Were Stanford to post the defensive coordinator vacancy Derek Mason's departure for Vanderbilt leaves, it might read something like this:
Seeking one defensive coordinator. Desired qualifications include ability to maintain the high standard set in two seasons leading the Football Bowl Subdivision in sacks and finishing in the top 10 of scoring defense and top 5 of rush defenses. Must be able to lay the foundation for conference championships.
Talk about lofty standards. Mason was a coveted head-coaching candidate because Stanford's defense was at the pinnacle of college football under his guidance. Head coach David Shaw doesn't need a defensive coordinator who is just good at his job—the expectations Mason set demand greatness.
Mason was an integral part of Stanford's success the last two seasons, which included consecutive Pac-12 championships. Of Mason's accomplishments in his three years as Stanford's defensive coordinator, none were as prominent as the two clinics his defense put on against rival Oregon in 2012 and 2013.
Mason is a leading authority on countering zone-read offensive schemes, which are becoming increasingly prevalent around football. Such offenses are staples of the Pac-12, and no team has the principles of the zone-read spread down quite like Oregon.
The Oregon offensive juggernaut that ran roughshod over most of its competition was rendered ineffective by Mason's defense—not once, but twice.
Both wins were vital to the Cardinal's Pac-12 championship runs.
Shaw explained in his postgame following the Cardinal's 26-20 win over the Ducks on Nov. 7—a win that was frankly more defensively dominant than the final score indicates—why Mason's strategy was so effective, via GoStanford.com.
As much as it is scheme, it's recognizing what kind of guys that we have and putting them in position to be successful. All of us coaches say that. But Derek does a great job putting it into the practice. ... The team doesn't matter if you're just scheming and we put guys like [defensive end] Henry [Anderson] and [linebacker] Shayne [Skov] in bad position. You have to know your people, you have to know who you're playing against, and put the scheme and personnel together.
Familiarity with his players' abilities and adjusting his coverages and formations accordingly played a part in Mason enacting his game plan. Having some of the Pac-12's premier defensive talent certainly factored in as well.
Mason isn't the only vital cog in the Stanford defensive machine that needs replacing, which can either help or hurt the new coordinator's job.
The drawbacks to losing so much talent are obvious. Linebackers Skov and Trent Murphy, safety Ed Reynolds and defensive end Ben Gardner are just a few of the defensive stars Stanford must replace in the offseason.
Their contributions are readily evident on the stat sheet and translated to individual awards. All took on leadership roles as well, becoming an extension of Mason on the field.
However, this is an opportunity for Mason's replacement to mold his own talented bunch of players into the vision he has for the Cardinal defense. If Lance Anderson is Shaw's hire, all the better, because the familiarity with the players that helped Mason is a quality that's been part of Anderson's job description for the last seven years at Stanford.
ESPN.com's Joe Schad tweeted Friday that Anderson is the likely candidate to replace Mason.
Stanford is expected to elevate outside linebackers coach Lance Anderson to defensive coordinator per source.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) January 18, 2014
He's worked as the program's recruiting coordinator and admissions liaison, playing a key role in the Cardinal signing the new wave of championship-contending talent. Prospects from the celebrated 2012 recruiting class will be of particular importance to filling the abundant holes departing Cardinal leave.
Defensive back Alex Carter already began the process of becoming the next great Cardinal defender, defending a team-high eight passes in 2013. Defensive lineman Aziz Shittu and linebackers Noor Davis and Blake Martinez will seek to take the next step under the new coordinator's guidance, contributing alongside returning starters Anderson and A.J. Tarpley.
Indeed, Stanford's defensive cupboard is anything but bear, and that will make the transition of replacing Mason somewhat easier.