Derek Mason Gets Fired After Seven Losing Seasons

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This past Sunday the Vanderbilt Commodores fired head coach Derek Mason after seven losing seasons. In the 2020 season, Mason ended his tenure with a 0-8 start with no hopes for a win for the program. How did Derek Mason get this coaching death sentence? Let’s start from the beginning.

The road to Nashville

Mason started his love for football by playing cornerback for four seasons at Northern Arizona University. He was a good player but was never seen as a pro prospect so he took on coaching directly after college. He started off taking a few jobs at very small schools:

  • In 1994 he started out at wide receiver coach for Mesa Community College .
  • From 1995-1996 he was the wide receiver coach for Weber State .
  • 1999-2001 he was defensive backs coach for Bucknell .
  • 2002 he was the special teams coach at Utah.
  • 2005-2006 he was wide receiver coach at Ohio.

Derek Mason’s big break would come in 2007 when he became a defensive assistant with the Minnesota Vikings under head coach Brad Childress. This is finally where he made a name for himself as one of the best defensive back coaches in the league.

In 2010 he became the defensive backs coach for Jim Harbaugh at Stanford. When Harbaugh left, he was hired to be the Cardinal’s co-defensive coordinator by new head coach David Shaw. This coincided with Stanford reaching the peak of the program, and led to a big opportunity for Mason.

In late 2013 James Franklin left Vanderbilt to go to Penn State, opening up the job for Mason. The Commodores had been the doormats of the SEC through most of their history but Franklin built something special and Mason’s job was to keep good fortunes growing.

An awkward beginning to a strange journey

In Mason’s first season of coaching, Vanderbilt was not a very good team at all. At one time his offense didn’t score an offensive touchdown in nine straight quarters. With the offense being extremely bad, and the defense not being much better, he fired his offensive and defensive coordinators after the year. He finished 1-11 in his first season.

In his second season, Mason took over the defensive play-calling. He improved to 4-8 and he got his first win in the SEC by beating Missouri. He also won his first road game, against Middle Tennessee. The Commodores had a very good defense that season, but the offense and special teams were hideous.

In 2016, Vanderbilt had three very talented players. They got blue-chip four-star quarterback Kyle Shurmur, running back Ralph Webb, and linebacker Zack Cunningham. These three players translated into wins. They beat Georgia on the road, they beat Tennessee when they were ranked 24th, and also beat Ole Miss. Vanderbilt ended with a 6-6 record and received an invitation to the Independence Bowl, which they lost to N.C. State. Still, it was Mason’s first solid season. The pressure was now on to build off of that success.

In 2017, Vanderbilt started 3-0 and defeated 18th ranked Kansas State. The program started to get national hype, but then Alabama came to town and put them in their place. After the ‘bama defeat, they lost the next four games and only won two more games the rest of the season. The 2017 season ended with a disappointing 5-7 record.

In 2018 Mason started off hot yet again and almost defeated powerhouse Notre Dame. Then Vanderbilt lost three straight to ranked opponents. They finished 6-6 and were beaten by Baylor in the Texas Bowl. That was the last year they had Shurmer at quarterback and really their last hope to get respect in the SEC.

In 2019, Ball State transfer Riley Neil took over as quarterback. They also saw Illinois transfer Ke’Shawn Vaughn become one of the best running backs in the country. Jared Pinkney was supposed to be a solid tight end. Vanderbilt had a little hype, but it faded quickly. They got blown out by Georgia, Purdue, and LSU to start the season. They beat Northern Illinois, but then lost two more games, including a loss to a terrible UNLV team. Mason saved his job by beating a ranked Missouri team, but the Commodores still lost four of their last five games.

After the 2019 season, the fans wanted Mason fired and it seemed like it was just a matter of time before that happened. In 2020, Vandy’ has a true freshman at quarterback, no proven talent at running back, and absolutely no wide receiver threats of any kind. Mason had no success and most of the 0-8 record was resulting in blowouts. The only decent move that he made was naming Sarah Fuller their starting kicker, which is a first for a power five college. Her kicking was not great, and the week after the game, the administration parted ways with Mason.

Who would want this job?

Who knows? The Vanderbilt program is a death trap for coaches. They need someone who is able to change the culture because they are once again the doormat of the SEC. Vanderbilt desperately needs someone that has experience rebuilding a program. They need to find hidden gems and recruit junior college and under-recruited players. Once they find the talent, they can build a recruiting base. They probably need to get an offensive mind to head the program since that has always been their weak point.

What’s next for Derek Mason

All he has to his credit is winning three games against ranked opponents in seven seasons…and beating Tennessee three times. He was a nice guy, but that doesn’t always translate into a winning culture. Mason was never able to recruit effectively due to the losing tradition at Vanderbilt. He had a few good players, but always seemed disconnected. One side of the ball was always bad. If the defense was good, the offense wasn’t, and vise versa. He lost both bowl games, as well, which would have done wonders for the program if they had won.

This isn’t the end of Derek Mason. He could go back to being a defensive coordinator, or as a head coach of a smaller school, but his power-five head coaching days are likely over…for now.

Thank you for reading my article about the long and winding road that got Derek Mason fired. Follow me on Twitter for more great content @LarryHorn120174

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