Jan. 20, 2014
Meet Coach Mason | Mason Named Head Coach | Press Conference | What They're Saying
VUCast Extra: Behind-the-Scenes | Fisher Interview | Mason Sets Path | Photos
Derek Mason chose to be selective.
An assistant coach for 20-plus years, Mason eyed the chance to run a program.
Spending the last four years, three as defensive coordinator, at Stanford and helping the Cardinal build a stingy defense and advance to four BCS bowls, his name naturally became linked to coaching vacancies around the country.
But he wasn't going to take any head coaching job. His list was short. The opportunity had to be great, a good fit for his family and more than just about football.
"He wasn't just looking for a head coaching job," Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams said. "He had turned some down. He was looking for the special place... He was confident but humble. He was ready to go from within 30 seconds in the room."
Last week, when Mason interviewed to be Vanderbilt's football coach, he was so sure he wanted the position he packed a black suit and a black and gold tie to don the Commodore colors.
He hoped he would get to wear the ensemble again. Two days later, he stood in front of a packed room and beamed with joy as he spoke to landing a dream job.
"There was only one place," Mason said on Saturday at his introductory press conference. "When this job at Vanderbilt came available I wanted that job. ... This job means everything to me. This is where I want to be. This is where I plan on spending the rest of my career."
A 44-year-old with vast coaching experience on both the college and NFL level, Mason believes Vanderbilt possesses all the tools to build upon a worldwide reputation.
"This place exudes greatness," he said. "That is important for me to see and important for my wife to see for our children. When you have children and you look at what is important in your life, it is about raising them in an environment that embodies academic excellence, where they can be around student-athletes who give to the community and look to change their community. Where they can find friendships, lasting friendships that mean something."
To Mason, academic and athletic excellence can not only coexist but thrive.
He would know. At Stanford, he watched a dormant football program rise up under the leadership of Jim Harbaugh, now the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and David Shaw. Over the past four years, Stanford compiled a 46-8 record and played in two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl and the Orange Bowl.
Mason learned valuable lessons from both. Harbaugh brought a blue-collar mentality, even handing out gas station work shirts for his coaching staff to wear. Shaw built off the grit and developed a powerful mindset - intellectual brutality.
"When you put those two words together it is a strong statement," Mason said. "When you can be intelligent and beat the brakes off people when they look to step in front of you it means something. Our guys (at Vanderbilt) are intelligent. They play football as fast and as furious, as licensed by the 9-4 record, as anybody in the country."
Off the field, Stanford ranked among the best in the country with a football graduation rate of 95 percent. In 2013, Stanford was ranked No. 5 among national universities, according to U.S. News & World Report.
Mason assured administrators and fans on Saturday his Vanderbilt squads would make success in the classroom a top priority. He also said his student-athletes will represent the university in the best way.
"We graduate and educate young men who are going to change the world," he said. "We are committed to the cause of making sure we develop men of character and integrity. That is all of the time, not some of the time. I've got one rule - do what's right. You don't need a bunch of rules to make sure your guys understand the process. Do what's right. That says everything and that's all we have to be about."
Of course, he knows he will be measured by the results on the football field.
The Commodores are coming off unprecedented success after playing in three bowls, winning the last two and compiling back-to-back nine-win seasons. Sizing up his personnel, Mason believes those high marks can be sustained - and bettered. He confidently declared "SEC East title, here we come. Make no bones about it, if you can't talk about it you can't be about it."
"We will win - make no doubts about that," he said. "I understand what college football is about. It is about winning. You hired a winner for sure."
He's already winning over his team.
Mason met with his team for the first time on Friday, just hours after Vanderbilt announced him as the program's 28th head football coach. From that short meeting, players walked away enthused about their new coach and his mission.
"He is a genuine, unbelievable guy," rising senior defensive end Kyle Woestmann said. "He is going to give us a lot of opportunity to win and a lot of opportunity to grow as a team, as people and as family. It's going to be a great opportunity for all of us. I couldn't be more excited that I get to play for him and he gets to be the head coach for Vanderbilt University.
"He is the perfect guy to represent this university."
Information, updates and more on Derek Mason are available on vanderbilt.edu/coach.