"Each year stands on it's own merit," Vanderbilt head coach told reporters on Monday. "I don't believe one year makes a program."
That will be the Commodores' mantra for 2015 after finishing the prior year without a win in SEC play. Mason answered questions throughout a 20-minute press conference at SEC Media Days, but one theme was persistent - that 2014 is firmly in the rearview in Nashville.
"We've done a great job in Nashville, on West End, of reinventing ourselves," Mason told a packed room in Hoover, AL. "In looking at our identity, this football team is a much different team than it was a year ago...we weren't a very competitive football team in 2014, and that's on me."
Mason was quick to showcase the changes he made to his staff in order to improve on last year's 3-9 campaign.
"During the offseason, I was able to make four tremendous acquisitions on staff...Andy Ludwig is one of the brightest and most unique offensive coordinators in the country. He's been successful everywhere he's been...Cortez Hankton, our receivers coach, played in the league and he's going to be a tremendous college coach."
Mason had fired offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator David Kotulski after failing to crack the top 100 in several categories on each side of the ball. Ludwig will take over the playcalling duties while Mason himself will run the team's defense this fall. Mason had previously filled that role for three years at Stanford and his strategy helped hold Tennessee to 24 points after he took a hands-on approach for the team's final game of 2014.
The Commodore coach was also quick to point out his team's achievements off the field.
"We've had unparalleled success in the classroom. This past year, our football players had the best team GPA in Vanderbilt [football] history...40 of our student-athletes participated in internships this summer. When it comes to developing student-athletes into the total package, we are preparing these players for the future."
Mason spoke and fielded questions for approximately 20 minutes before ceding the stage to the players he'd brought with him. Nigel Bowden, Ralph Webb, and Spencer Pulley. All three were optimistic that the worst was over in Nashville. Bowden, in particular, pointed to his tailback Webb as an example. ESPN's Ed Aschoff took notice:
— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) July 13, 2015
In all, Mason acquitted himself with confidence and limited the pauses and "um"s that dotted his 2014 press conferences. However, one quote may have undermined his entire performance on Monday afternoon.
"I assumed just because we were in the SEC we’d play like an SEC team. We didn’t."
The second-year coach is likely oversimplifying here, but that's a ridiculous statement to take at face value. Vanderbilt was entering 2014 without a quarterback, either of their starting receivers, or an entire starting secondary. His focus needed to be on development from the moment he stepped onto campus in Nashville. His perceived ignorance of his own roster is something that will get him killed by snarky talking heads in the quiet weeks leading up to official practices. That offhand quote is going to be the most memorable sound byte from Mason's second trip to SEC Media Days - and it does little to advance the "Brand New Vandy" narrative that James Franklin left behind.