Derek Mason is quickly approaching a major crossroads in his career. If he can't improve on Vanderbilt's disastrous 3-9 record from 2014, his tenure as a BCS head coach could come to an end. If the second-year skipper is concerned, however, he didn't show it during Wednesday's Commodore Football press conference.
Mason showcased a quiet confidence in his team while showing off a more polished demeanor with the media in his first in-depth interview session since SEC Media Days. He addressed questions with little hesitations and fewer of the "um"s and "you know"s that dotted his interviews throughout a rough rookie campaign in Nashville. While the true measure of his success will come on the gridiron once classes start, the Commodore coach passed an early test with the media on the eve of official practices.
Mason started off his press conference with a brief statement before getting right down to questions:
I know what the prognosticators are saying, and that's a great thing. From where we sit, we feel pretty good about our chances, so we're just going to be about the work, get the work done, compete, let this football team show its mettle, and we'll see where that takes us.
- Derek Mason
He immediately faced a question that many Commodore fans asked after naming his new coaching staff last spring; how is he going to compartmentalize his job as head coach with his new duties as the team's de facto defensive coordinator?
I've carved out the bulk of the morning for football for me and my staff. I'll have a chance after practices to get in with those guys, spend time, watch the film, and then in the afternoon I'll have the chance to get back to head coaching duties...We worked through all the bugs in the spring, and now moving forward we know what that schedule looks like.
...It feels comfortable. I'm excited about what this group is doing and where we are...it just feels right.
He also heaped praise on his coordinating counterpart Andy Ludwig. Ludwig will be making his Commodore debut this fall. Mason assured the press that his new offensive playcaller will receive minimal interference from the sidelines.
Andy [and I ] have done a great job spending time together to learn one another, to understand our personnel, and tweak our schemes to fit our guys.
The head coach wasn't afraid to name names when it came to the battle for Vanderbilt's starting quarterback position.
We're always evaluating. We have a great QB battle between Johnny McCrary and Wade Freebeck. We have a young quarterback who's going to take some reps, and we'll see where it takes us. That quarterback situation is going to take care of itself...we'll see what this summer does for their football IQ.
The "young quarterback," presumably, is four-star recruit Kyle Shurmur. Shawn Stankavage is also a candidate to start behind center, but he's still recovering from a lower body injury that could hamper his chances to make an impact in 2015. Seconds later, Mason addressed one of the biggest criticisms from his rookie year as a head coach.
Listen, I don't plan on playing four quarterbacks, three quarterbacks. I want to play one quarterback. There will be a starter, there will be a backup. That's clear.
So say we all, Coach.
Mason didn't just discuss his quarterbacks and coaching philosophies. He also delved into Vanderbilt's defensive schemes, Ralph Webb's potential to break out as one of the SEC's top running backs, Twitter trolls, and this year's season opener against Western Kentucky. Here's his full conversation with local and national media in full: