Named Vanderbilt’s 28th head coach in January 2014, Derek Mason heads into his second season in charge of the Commodores on the heels of attracting another outstanding signing class and adding some very accomplished coaches to his staff.
Regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the nation, Mason will take on the added responsibilities of being his own defensive coordinator in 2015. Additionally, Mason turned the keys to the offense over to veteran offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who joins the Commodores after two record-breaking seasons at Wisconsin and nearly 20 years of experience calling plays.
Mason also lured former Nebraska strength coach James Dobson to oversee Vanderbilt’s strength and conditioning program. Cortez Hankton, a longtime NFL veteran and rising star in the industry, was added to Mason’s staff as a receivers coach and former Stanford assistant Marc Mattioli will coach safeties.
The changes were made after a 2014 season where the Commodores finished 3-9 overall.
In February, Mason welcomed 18 signees to the program, while securing the highest-ranked signee in school history for the second year in a row.
Away from football, Mason continues to be actively involved in the community, contributing to several local and university causes, while making appearances at various social and sporting events.
Mason served as associate head coach and Willie Shaw Director of Defense for the 2013 Pacific-12 champion Stanford Cardinal before being hired at Vanderbilt.
"I am so excited to be at Vanderbilt," Mason said at the time he was hired. "This university combines the best of what's good about college athletics and academics. We expect to be competitive and look forward to competing for an SEC East crown."
Defensive coordinator at Stanford since 2011, Mason helped take the Cardinal to Rose Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, and consecutive Pac-12 titles with one of the nation's top defensive units. Under Mason, the Cardinal ranked among the NCAA national Top 15 in defensive efficiency for three consecutive years.
While facing seven ranked opponents and one of the nation's toughest schedules in 2013, Mason's defense ranked third in the NCAA in rushing defense (89.4 yards), 10th in scoring defense (19.0 points) and 16th in total offense (343.1 yards).
The Cardinal was one of only five teams last year to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game. The team was also among the best nationally in producing stops for negative yardage, ranking fifth with 44 sacks and seventh with 109 tackles for loss. The defense was also superb on third downs, holding opponents to a 32 percent conversion rate.
Off the field, the Cardinal ranks among the nation's best with a football graduation rate of 95 percent. Like Vanderbilt, Stanford ranks among the nation's elite academic universities.
In 2012, Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation's top assistant coach, after directing a defense that ranks among the best in the nation and finest in Stanford history. The 2012 unit broke Stanford's single season record for quarterback sacks and topped the Pac-12 in numerous categories, including scoring defense and total defense, helping the Cardinal to a 11-2 season capped off with a Rose Bowl crown.
Mason's leadership paved the way to a historic defensive output in 2012, breaking Stanford's single-season sacks record (57) and pacing the Pac-12 in scoring defense (17.2 points), total defense (336.2 yards) and rushing defense (97.0 yards). In 11 of 14 games in 2012, Stanford held its opponent to 20 or fewer points, including a 14-point effort in the overtime win at top-ranked Oregon, who led the FBS with a 54.8 scoring average.
The 2012 Stanford defense held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing, and in a string of three consecutive games, the Cardinal recorded three of its top-10, single-game rushing defense performances in school history.
In 2011, Mason's first year as co-defensive coordinator, he teamed with Jason Tarver to mold Stanford into one of the Pac-12's top defensive units. That season, the unit ranked either first or second in the Pac-12 in six defensive categories, including rushing defense, third-down conversion defense, scoring defense, total defense, sacks and opponent first downs. Stanford finished third nationally in rushing defense. Mason joined the Cardinal staff in 2010, serving as secondary coach under then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh. Mason's 2010 secondary, which featured three players now in the NFL, was one of the team's most improved units, posting 18 interceptions.
At Stanford, Mason helped develop an array of Cardinal defensive standouts, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman of the world champion Seattle Seahawks, All-America defensive end Trent Murphy, All-America linebacker Shayne Skov, and All-Pacific 12 safety Ed Reynolds.
Prior to his arrival in Palo Alto, Mason served as an assistant defensive backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2007 to 2009, playing a vital role in the team ranking sixth in total defense in 2008 and 2009 as the Vikings won NFC North titles each season. Mason was introduced to the NFL coaching circles through the Minority Fellowship program in 1996 with the St. Louis Rams and also spent time with the coaching staffs of the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. He joined the Vikings staff in 2007, where he worked with defensive backs coach Joe Woods.
Before joining the Vikings, Mason tutored wide receivers at Ohio University under head coach Frank Solich, helping the Bobcats improve from 4-7 in 2005 to a 9-5 campaign the following year that ended with an appearance in the GMAC Bowl. Mason spent the 2004 season as the wide receivers coach at New Mexico State, where he helped the Aggies lead the conference in passing.
During the 2002 campaign, Mason mentored the receivers and assisted with the special teams at Utah. The Utes also featured the NFL Draft's No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Alex Smith and eventual 7th round pick receiver Paris Warren.
Mason's move to Utah came after a three-year stint at Bucknell (1999-2001) in which he gained his first experience as a defensive assistant coach. At Bucknell, Mason served as defensive backs mentor for three straight winning Bison squads.
Mason's first three collegiate positions came as an offensive assistant at Mesa Community College (in 1994), Weber State (1995-96) and Idaho State (1997-98).
As a player, Mason was a two-year starter and four-year letterwinner at Northern Arizona. He was recruited to the university by Head Coach Larry Kentera, the grandfather of current Vanderbilt receiver Kris Kentera.
During his NAU career, Mason was influenced by several outstanding coaches, including Kentera, former Minnesota head coach Brad Childress, Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhingweg, Kansas City head coach Andy Reid, former Louisville head coach Steve Kragthorpe, and former UCLA head coach and Vanderbilt coordinator Karl Dorrell.
Mason earned a Bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Northern Arizona in 1993.
A native of Phoenix, Mason attended Camelback High School.
Derek and his wife, Leighanne, have two daughters, Makenzie, 14, and Sydney, 13.