Update: It's official.
"I am so excited to be at Vanderbilt," Mason said in a statement. "This university combines the best of what's good about college athletics and academics. We expect to be competitive and look forward to competing for an SEC East crown."
Original: Vanderbilt has found its replacement for James Franklin, according to 247 Sports, as the Commodores have reportedly settled on Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason as their newest head coach. CBS Sports reports the hire is not officially complete.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were widely reported as two other finalists, but according to multiple reports, Mason was the first choice all along.
Mason was hired by Stanford in 2010 as the defensive backs coach, and in 2011 was promoted to defensive coordinator. Stanford ranked among the top 30 nationally in scoring defense in each of his three years with the Cardinal and finished at No. 10 in this category in 2013. His last defense at Stanford was his best, ranking fourth in the country according to F/+. It's the second time in the last three years that the Cardinal defense has finished in the top 10 by the metric.
Historically, Vanderbilt has been one of the toughest jobs in college football -- Franklin was the first ever to take the team to consecutive bowl appearances, and was the first since Steve Sloan (1973-74) to finish his Vanderbilt career with a winning record. The last Commodores' coach to stay at the school at least three years and finish with a winning record, before Franklin? Bill Edwards, who compiled a 21-19 mark from 1949-52.
Just a few years ago, it was unthinkable for Vanderbilt to end up with a coach like Mason, considered one of the top young coaching prospects in the country. Stanford has been one of the most consistent programs in the nation during the Jim Harbaugh/David Shaw era, and a lot of that can be attributed to its outstanding defense.
Our own Anchor of Gold discussed Mason's defensive prowess, and how that fits in with Vanderbilt's talent available on the roster.
Mason put together a defense that allowed just 19 points per game in 2013. That includes a three-game stretch where his team held UCLA, Oregon, and Oregon State to just 42 combined points (their 2013 combined scoring average? 116). That would be a good fit for the Commodores, who have a roster full of talented defensive players despite losing seven starters from last year's 9-4 team. Mason has a history of developing athletes and creating defensive schemes that work. Imagine what he could do with guys like Kyle Woestmann,Caleb Azubike, Adam Butler, Darreon Herring, and Paris Head in 2014.
After getting his coaching career started with Mesa Community College, Mason jumped around as a positional coach with Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell and Utah before being hired as the assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator at St. Mary's in 2003.
After one season with the Gaels, Mason returned to position coaching, first with New Mexico State, then with Ohio, and then spent three seasons as the defensive backs coach with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings' head coach at the team, Brad Childress, was one of Mason's coaches during his playing days at Northern Arizona.
One of the first tests ahead of him in Nashville? Keeping around offensive line coach and solid recruiter Herb Hand, whom Franklin wants to bring to State College. Potential Commodores offensive coordinator?
Re: Herb Hand, while Franklin wants him to come to Penn State, I don’t know what Mason’s plans are. Herb should have options & will decide— FootballScoop Staff (@footballscoop) January 17, 2014
Mason has a tough job ahead of him, but comes from a similar kind of school in Stanford: one of the top academic schools in the FBS in one of the toughest conferences in the nation, with a reputation as a perennial cellar-dwellar until a recent turnaround.
The Cardinal's turnaround has been more complete than Vandy's, with Stanford going from seven straight losing seasons to four straight BCS bowl games. We'll see if Mason can finish a similar kind of revolution in Nashville.