The bright prospects for black head coaches in college football this offseason may be continuing. Vanderbilt may have lost a bit of momentum when James Franklin left for Penn State earlier this month, but they quickly rebounded by making a brilliant hire. It hasn’t been made official yet, but all signs point to Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason being tabbed as the Commodores next head coach and the fifth of color in SEC history. Prior to Franklin’s hiring, the Commodores athletic department had never employed a coach of color. Mason would be the second consecutive African-American to hold down the football program.
It's a name that emerged out of left field for Vandy as Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Indianapolis Colts offensive shot caller Pep Hamilton (a former Stanford coordinator as well) and Brian Schottenheimer were considered the frontrunners. The quality of the possible successors is a compliment to Franklin. Four years ago, that impressive caliber of coaching candidates would have never even returned a call to Vanderbilt.
The 44-year-old defensive coordinator became a hot commodity over the past two seasons as his Stanford defense discovered the formula for shutting down the zone-option spread offense that has percolated all over the nation. He'll feel right at home in the SEC where defense is king.
Hailed as Chip Kelly kryptonite, NFL coaches have been visiting Mason in Palo Alto for a tutorial on his pro-style, two-gapping 3-4 defense ever since he knocked Kelly's Oregon Ducks out of national championship contention by freezing the wings on their high-flying offense. Two Novembers ago, his defense held Oregon below 14 points. Just to prove it wasn't a fluke, his bully ball Stanford defense did it again last November.
At Vanderbilt, he inherits a plethora of rare talent that Franklin recruited to Nashville which is now coming to fruition. Like Franklin, this is another stepping stone gig, but this one may lead him to the pro ranks where he's considered a luminary on the defensive end.
Mason has never coached in the South before, but this isn't your average SEC coaching job. This is FBS Harvard with a more southern latitude. Stanford of the South may be their goal. Mason is an inspired choice for one other reason. At Stanford, he recruited and coached student-athletes with similarly strict academic standards as he'll face at Vanderbilt.
Franklin received the bulk of the credit for the Commodores rising from the SEC’s cellar, but the man who hired him deserves some as well. Back in November, I observed the high volume of influential African-Americans in or associated with Stanford’s football program and athletic department over the last two decades.
It’s not a coincidence that Nashville has suddenly become a destination that black coaches have scurried too. Vanderbilt’s athletic director David Williams, the SEC’s first black de facto athletic director (Former UGA AD Damon Evans is considered the first only because of his official title) has overseen the athletic department since 2003.
Vanderbilt has always been a school that recruited intelligent student-athletes, but it appears they may finally be committed to applying that brainpower to improving the gridiron product in America's toughest conference as well.