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FOURTH YEAR

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Last night Derek Mason went from “oh God we’re going to retain him?” to “yes we’re going to retain him!”

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Here are three final scores that sum up Derek Mason’s first three years at Vanderbilt:

  • September 6, 2014: Ole Miss 41, Vanderbilt 3
  • September 26, 2015: Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 16
  • November 19, 2016: Vanderbilt 38, Ole Miss 17

Okay, so that’s not the entire story. The Ole Miss game in 2014, Mason’s second game as Vanderbilt head coach, was one of the worst performances of an awful season, while the game last night was easily the team’s best performance of the season. And, of course, 2016 Ole Miss is a team that needs to beat Mississippi State just to get to a bowl game, not the Top 25 teams they fielded the last two years.

But let’s not dance around this. Derek Mason is getting a fourth year at Vanderbilt, and after the team’s performance last night, he deserves this.

There have been times this season when this arguably wasn’t the case. A head-scratching loss to South Carolina in the season opener. A complete destruction at the hands of Georgia Tech. A lackluster performance in a loss at Missouri. We saw those things, and at the time many had a nagging feeling that Vanderbilt would give Mason a fourth year regardless of whether it was merited.

But last night was the culmination of what Mason has been building for over the last three years. Ralph Webb got healthy. On a chilly night in Nashville, Vanderbilt’s receivers showed up to play. Kyle Shurmur finally hit that play action bomb that Andy Ludwig had spent the entire season setting up.

The strongest argument for Mason after last night, though, was that after the Missouri game, with the team sitting at 4-6 and staring down the barrel of spending the holidays at home instead of in a bowl game, Vanderbilt could have quit. Instead, the Commodores delivered their best performance of the Derek Mason era, arguably their best performance since the Tennessee game in 2012. Which, ironically, was the last time that Vanderbilt scored 38 points in an SEC game, or won an SEC game by three touchdowns.

It might have been a roundabout way of getting there, but Derek Mason has accomplished the goal for the season: getting Vanderbilt back to a bowl game (we assume), and he did it by saving his best performance for last. And now, nobody should be arguing that he doesn’t deserve a fourth year.