After a disastrous debut season in 2014, Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason elected to serve as his own defensive coordinator, and for two years that looked like a genius move: the Commodores’ defense allowed just 21.0 ppg in 2015 and 24.0 ppg in 2016. Then Zach Cunningham and Adam Butler graduated, and the 2017 defense allowed 31.3 ppg -- and that includes allowing a total of 27 points in four games against Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M, Kansas State, and Western Kentucky. Over the eight-game SEC schedule, Vanderbilt’s defense got shredded to the tune of 43.6 ppg.
So, on Thursday, Vanderbilt announced that Mason will be giving up defensive coordinator duties in 2018 and handing them off to Jason Tarver. Tarver was most recently the San Francisco 49ers’ senior defensive assistant, and he also served as the Oakland Raiders’ defensive coordinator from 2012-14. While most of Tarver’s coaching experience has come in the NFL, he did serve one year as Stanford’s co-defensive coordinator, where he worked alongside... Derek Mason.
Also on Thursday, Vanderbilt announced that Cleveland Browns special teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga has been hired to replace Jeff Genyk, who was relieved of his duties last month. In addition, two previously-rumored coaching changes became official, with former Texas A&M wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead being hired to the same position and Washington graduate assistant Terrence Brown hired to coach cornerbacks.
As far as corresponding moves, Vanderbilt didn’t mention it in the official article, but it appears that outside linebackers coach Warren Belin has been demoted to an off-field role (“Senior Defensive Assistant”) and former wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton took the same position at Georgia.
You can read what you want into the staff shakeup. It does appear that Mason has made quality hires, but Mason giving up coordinating duties is probably as close as you’ll get to an admission of where the defensive problems were.