It seems so weird to think about doesn't it? I mean, James Franklin brought something to Vanderbilt that very few other coaches ever could. Three straight bowl appearances, and a couple of Top 20 recruiting classes. But he brought so much more than that, he brought an energy, he brought a hunger to the program, he convinced Vanderbilt to put money into the football program. That alone is a major accomplishment. Now Vanderbilt has a new swagger, they have a new attitude, they have this energy with their uniforms, their helmets, the giant Anchor, everything has picked up under Franklin. Then the worst thing that could have happened, did in fact happen. James Franklin left, and who could blame him? A chance to go back home and play in front of 100,000 plus each week over barely getting 40,000? Who could really blame him? I sure couldn't, and I've know the guy for a couple of years now due to coaching camps I've taken with the Vanderbilt coaches.
But is it possible Vanderbilt got even better with Coach Derek Mason?
The answer to that question is, yes, they in fact did get a lot better with Coach Derek Mason. It seems weird to think this way, considering Mason hasn't even had his first game yet. But, he brings something with him that James Franklin quite frankly didn't have...a lot of coaches who know how to teach their positions well. Mason grabbed two coaches from Ohio University, who outside of Northern Illinois, has been the most consistent Mid-American Conference team going. The offensive line coach, Kevin Lightner, actually coached at Western Kentucky previously from 2000-2002. That means he'll be really familiar with the area when it comes to recruiting. If that wasn't enough, Derek Mason snagged the Inside Linebacker's coach from Stanford to be his new defensive coordinator, he grabbed Vavae Tata who has been an intern at the NFL level as well as a defensive assistant at Stanford, then he went and grabbed ANOTHER former defensive coordinator from San Jose State to become his new outside linebacker's coach. The icing on the cake? Karl Dorrell...who comes from being the former Texans, and Dolphins Quarterbacks coaches. He has head coaching experience, and extensive offensive coordinator experience, both things to me will help bring our offense up to speed.
That was, without a doubt one of the things I noticed the most about the Vanderbilt offense last year. I personally thought the wrong quarterback was starting, as McCrary outplayed both Robinette and Austyn Carta-Samuels in the Spring game, but the offense overall looked downright sluggish sometimes. I think that is about to change in a big way for the Commodores. I think this staff, and these coordinators are better suited to teach the kids how to become NFL ready prospects. They're ready to teach these kids how to take their games to the next level, which is exactly what the doctor ordered for this program. I'll never deny James Franklin's ability to recruit the kids, then motivate the kids, but I will never claim he had the best TEACHERS to teach the kids the fundamentals of football, nor will I claim he had the best X's and O's guy calling the shots on offense. If you want more proof that the kids brought in weren't learning enough, look no deeper than Brian Kimbrow, who I love as a player, but the truth is he hasn't gotten any better since he got here. When he signed I certainly expected him to have more than 754 yards rushing in his first two years, and if he was going to play such a limited role why not redshirt him? Obviously it is too late now, but I believe he'll thrive under the new system.
So what exactly makes Derek Mason a better coach? Well the first thing I like is his background. The man has been in the NFL, he's been on the offensive and defensive side of the football, and he's succeeded there. That goes a long way with me. But what goes even further for me is he said he wants to win the SEC East Championship, and feels that Vanderbilt can, and will do just that. That took some swagger to come out and say those words, words that have never been spoken on a Vanderbilt campus, at least not in regards to football. But that isn't even the most impressive thing to me about Coach Mason. When Franklin left, Vanderbilt was down to 3 public commitments, and now they're back up to 16. In this class they have coming in 4 offensive linemen, all of whom are giants. Two of which (Bruno Reagan and Riley Grainer) are already over 300 lbs. The other two (Andrew Mike and Cole Hardin) are built like skyscrapers with frames already over 6 ft 6. Give them a year or two and they will be over the 300 lbs mark. But that's not all...every defensive back added is at least 6 ft 0 or more, in an era where big corners and big safeties are wanted, that's great news for the boys in gold.
Overall, I think Mason will close out strong on signing day, and while he may not have gotten the sexy number in stars like Tennessee and Ole Miss have, the fact remains he got guys who physically are ready to go into action. With great teachers in place, great coordinators with a lot of experience, and a head coach who is willing to say the bold things Nashville needs to hear, it's safe to say Vanderbilt football is ready to reach new heights. I hope you all enjoyed reading my work, and if you have any comments you'd like to share with me please feel free to find me on twitter @TheCoachinator.
Anchor Down! And have a great signing day!