By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE – When Terrence Brown arrived at Vanderbilt this spring as the Commodores’ new cornerbacks coach, he expected to have to adjust to a different Derek Mason.
Brown had been well-versed in Mason as a coach. He played cornerback for Stanford from 2009-13 when Mason served as the Cardinal’s defensive backs coach and defensive coordinator, clocking time in three BCS bowls during his Pac-12 career. But Mason the boss – Brown assumed – would be a different animal at Vanderbilt.
Instead, Brown found that Mason hadn’t changed much in Nashville.
“I’d say he’s the same guy,” Brown said. “As far as mentality and daily approach, nothing has changed. He still has that realness and enthusiasm that he had at Stanford. It’s all translated to his job as a head coach.”
That unique relationship helped lure Brown to West End as part of Mason’s revamped coaching staff, which added four assistants last month, including defensive coordinator Jason Tarver. Now, Brown is tasked with coaching Vanderbilt’s cornerbacks and helping a defense bounce back from a disappointing 2017.
But Brown’s skills as a player are exactly why Mason hired him at Vanderbilt.
“Terrence was one of the smartest players I’ve ever coached,” Mason said. “Richard Sherman was high on that list, and Terrence Brown was right next to him. When you talk about his football IQ, he understood the game. You look at his size, he wasn’t the biggest guy, but the way he played was unbelievable. He had great footwork, great technique, he could guard anybody.
“Now he brings that mentality to our guys. He’s tough by nature, coming [from] Los Angeles. He understands football and he’s passed that on.”
INFO: Vanderbilt Spring Showcase set for Saturday 3-5 p.m. at Vanderbilt Stadium
The Commodores hope Brown’s mentality lights a fire under a new-look group of corners in 2018. Talented junior Joejuan Williams returns after amassing 39 total tackles – including 33 solo – 10 pass breakups and 2.5 tackles for loss as a 12-game starter in 2017. But beyond Williams, no other returning cornerback started multiple games last fall.
Brown said competition at cornerback has been fierce this spring. Alongside Williams, Brown singled out senior Donovan Sheffield, redshirt sophomore Elijah Hamilton and redshirt freshman Randall Haynie among those who have shown flashes. Meanwhile, Brown’s arrival at cornerback has allowed assistant Marc Mattioli – who oversaw the entire secondary in 2017 – to shift to coaching safeties. Mason says that the result is a more focused approach to coaching at those positions.
Top to bottom, spring practice has felt like a clean slate for Vanderbilt’s defense.
“This spring has been solely about improvement,” Brown said. “Coach Tarver likes to say. ‘All gas, no brakes.’ We’ve been trying to push these guys beyond their limits… It’s all about finding a new identify. That’s our emphasis this spring. Flying to the ball, that forms our identity. Players become invested in that, and you can sense that at practice.”
Only a few years have passed since Brown found himself on a similar practice field in Palo Alto, taking coaching from Mason himself. Now, Brown is alongside his former coach, hoping to get the most out of the Commodores’ defense in 2018.
But the lessons from Brown’s playing days remain with him at every practice.
“From his coaching philosophy to expecting the best out of me and my teammates, Coach Mason definitely challenged me,” Brown said. “Now it’s showing up in the latter part of my career.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.