Derek Mason introduces seven members on first coaching staff

Jan. 24, 2014

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Newly named Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason will guide one of the most impressive staffs in Commodore history.

Mason, appointed one week ago as the 28th head coach in Vanderbilt history, introduced seven members of his Commodore staff today, a group that includes a successful former head coach in the Pac-12 and four others with coordinator experience at the collegiate level.

Mason named former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell and veteran Stanford assistant David Kotulski as offensive and defensive coordinator, respectively. The new Vanderbilt offensive staff will include Charles Bankins (running backs/special teams), Gerry Gdowski (wide receivers) and Keven Lightner (offensive line). The defensive staff also features Kenwick Thompson (outside linebackers) and Vavae Tata (defensive line).

"I am very excited to announce our first seven Vanderbilt coaches. We are assembling an outstanding group of coaches to guide the Commodore program," Mason said. "These coaches bring decades of experience and proven success to Vanderbilt.

"Each of these coaches are quality individuals, the type of men you want to be associated with. I can assure that the young men we attract as Vanderbilt student-athletes will receive tremendous coaching on the field and be guided by great mentors off the field," Mason added.

Dorrell, who will also mentor Commodore quarterbacks, and Kotulski, with added responsibilities of inside linebacker coach, bring plenty of experience and success to the Commodore coordinator roles.

As a head coach at UCLA from 2003-07, Dorrell guided the Bruins to five straight postseason bowl appearances. In 2005, Dorrell earned Pac-10 Co-Coach of the Year honors after leading UCLA to a 10-2 record. Prior to returning to his alma mater as head coach, Dorrell served as offensive coordinator at the University of Washington in 1999 and University of Colorado in 1995-98. For the last six years, Dorrell has been an offensive coach in the NFL, serving as quarterbacks coach for the Houston Texans in 2012-13, and quarterbacks coach/wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins (2008-11).

Kotulski worked with Mason the last two years at Stanford, developing the Cardinal into one of the nation's best defenses. The Stanford unit ranked high in the NCAA both years, finishing among the Top 20 in scoring defense, total defense and rush defense. Prior to joining Mason at Stanford, Kotulski served more than 20 years as the defensive coordinator at several successful NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) programs, including Lehigh (2006-11), Holy Cross (2005), Bucknell (1995-2002) and Saint Mary's (1990-94). He also served a two-year stint as defensive coordinator at Utah State (2003-04).

Dorrell's offensive staff will include two coaches off Solich's staff at Ohio, Gerry Gdowski and Keven Lightner, and veteran Commodore assistant Charles Bankins.

Like their former head coach at Ohio, Gdowski and Lightner have ties to the University of Nebraska. Both played for Solich at Nebraska, then earned valuable coaching experience at New Mexico State before rejoining their former Cornhusker mentor at Ohio.

For the last four years at Ohio, Gdowski has served as assistant head coach, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, mentoring some of the most productive quarterbacks in Bobcat history. Last year, Ohio QB Tyler Tettleton set career team records for passing yards and passing touchdowns, leading the Bobcat offense that averaged 27.4 points and 380 yards of total offense.

Lightner has worked with the Ohio offensive line for the last eight years, mentoring 13 All-Mid American Conference recipients including guard Eric Herman, drafted in 2013 by the New York Giants. In 2012, Lightner's line paved the way for Bobcat running back Beau Blankenship to set a school record with 1,604 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns.

Bankins was an important member of Vanderbilt's former staff that guided the Commodores to unprecedented success, including appearances in three consecutive bowl games and back-to-back nine-win seasons in 2012-13. After serving Vanderbilt the last three years as tight ends coach/special teams coordinator, Bankins will mentor running backs under Mason, a position he coached previously at Hampton University (2000-04, 2006) and the University of Richmond (2007-08). Tim Hightower was one of his top backs at Richmond, rushing for 1,924 yards in 2007 and playing four years in the NFL.

Kotulski's defensive staff features Kenwick Thompson, a former Pac-12 coach coming to Vanderbilt from a defensive coordinator role in the Mountain West Conference, and Vavae Tata, one of the bright young staffers on Stanford's 2013 Rose Bowl squad.

For the past 13 years, Thompson has served on staffs of two San Francisco Bay Area schools located near Stanford, the University of California and San Jose State. In 2013, Thompson returned to San Jose State as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, helping the Spartans to a 6-6 regular season. His top player, senior Keith Smith, earned First Team All-MWC honors and led the nation with 159 tackles. From 2007-12, Thompson also coached on the defensive staff at California under Jeff Tedford.

A native of Hawaii, Tata is regarded as one of the West Coast's top young defensive assistants. For the last two years, he assisted Mason, Kotulski and other Cardinal defensive coaches, focusing mostly on the Stanford defensive front. Both years, the Cardinal interior front ranked among the NCAA leaders in quarterback sacks and tackles behind the line of scrimmage. In college, Tata was a superb defensive end at UCLA, becoming a four-year letterwinner and playing his last game as a Bruin in the 1999 Rose Bowl vs. Wisconsin.

Two vacancies remain to be filled on Mason's initial Vanderbilt coaching staff.

In critical off-the-field hires, Mason announced former New York Jets conditioning director Bill Hughan as Director of Football Sports Performance, Ohio University veteran Jason Grooms as Director of Football Operations and Jon Haskins as Director of Player Personnel.

Mason and Hughan worked together last year under David Shaw at Stanford, with Hughan serving as a conditioning coach for the Cardinal football team. Prior to joining the Stanford staff, Hughan worked nearly a decade on conditioning staffs in the National Football League, including directing the New York Jets' conditioning effort from 2011-13. Hughan also has previous experience with a current Southeastern Conference team, having worked for three years on the University of Missouri strength staff.

The ties between Mason and Grooms date back to 2005 when both joined Frank Solich's staff at Ohio University: Mason as a receivers coach and Grooms as director of football operations. A graduate of Ohio, Grooms continued to serve under Solich until accepting the Vanderbilt position. In 2011, he was promoted by Ohio to Assistant Athletic Director for Football Operations. He is also recognized among the best in the operations field, and was's 2013 Football Operations Director of the Year.

Haskins has coaching and player personnel experience at several BCS-level schools. He has served as director of player personnel and development at the University of Florida, University of Nevada and Stanford University in the last six years. The Stanford graduate also coached as a graduate assistant at Duke University.

In other staffing news, Mason announced that Tyler Barnes would be retained from the former Vanderbilt staff in an assistant director of personnel role, former Florida International coach Cedric Calhoun would join Hughan's staff as a sports performance coach and A.J. Haase as an offensive graduate assistant.



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