As I’m writing this (it’s currently 9:50 PM on Sunday night, if this goes up as scheduled and something has changed I take no responsibility for what I’m writing), Derek Mason is still Vanderbilt’s head football coach. But it doesn’t appear that will be the case for much longer. Or, at least, nobody wants it to be.
We’ve reached that point in the coach’s tenure where even the Tennessean is openly saying Vanderbilt should move on. When legitimate journalists (no, not me) are openly saying this, you can be pretty sure that the coach has basically no remaining support. It’s one thing for internet commenters and bloggers to say that a coach should be fired, but when your livelihood depends on having access to the program, you’re probably not about to call for a firing until you’re damn sure that a firing is about to happen anyway.
It’s been really hard to wrap my head around how disastrous the 2019 season has been. A season-opening loss to Georgia was expected and even had some positives in the second half, in that Vanderbilt didn’t let Georgia run away with it. (Turns out, Georgia may have actually done that to themselves.) That was followed by a poor performance at Purdue, written off at the time as the seemingly annual September turd of a performance against a beatable opponent. Then LSU came to town, and the defense gave up 52 points (and LSU scored 66, with defense and special teams contributing a touchdown each.) Uh-oh, this was ugly.
The season’s first win came a week later, and what a doozy it was, a 24-18 slobberknocker against a Northern Illinois team that would lose to Ball State the week after that. Ball State currently ranks four spots better than Vanderbilt in Sagarin in spite of losing last year’s starting quarterback as a transfer to... Vanderbilt. That game, by the way, was about the point where I decided that this wasn’t getting any better and I’d probably support a change at the end of the season, assuming that the trajectory continued. A completely unacceptable performance at Ole Miss followed, and then Saturday’s disaster at UNLV, which switched my opinion from “we need to make a change after the season” to “we need to make a change now.” Hell, even DoreonthePlains is no longer on board. Basically, everyone has their pitchforks out right now.
But when everybody is a pitchforker, nobody is a pitchforker; because when it reaches the point that everybody is a pitchforker, you have announced crowds of 20,000 that really look like half that, and that have maybe a tenth of it remaining in the fourth quarter. It’s not pretty, and it needs to end.
I’d hate to be in Malcolm Turner’s position right now. For the second time this year, he’s faced with a flagship athletic program that’s having an awful, no-good season, with a coach that was hired by his predecessor and who’s been on the job long enough that stuff like this just shouldn’t be happening. But at least in Bryce Drew’s case, he had the excuse that he lost a top-5 NBA Draft pick early in the season (though that, evidently, was not a good enough excuse for an 0-18 SEC record), and he was only in his third year. Derek Mason is in his sixth year, and all three of his future NFL Draft picks have been healthy and on the field.
But the subtext of all of this is that a large portion of the fan base still doesn’t believe that Vanderbilt is committed to athletics, and some of those fans are convinced that it never will be. Oh, sure, Vanderbilt will go through the motions to occasionally be competitive in the money sports and keep collecting their revenue distribution check from the SEC (which goes to fund ... something), but actually attempting to field a winner year in and year out? They’ll believe that when they see it. Turner at least showed in March that outright awful performances aren’t acceptable any more; will he show it again?
Task number two is getting started putting in the work to make Vanderbilt a winner. Task number one is just plain showing the fans that athletics won’t be neglected any more.
Of course, you also get the coach saying we’ll continue to fight. The quotes almost make it sound like he wasn’t watching the same game that we were.
Vanderbilt soccer got a scoreless draw at South Carolina on Sunday, which is a result I will accept for a road game against a Top 10 opponent.
Men’s golf will compete in the Crooked Stick Collegiate in Carmel, Indiana, today and tomorrow.
MLB Playoffs: Astros 3, Yankees 2.
NFL: Panthers 37, Buccaneers 26 ... Seahawks 32, Browns 28 ... Texans 31, Chiefs 24 ... Redskins 17, Dolphins 16 ... Vikings 38, Eagles 20 ... Saints 13, Jaguars 6 ... Ravens 23, Bengals 17 ... 49ers 20, Rams 7 ... Cardinals 34, Falcons 33 ... Broncos 16, Titans 0 ... Jets 24, Cowboys 22 ... Steelers 24, Chargers 17.
NHL: Penguins 7, Jets 2 ... Golden Knights 5, Kings 2 ... Sharks 3, Flames 1.
Euro qualifiers: Kazakhstan 0-2 Belgium ... Belarus 1-2 Netherlands ... Cyprus 0-5 Russia ... Hungary 1-0 Azerbaijan ... Scotland 6-0 San Marino ... Estonia 0-3 Germany ... Poland 2-0 North Macedonia ... Slovenia 0-1 Austria ... Wales 1-1 Croatia.