HOOVER, Alabama – Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is aware he’s the only new head football coach in the Southeastern Conference this season.
“Great thing is, I’m undefeated,” he said of his first head coaching position.
He’s also without a starting quarterback. Mason spoke to the media Monday at SEC Media Days about his plans to name this season’s QB, and his plans for the Commodores moving forward. The three players Mason brought in tow supported their new coach, but they haven’t forgotten about their old one either.
The Vanderbilt Man
Mason, who spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator at Stanford, is confident he won’t be a salesman when it comes to recruiting players to his program. He’ll be a presenter of what he deems a “national brand” in Vanderbilt.
“I think a lot of coaches sell,” Mason said. “I don’t have to sell.”
Mason said that Vanderbilt and Stanford — two academically prestigious schools that compete in top athletic conferences in the SEC and Pac-12, respectively — are similar. But Vanderbilt, Mason said, is distinct in that it plays in the SEC, a conference Mason called “football country.”
“Vanderbilt has its own brand,” he said. “The brand of academic and athletics, play into recruiting a type of young man, the Vanderbilt Man. I know a lot of people laugh because it sounds cliche, but we won a lot of games (at Stanford) with guys that were two or three-star players.”
Still no QB
Mason is in no rush to name his starting quarterback. He said he has no timeline, and the only deadline he set was the Commodores’ first game.
Junior tight end Steven Scheu said he’s anxious to know, especially since Stanford’s offense, which Mason plans to incorporate at Vanderbilt, relies heavily on pass-catching tight ends.
“I would like to know yesterday,” Scheu said.
If it were left up to sophomore defensive lineman Adam Butler, the decision would likely be made already. He told the media a story about Louisiana State transfer quarterback Stephen Rivers. He said the 6-foot-7-inch Rivers, who has two years of eligibility remaining, was able to stand in the bleachers of Vanderbilt Stadium and throw a ball to the same spot on the goal post three consecutive times.
“I couldn’t say anything,” Butler said of the moment. “I just threw my hands up and walked out of there.”
Rivers will be competing with multiple other quarterbacks to be the Commodores starter, namely sophomore Patton Robinette, who saw action in ten games as a redshirt freshman last season.
Under Mason, the Commodores will be switching to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3. Mason said it would take time to get his players fully acclimated to the system, and that a large part of the summer was dedicated to doing so. He compared it to building a foundation for what he hopes is eventually an SEC championship winning squad.
"The deeper you dig, the higher you go," he said.
Mason said his incoming recruits will play a large part in the program’s development – calling them the “biggest addition” to the team – and that he only plans to redshirt approximately six of the 22 freshmen.
“Only way you get better playing football is to play the game,” Mason said.
A bitter goodbye?
Mason is inheriting a different Commodore program than most new head football coaches at Vanderbilt have: his team was a winner before he got there.
That’s in large part because of the man Mason is replacing, James Franklin, who left Vanderbilt after three seasons at the helm, including two straight nine-win years and three bowl games.
“I respect coach Franklin and everything he did for this program,” junior safety Andrew Williamson said. “He talked to us before he left. Pennsylvania’s home for him at Penn State. Can’t be mad.”
That sentiment wasn’t universal among the Commodores. Butler said he felt lied to by his old coach.
“He repeatedly told us it was no matter what, he wasn’t going anywhere,” Butler said. “Just be straight up and straightforward with your own players.
"He repeatedly told us he wasn’t leaving, and then all of the sudden he up and left. I was a little disappointed about that.”
Asked about the conference’s newest schools, Missouri and Texas A&M, Butler said the conference has developed respect for them, though he told the media there wasn’t much respect for Mizzou heading into Vanderbilt’s week six game against the Tigers last season.
Butler said Vanderbilt players called the Tigers “cake” and thought they’d beat Missouri easily.
“I think they respect them more, of course,” Butler said. “Missouri kind of snuck up on many teams last year. Teams didn’t expect that out of them. I think they established their own respect.”