It's natural for us as Vanderbilt fans to look at this season and wonder what went wrong. After three years with bowls, and the 24-15 record of James Franklin, it stings particularly bad. Vanderbilt fans have become accustomed to modest success, the likes of which we haven't really seen since Dan McGugin. The rise of Vanderbilt's program is not squarely on Franklin, however. Bobby Johnson doesn't get nearly enough credit for the work he did slowly building the program over his tenure; moreover, getting the recruits that were a huge part of Franklin's success. That all being said, Franklin's biggest mark on the program is still going strong - the fans care.
The fans care much more than I can remember. This is why I argue that we are not "same old Vandy". If this was same old Vandy, people would largely not care about the coaching, and certainly would not care about the losing. Maybe it's the explosion of social media, but the fan base is a lot more voicifarious in regards to this train wreck of a season. We know we can do better, the players know they can do better, we all demand better.
So it becomes frustrating for some of us to see Coach Mason be very reserved when talking to the press. There is no energy or swagger to his comments. Worse yet, the communication as to the decision making is poor at best. This gives the impression of a rudderless operation run by someone who is essentially a "deer in the headlights". In addition, what we do hear is often difficult to parse or comprehend. VU04 covered this at the start of the season; being reserved is one thing, but being reserved without a message is quite another. All of this combines to give the impression that the team lacks leadership. It is understandable then that some (if not most) fans believe if we had a coach with the swagger and attitude of James Franklin, things would be considerably better.
If you know anything about the NFL at all, you are familiar with Jets head coach, Rex Ryan. Son of the legendary Buddy Ryan, father of the 46 defense, Rex's first NFL coaching gig was under his father at the Arizonia Cardinals as a DL/LB coach. Rex literally grew up and learned from one of the best. It certainly paid off, as he was the man behind the feared Baltimore Ravens of the late nineties - early aughts. It was no surprise to anyone that Rex was eventually offered a NFL HC job, which he started at the Jets in 2009.
Rex's impact as a HC is undeniable. He quickly became a name associated with the swagger and bluster that people loved or hated. As a Jets fan, I personally loved it. The team was playing with a confidence I had never seen before - they played like they deserved to win and they didn't give up (like many Jets teams before them). There were stories that when he went in for his interview, Rex had a big binder outlining his "three year plan" to get the Jets to the Super Bowl. This was something that Rex is very well known for - guaranteeing Super Bowls and acting like his team was going to be champions. Much to the chagrin of his critics, Rex led the team to two straight AFCCGs, showing that his team could in fact be title contenders.
That's unfortunately where the good times start to fall apart. I could write an entire book on all the missteps and issues that have brought the Jets to the laughing stock of the league again. The good times are over. Many of the players that loved Rex and came to play for him are the ones responsible for the "lockerroom issues". It turns out a blustery coach tends itself to selfishness and infighting! Rex has certainly calmed as a matter of necessity but while the attitude was positive at first, it quickly became a toxic problem for the Jets.
So why do I tell y'all this on a Vanderbilt blog? The point here is that while a coach who is arrogant and confident to the media can also lead to on the field success, it is by no means the rule, and almost always temporary. In the end, you need leadership amongst your players. You also need to be able to get your players prepared for the task at hand. When the cameras are off and away, you need to be able to motivate. We've seen bits and pieces of Mason just with his player; we've also heard rumors from recruits. Some loved what was going on, some hated it. These are all fairly normal things, especially with a culture change in a program. The question we have to ask ourselves is whether Mason is capable of delivering success to the program. Wins cover a multitude of sins and shortcomings that you would otherwise get on a coach for.
Look to Bill Belichick. Do you really think that arrogant say-nothing attitude of his would fly if he wasn't a damned good football coach? Could he really get away with the vague injury reports the Pats always throw out there? Could he get away with the grumpy/surly attitude the few times they lose? Of course he couldn't. In fact, it's often seen as hilarious and "oh BB, that CARD!!" Why? Because he's winning. A lot.
Obviously, there's middle grounds here. The fact is though that it doesn't matter how you act to the public. If you win, that's all forgiven. You can bluster or you can be notoriously tight lipped, if you win, fans forgive you. Give fans a reason to doubt the future of the team though, and all your "sins" will come to the forefront.
So here we are, after a coach who was arrogant as hell but got us results, now with a coach who doesn't like to make team operations public who is struggling to win. It easy for fans to think that a public attitude change would bring about more success in the team. More still, fans tend to love the guy who acts like a cheerleader. Fans identify more with that anyway.
Personally, I'd love a Spurdog, a coach who calls his players out when they aren't performing. I *love* that kind of coaching. However, I'm not a Vanderbilt football player. I have no idea the kind of players on the team, and I have no idea what kind of program Mason is aiming for. HOWEVER, in the end, what Mason says to the press, how he handles the depth charts, etc. doesn't matter if he is able to bring the team around. If the team shows marked improvement next year, I'll be happy. If it doesn't, it's time to consider a new coach.