First year Head Coach Derek Mason stepped up to the podium at SEC Media Days and addressed the crowd with a clever message, "I'm the only new head coach on the block, and I'm undefeated." That was the only rimshot joke Coach Mason would deliver over the next 15 minutes, as he was all business from there. Despite having a self pro-claimed team of of "probably no-name young men", the new coach feels like his team has a chance to do something special. The message was clear, "Our time to compete for an SEC East title is now." Coach Mason talked about instilling the West Coast offense, switching the defensive philosophy from a 4-3 to a 3-4, and keeping their special teams unit as a Top 25 group. Brushing aside concerns about instilling so much change with such an inexperienced roster (only 5 returning starters on defense), the confident coach relayed the benefit he has at Vanderbilt:
We’re changing over the scheme and that brings about the need for immediate buy-in. We’re about 70% there. This summer will be used to get us the rest of the way. The similarities between the two schools (Vandy and Stanford) are evident. Vandy has it’s own brand. It sits in the SEC, which is the best conference in college football. We’re recruiting a certain type of young man. We won a lot of games with 2 and 3 star players (at Stanford). I’m truly excited about knowing who we are. We have to stay true to that brand and recruit that type of young man.
Coach Mason discussed how the Spring practice period was used as a trial and error period to see what the team is and is not capable of. He strongly believes that the biggest contribution to the Commodores in 2014 will be from the incoming Freshman class. Mason believes the only way to get better is to play the game, and that getting guys on the field early also helps keep players away from off the field distractions. The biggest decision facing Coach Mason between today and their season opener is going to be naming a starting quarterback out of their 6-man battle for the position. A better late than never timetable of "at the first game" was given, so Vandy fans are going to have to ride this one out for a bit longer.
As with any change at the top in a college program, there are going to be questions about the new coach compared to the outgoing coach. Defensive Lineman Adam Butler made it pretty clear that he wasn't happy about the way Coach Franklin left the team for Penn State. Butler told the media, "Coach Franklin repeatedly told us he wasn't going anywhere. He got to the point one time telling us he wasn't going anywhere that he broke down in tears like he always does. Then after the bowl game, he said he was leaving, then he cried again." Butler said a lot of teammates did not appreciate the way their old coach wasn't straight forward with them. There was a sense that he was always acting since he liked the camera so much. Despite the dislike for how he left the team for another program, Butler and Safety Andrew Williamson were clear that they have tremendous respect for what Coach Franklin did for the Vanderbilt football program. Another similar message from the players was that they could not have found a better guy for the job than Derek Mason.
Going forward, the defensive players on the roster are excited to keep working with Coach Mason and his staff. There's also a sense of redemption for the players as they look at the Ole Miss game on the schedule this season. After losing late in the game, Butler said he was up all night thinking about the game while eating ice cream. Those late ice cream-filled nights are likely a thing of the past for Butler. Coach Mason came in and informed him that he'd be moving outside in the 3-4 scheme, and they immediately got to work on getting the body fat percentages down. Butler said the process has been going well, and he's excited to keep getting better. When asked about contenders in the SEC to win the title, Butler delivered a message just as clear as the one from his head coach, "We fear no teams in the SEC."