Wesley McGriff won't be coming back to Nashville to lead the Vanderbilt defense. In his place, Derek Mason turned to someone he can trust: Derek Mason.
The second-year head coach announced on Monday that he would be calling Vandy's defensive plays in 2015 after firing former coordinator David Kotulski back in December. The Commodores' latest hire had spent the three previous years as Stanford's defensive coordinator before a shaky season as a head coach down south. Mason is betting that last season's defense - which ranked 106th in points against - was the product of a rebuilt depth chart and not structural deficiencies.
"After weeks of deliberation and conversations with many coaches, I've decided to call our defense. No one knows our defense and what we can accomplish with this defense more than I. At the same time, I expect to attract one of the nation's top coaches to guide our cornerbacks."
But why is the program taking a risk on a coach who oversaw a unit that gave up more than 35 points per game against SEC foes? Because Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason knows what new defensive coordinator Derek Mason is capable of. Mason held Oregon to just 34 total points in 8+ quarters in his two years as sole coordinator at Stanford. He kept opponents to 20 points or less in 75 percent (21/28) of the games where he called the defensive plays. Eight of those low-scoring affairs came against nationally ranked opponents.
There's significant evidence that Mason is an effective defensive playcaller. His two years as sole DC at Stanford suggest he may even be a game-changing one. What we don't know is how he'll be able to handle Vanderbilt's emerging defensive corps while handling the duties of a head coach. Can Derek Mason the defensive coordinator still be as effective in developing a game plan while splitting time with Derek Mason, face of the Commodore football team?
Vanderbilt's season finale against Tennessee suggests that the second-year coach can handle the duty, if only for a week. The Commodores' spirited defensive effort held UT to just 262 total yards, 17 offensive points, and a solid 3/13 conversion rate on third down. The source behind that newfound competence came from the top, starting with Mason's ability to embrace the VU/UT rivalry and ending with the head coach taking a greater role in calling the plays for the Vandy D. It's clear that the team that pushed the Volunteers to the final minute was a vastly different one than the team that was starched 92-3 by the state of Mississippi earlier in the year.
However, that's just one week and if there were any game that was going to motivate the Commodores, it would be against their in-state rivals. Mason is going to have to get off to a fast start if he wants to stem the tide of criticism that has only grown through his inaugural 3-9 season with the team. He'll have the tools in place thanks to the presence of rising stars like Stephen Weatherly, Nigel Bowden, Darrius Sims, Adam Butler, and Caleb Azubike. Now he just needs to prove that he can translate his success from the Pac-12 into defensive stops in the SEC.