Special teams coach Charles Bankins and offensive line coach Keven Lightner won't return to Vanderbilt football in 2016, according to the Tennessean. Those two embattled assistants, along with director of player development Al Smith, were told their contracts would not be renewed on Tuesday. Head coach Derek Mason was diplomatic when it came to addressing these moves.
Mason cited a difference in philosophy rather than poor performance for the coaching changes. Their release in mid-December will allow both coaches to seek jobs elsewhere.
"I just see this football team moving in a different direction and I just wanted to make sure these men were treated the right way," Mason said. "I feel like it’s time for us to move forward."
Bankins was the team's last holdover from James Franklin's reign as head coach, but he couldn't survive a season where Vanderbilt's special teams were consistently bad. The Commodores gave up 15.1 yards per punt return and a pair of punt return touchdowns this season, one year after holding opponents to 7.7 yards per return. Additionally, sophomore kicker Tommy Openshaw struggled with his double duty as kicker and punter. One year after making 72.7 percent of his field goals, his accuracy dropped to 63.2 percent this fall - which included his first collegiate miss from inside 40 yards. With points at a premium, the 'Dores couldn't afford to cede ground on special teams, and it cost them in losses to Florida and Georgia.
Lightner was tasked with replacing fan favorite (and Chopped contestant) Herb Hand as OL coach when Derek Mason took over, but the team's blocking remained inconsistent. Part of that was due to injuries - he had to deal with the loss of standout left tackle Andrew Jelks this fall - but Vanderbilt still struggled to keep its quarterbacks upright in 2015. That unit got stronger as the year progressed, but that improvement wasn't enough to earn a third year in black and gold.
Smith was an All-Pro linebacker with the NFL's Oilers and held several different management roles with the Tennessee Titans in the years before before he came to Vanderbilt. He lasted only one season with the Commodores.