NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Vanderbilt has named Derek Mason as its head football coach, the school announced Friday afternoon. Mason, who served as Stanford’s Willie Shaw Director of Defense and associate head coach during four seasons on The Farm, will be introduced Saturday as the Commodores’ 28th head coach.
“I am very excited for Derek; this is a great opportunity for he and his wife, Leighanne,” Bradford M. Freeman Director of Football David Shaw said. “Derek is a great teacher and motivator, but more importantly he is a man of high character. We wish him success.”
Mason becomes head coach of a Commodore program coming off consecutive nine-win seasons and postseason top-25 rankings for the first time in team history. The 2013 Vanderbilt squad finished 9-4, capped by a 41-24 victory over Houston in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
“I am so excited to be at Vanderbilt,” Mason said. “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 has helped take the Cardinal to Rose Bowl appearances in 2013 and 2014, and consecutive Pac-12 titles with one of the nation’s top defensive units. Under Mason, the Cardinal ranked among the NCAA national top 15 in defensive efficiency for three consecutive years.
While facing seven ranked opponents and one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2013, Mason’s defense ranked third in the NCAA in rushing defense (89.4 yards/game), 10th in scoring defense (19.0 points/game) and 16th in total offense (343.1 yards/game).
The Cardinal was one of only five teams last year to allow less than 100 rushing yards/game. The team was also among the best nationally in producing stops for negative yardage, ranking fifth with 44 sacks and seventh with 109 tackles for loss. The defense was also superb on third downs, holding opponents to a 32 percent conversion rate.
Off the field, the Cardinal ranks among the nation’s best with a football graduation rate of 95 percent.
In 2012, Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, after directing a defense that ranks among the best in the nation and finest in Stanford history. The 2012 unit broke Stanford’s single season record for quarterback sacks and topped the Pac-12 in numerous categories, including scoring defense and total defense, helping the Cardinal to an 11-2 season capped off with a Rose Bowl crown.
Mason’s leadership paved the way to a historic defensive output in 2012, breaking Stanford’s single-season sacks record (57) and pacing the Pac-12 in scoring defense (17.2 points), total defense (336.2 yards) and rushing defense (97.0 yards). In 11 of 14 games in 2012, Stanford held its opponent to 20 or fewer points, including a 14-point effort in the overtime win at top-ranked Oregon, who led the FBS with a 54.8 scoring average.
The 2012 Stanford defense held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing in 2012, and in a string of three consecutive games, the Cardinal recorded three of its top-10 single-game rushing defense performances in school history.
In 2011, Mason’s first year as co-defensive coordinator, he teamed with Jason Tarver to mold Stanford into one of the Pac-12’s top defensive units. That season, the unit ranked either first or second in the Pac-12 in six defensive categories, including rushing defense (84.4), third-down conversion defense (1st - 31.1), scoring defense (2nd - 21.9), total defense (2nd - 337.6), sacks/game (2nd - 3.00) and opponent first downs (2nd - 17.5). Stanford finished third nationally in rushing defense. Mason joined the Cardinal coaching staff in 2010, serving as secondary coach under then-Stanford coach and current San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Mason’s 2010 secondary, which featured three players who went on to play in the NFL, was one of the most improved units, posting 18 interceptions.
Prior to his arrival in Palo Alto, Mason served as an assistant defensive backs coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2007 to 2009, playing a vital role in the team ranking sixth in total defense in 2008 and 2009 as the Vikings won NFC North titles each season. Mason was introduced to the NFL coaching circles through the Minority Fellowship program in 1996 with the St. Louis Rams and also spent time with the coaching staffs of the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders. He joined the Vikings staff in 2007, where he worked with defensive backs coach Joe Woods.
Before joining the Vikings, Mason tutored wide receivers at Ohio University under head coach Frank Solich, helping the Bobcats improve from 4-7 in 2005 to a 9-5 campaign the following year that ended with an appearance in the GMAC Bowl. Mason spent the 2004 season as the wide receivers coach at New Mexico State, where he helped the Aggies lead the conference in passing.
During the 2002 campaign, Mason mentored the receivers and assisted with the special teams at Utah. The Utes also featured the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Paris Warren, who was selected in the seventh round.
Mason’s early stops in his coaching career included assignments at San Diego Mesa College (1994), Weber State (1995-96), Idaho State (1997-98) and Bucknell (1999-2001).
As a player, Mason was a two-year starter and four-year letter winner at Northern Arizona.
A native of Phoenix, Ariz., Mason attended Camelback High School. Derek and his wife, Leighanne, have two daughters, Makenzie and Sydney.