Vanderbilt’s new football coach reminds you of its last football coach in one respect. He’s sure of himself.
That should come through loud and clear when coach Derek Mason takes center stage at the SEC Football Media Days in Birmingham, Ala.
For three years, former coach James Franklin repeatedly delivered the same, confident message. If you hadn’t known the program’s track record, you wouldn’t have guessed Franklin had taken over the least successful football operation in the SEC.
His confidence wasn’t misplaced. His teams proved that by qualifying for three consecutive bowl games and posting backto-back nine-win seasons before Franklin moved on to Penn State after last season.
Mason spoke with the same assurance at last month’s SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.
On recruiting: “We’re a national brand,” the former Stanford defensive coordinator said. “You want to be able to get the best player available.” On scheduling: “You can’t be afraid of teams,” he said. “In order to be considered a good team, you have to play good teams. We won’t shy away from that in our non-conference schedule.” Such talk from a Vanderbilt football coach once would have been received as just talk and dismissed with a chuckle and a knowing smirk. However, after Franklin, opposing SEC coaches have to view Vanderbilt more warily.
They still might regard their Saturday with the Commodores as the lightest work day of an SEC season. But it’s not nearly as light as it once was.
The last thing they need is for Mason to make it even harder. Better for them if he turns Vanderbilt into the Vanderbilt of old than another Stanford.
Another Stanford: Imagine what that would do to the established hierarchy of the SEC. The Cardinal are winning Pac-12 championships, playing in BCS bowls and recruiting players from all over the country.
Also, imagine what that would do to Tennessee, trying to regain its footing after four consecutive losing seasons. Back-toback losses to Vanderbilt has been hard enough on its ego.
No matter how selfassured Mason might be, the Stanford-of-the-Southeast scenario is difficult to comprehend. But if Mason can just maintain what Franklin started, the Commodores will pose a significant problem for programs long accustomed to penciling them into the win column in preseason.
Despite his recent West Coast background, Mason knows the landscape. He recruited the Southeast for Stanford and obviously believes he can recruit it for Vanderbilt. Otherwise, he could have stayed where he was and waited for a better opportunity.
“I came into the South and recruited some of the best players it had to offer – against the Alabamas and everybody else,” he said. “We (at Vanderbilt) happen to be in the SEC in a hotbed of talent, so that’s a priority. You want to be able to recruit to your demographics. But by the same token, you want to be able to get the best player available.” In return, he can offer a Vanderbilt education, a growing metropolitan area in Nashville and a university that now takes its sports more seriously.
Franklin also succeeded inselling himself, as evidenced by the recruits who followed him to Penn State. Mason will have to do the same.
The former NFL assistant coach will be selling “an NFL mentality with a true understanding of the college structure.” It will be an easier sell if his first Vanderbilt team can pick up where Franklin’s last one left off.
Courtesy of:JOHN ADAMS
Published By:Knoxville News Sentinel