NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coming into the 2016 season, almost all indications pointed towards one conclusion for the Vanderbilt Commodores football program: coach Derek Mason needed improvement in his third year to keep his job.
That Mason’s team limped in to the halfway point with a record of 2-4 only increased the media/fan base’s outcry for a change. Losses to below-average SEC opponents South Carolina, Florida and Kentucky left them without a conference win. When combined with a 38-7 thrashing at the hands of Georgia Tech, the unchanging chorus of “good defensive coordinator, bad head coach” became an inevitability at midseason. The time had come to muster up some courage and prepare for a daunting trip to Athens. Mason’s career record in conference away games? 0-9.
“Sickening,” Georgia’s first-year coach Kirby Smart called it. “It’s embarrassing, and I’m sick to my stomach.”
For the first time in Derek Mason’s tenure, Vanderbilt captured an elusive SEC victory on the road, edging the Bulldogs 17-16 between the hedges. Based off of the winning team’s reaction, one would have thought they had just won the SEC East. From that point on, the Commodores went 4-2 in the second half of this season, including back-to-back home wins over Ole Miss and in-state rival Tennessee for a 6-6 finish.
Come Sunday, they will find out their bowl destination. A feat not accomplished since James Franklin’s last year in West End in 2013.
Sure, this year’s SEC, with the exception of the best Alabama team of the Nick Saban Era, strikes fear in the heart of no one. And, true, this year’s results do not make Vanderbilt a good team. Despite 45 points and 589 yards against the Vols, the Dores still ranked as the SEC’s worst statistical offense. But, three years of gradual progress in the win column should immediately dispel any notion that Derek Mason should not return in 2017.
Derek Mason should be extended as coach of the Commodores.
Vanderbilt and coach Derek Mason have started discussions about a revised contract that would include a raise… https://t.co/h3EPEXGx0F
— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 30, 2016
Because Vanderbilt is a private institution, neither the length of Mason’s contract nor his annual pay are available to the public (although, The Tennessean’s Adam Sparks reported the figure to be about $2.4 million in base salary). Athletics director David Williams told Sparks that Mason’s current deal has more than a year remaining and made it clear Wednesday that he “expect[s] he’ll be here much more than that contract.”
Whether any football coach outside of Supreme Overlord Saban ($7.1 million in 2015) is worth that sum of money can undoubtedly be questioned. What cannot be disputed is that the ranks of college football coaches is presently a cesspool of mediocrity sullied by anyone not named Saban, Harbaugh or Meyer.
There are no better reasonable options.
Fans of the sport are blinded by the allegiance that bonds them with their team of choice. And, especially in the SEC, this irrationality breeds a massive sense of entitlement that every program in the conference should be competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff annually. Just so you know, especially at Vanderbilt, it is not going to happen any time in the foreseeable future.
But, as Vanderbilt football grows, Derek Mason should be allowed to grow with it.
Think of it this way: is there one coach, outside of Saban, that you would swap Derek Mason for? Vandy supporters can be assured of one thing; their counterparts in Knoxville are posing the same question.