Will New Vanderbilt Head Coach Derek Mason Keep 'Dores Competitive in the SEC?

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJanuary 17, 2014

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After a week of searching, Vanderbilt finally has its man.

Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason has officially been announced as James Franklin's successor as the head coach of the Commodores, the school announced on Friday.

“I am so excited to be at Vanderbilt,” Mason said in a release. “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.” 

Mason spent the last four seasons on the Stanford staff—the last three of which were as co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach. The Cardinal finished either first or second in the Pac-12 in total defense in each of Mason's four years on staff and in the top 20 nationally in each of the last two seasons.

"It was evident that the football world is aware of the tremendous progress our program has made and that was reflected by the deep pool of talent that showed an interest in our position,” director of athletics David Williams said. “We talked to outside experts and did our own evaluations and the person that always seemed to be in the spotlight was the same person that was at the top of our list and that was Derek Mason."

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So is Mason the right man for the job, and can he keep the Commodores competitive in the SEC?

It's going to be an uphill battle.

Mason will have to deal with issues at Vanderbilt that are familiar to him. He is coming from an institution in Stanford that faces similar academic standards to his new school and also the expectation of keeping the program at its current level of success.

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason
Vanderbilt head coach Derek MasonUSA TODAY Sports

While it's going to be a familiar situation to Mason, it's foreign to Vanderbilt.

Franklin changed the culture of Vanderbilt football. No longer is it the doormat of the SEC. It's a competitive program that has gone to three straight bowl games and posted back-to-back nine-win seasons. This was while playing with a talent gap when compared to the rest of the SEC East.

Closing that gap as much as possible is job No. 1 for Mason.

The Commodores' recruiting class has plummeted from the top 25 all the way to 67th in the latest 247Sports.com team rankings. He doesn't exactly have to get back in the top 25, but salvaging that class with some key signees on national signing day is critical to the health of the program.

On the field, there are still some weapons. 

Patton Robinette looked like a legit dual-threat weapon in limited action in 2013, throwing for 642 yards and four touchdowns while rushing for 214 yards and seven scores. Toss in running backs Jerron Seymour and Brian Kimbrow, and Vandy has the potential to do some things on offense.

Defensively, the 'Dores lost defensive backs Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler and Javon Marshall, as well as defensive end Walker May and linebacker Karl Butler. That's a lot of holes for Mason to fill in his first season in Nashville.

A transition year is difficult for any program, and for a program like Vanderbilt, that doesn't have that steady pipeline of top-tier talent to fall back on, it only will become more pronounced.

Expect a step back from the Commodores in 2014 as Mason gets acquainted with his new program but it may not be a permanent one.


*All stats courtesy CFBStats.com.