Replacing Franklin: Vanderbilt's focus is defense under Derek Mason
It’s always an annual challenge trying to replace an impact player, but in the SEC, coaches are paid to recruit and develop the next standout athlete in fear of the impending hot seat should seasons turn sour.
Over a two-week period, we’ll take a look at a key player loss for each program in the conference and break down that position’s potential replacements. Rest assured, a few of these guys will be household names by season’s end.
- SOUTH CAROLINA
- OLE MISS
- TEXAS A&M
- TODAY: Vanderbilt
- Wednesday: Alabama
- Thursday: Florida
- Friday: Missouri
- Aug. 16: Mississippi St.
- Aug. 17: Tennessee
- Aug. 18: LSU
Derek Mason, the SEC’s only new head coach this season, has big dreams at Vanderbilt.
He’s replacing James Franklin who carried the Commodores to consecutive nine-win seasons for the first time in school history.
“When I look at where we’re at, what’s going on, Vanderbilt is a great opportunity, a great job,” Mason said. “But my expectation is to push the envelope a little bit. We have to move past the idea of playing for nine wins. Nine wins, it’s really exceptional. At the end of the day why have nine when you can have ten.
“Why settle for ten when you can have 11? That’s the way I think. That’s the way I wake up. That’s the way I want my team to be. Dream big, you can accomplish big things. Dream small, you fall short.”
Mason’s made his money on defense, coming over from Stanford as the leader on that side of the football the last three seasons.
He’ll incorporate the same tactics at Vanderbilt, converting the Commodores’ defense to a 3-4 scheme to better utilize the talents of all-conference caliber veterans Caleb Azubike and Kyle Woestmann who have made the switch from defensive ends to linebackers.
One of Mason’s essential additions to his new staff was defensive coordinator David Kotulski, an assistant from Stanford who introduced Mason to the 3-4 scheme 15 years ago at Bucknell. He’s helped Woestmann and Azubike transition into their news jobs in the middle of Vanderbilt’s defense and is one of the reasons Mason enters his inaugural campaign with such lofty expectations.
“I think our opportunity to compete for an SEC East title is now,” Mason said at SEC Media Days. “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.”
Mason’s smashmouth mentality at Stanford is still under development in Nashville, but his confidence is a breath of fresh air for a fanbase that was anticipating a drop-off after Franklin left the program on uneven footing following his exit to Penn State.