He doesn’t believe in a two-player system.
You can tell by his tweets that Mason’s excited for the opportunity he has in the SEC, the head cheerleader for Anchor Down. It’s going to take at least two conference wins to reach the program’s new favorite phrase — bowl eligible — and that’s certainly achievable this season with a non-league slate consisting of Temple, UMass, Old Dominion and Charleston Southern.
If Mason can build a formidable Stanford-style defense in Nashville utilizing top returners like Adam Butler and Caleb Azubike, the Commodores will have a shot this season as a league sleeper.
S.E.C. Media Day 2014 begins today. The Commodores are up and we will have our day. A great group of Committed & Trained representatives! ⚓️
— Derek Mason (@CoachDerekMason) July 14, 2014