The 2020 season is the seventh for head coach Derek Mason, who continues to keep the Commodores trending upward both on and off the field.
The always energetic, fiery and fearless leader is only the second head coach on West End to lead the Commodores to multiple bowl games, while more importantly, continuing to graduate his student-athletes at a conference- and national-leading rate. Since arriving on campus in 2014, the focus of the SEC’s fourth-longest tenured head coach on developing men of character and integrity not only has been highly successful, but exemplary of the program’s three pillars: Relentless, Tough, Intelligent.
In 2019, Mason’s Commodores upset a 22nd-ranked Missouri squad that was vying for the SEC East lead entering the game. The season’s offense was led by three seniors who finished their careers among Vanderbilt’s best at their positions: running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for 2,272 yards (third all-time) and 21 touchdowns (third all-time) in a two-year Commodore career; wide receiver Kaljia Lipscomb, who amassed 22 touchdown receptions (second all-time), 198 catches (fourth all-time) and 2,358 receiving yards (fifth all-time); and Jared Pinkney, who became the Commodores’ most productive tight end in nearly four decades with 94 total receptions, 1,327 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns.
Mason and the Commodores dedicated the 2019 season to the memory of teammate Turner Cockrell, a tight end who passed away in December 2018 after a lengthy battle against melanoma. Mason and the Vanderbilt program helped one of Cockrell’s classmates, Cody Markel, raise nearly $70,000 in a September event for the “Turner’s Heroes” initiative he formed to honor Cockrell.
The 2018 season was a banner campaign for Vanderbilt under Mason’s direction, with the Commodores capped a six-win regular season with their third straight victory over rival Tennessee and fifth in seven years. That victory propelled the Dores to bowl eligibility for the second time in three seasons as the program faced off against Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Vaughn rushed for 243 yards and two touchdowns on just 13 carries against Baylor while showing outstanding breakaway speed with three runs of 66 yards or longer.
The Commodores averaged 411.2 yards/total offense per game in 2018, the program’s second-highest average since World War II. They also averaged 28.5 points/game, fourth most since the 1940s, and quarterback Kyle Shurmur graduated as a 45-game starter and sole possessor of several program records, including career passing yards (8,865) and career touchdown passes (64). Vaughn produced one of the finest seasons ever by a Vanderbilt ball carrier, as the Nashville native rang up 1,243 rushing yards, second most in a single season at Vanderbilt and third in the SEC. Vaughn’s 7.9 yards/rush ranked first among all SEC players and eighth nationally, with his 12 rushing scores ranking third in the league.
Vanderbilt’s defense flew to the ball under first-year coordinator Jason Tarver in 2018. The Commodores produced 22 takeaways in 2018, the most for the program since 2013. The unit also hauled in 13 interceptions, tops during the Mason era.
Two Commodores were tabbed in the record-breaking 2019 NFL Draft held in Nashville. In front of his hometown crowd, cornerback Joejuan Williams was selected 45th overall by the New England Patriots, the highest-picked Commodore since Jordan Matthews went 42nd overall in 2014. Offensive lineman Justin Skule was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the sixth round. Williams and Skule were the fifth and sixth Commodores, respectively, selected in the NFL Draft since Mason’s arrival. Additionally, five more Vanderbilt student-athletes from the 2018 squad signed rookie free agent contracts with NFL teams, with rookie fullback Khari Blasingame eventually becoming the lead blocker for Tennessee Titans’ All-Pro running back Derrick Henry.
Skule advanced to Super Bowl LIV as a valuable member of the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive line. Three other Mason players at Vanderbilt were active members of the two Super Bowl teams: Matthews (49ers), Shurmur (Kansas City) and linebacker Josh Smith (Kansas City).
Off the field, 59 student-athletes earned a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher, including 18 on the dean’s list (3.5 or higher) and four with a perfect 4.0. Forty Commodores landed on the SEC Academic Honor roll, and Vanderbilt scored a 991 in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate scores, the highest of any SEC program and fourth-best among Power Five schools. Three players studied abroad in France, another example of the full student-athlete experience at Vanderbilt. Blasingame also became the male receipt of the Arthur Ashe Award.
Five of Mason’s Commodores have been accepted into the prestigious Vanderbilt Medical School, in addition to more than 240 SEC Academic Honor Roll recipients and over 110 dean’s list honorees.
Mason’s administration of the Vanderbilt program also includes innovation. He has been instrumental in creating a summer internship program for Commodore student-athletes that is one of the most unique in the nation. Started in 2014 within the football team, the program has been expanded to each of Vanderbilt’s varsity squads with Mason’s staff teaming with Nashville-area businesses to provide unparalleled work experience opportunities for student-athletes. In the last five years, more than a dozen Commodores have participated in study abroad programs in the summer, including linebacker Kenny Hebert, tight end Braden Kopp and linebacker Andre Mintze studying in 2019.
Mason continues to upgrade the Commodore coaching staff, most recently attracting noted offensive coordinator Todd Fitch from Louisiana Tech and defensive coordinator Ted Roof following his successful stops at Appalachian State, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Penn State. The addition of wide receivers coach Tony Ball also brought more than three decades of coaching experience to the Commodores’ offensive staff.
Prior to the 2019 season, Mason added acclaimed veteran SEC running backs coach Tim Horton and Devin Fitzsimmons in from the NFL’s Detroit Lions to direct the Commodore special teams and tight end corps.
In addition to Vaughn’s superb 2018 rushing campaign, fellow running back Ralph Webb concluded his career in 2017 as the leading rusher in school history and seventh-leading rusher in SEC history. Webb set a bushel of school single and career records, including 4,173 rushing yards, 931 rushing attempts and 32 rushing touchdowns.
Mason guided Vanderbilt to its eighth postseason appearance in 2016 with a trip to the Independence Bowl. The Commodores finished the regular season 6-6, including four wins over the final six games. The season featured marquee SEC victories over Georgia, Ole Miss and No. 24 Tennessee. The Commodores closed the regular season by scoring a combined 83 points in wins over the Rebels and Volunteers.
In 2016, inside linebacker Zach Cunningham became Vanderbilt’s first consensus All-American in more than three decades, sweeping first-team honors from every prominent national outlet.
Mason became Vanderbilt’s 28th head coach in January 2014, coming to Nashville after serving as Stanford’s associate head coach and Willie Shaw Director of Defense.
The architect of Stanford’s vaunted 3-4 defense, Mason was elevated to the Cardinal’s defensive coordinator in 2011 after leading the program to a pair of Rose Bowl appearances and consecutive Pac-12 titles. Mason’s elite defensive units at Stanford ranked among the NCAA’s best in defensive efficiency for three consecutive seasons. While facing seven ranked opponents and one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2013, Stanford ranked third nationally in rushing defense (89.4 yards), 10th in scoring defense (19.0 points) and 16th in total offense (343.1 yards). The Cardinal was also one of only five teams to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game in 2013 and ranked fifth nationally with 44 sacks and seventh with 109 tackles for loss.
In 2012, Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, after directing a Stanford defense widely considered the program’s finest unit ever.
Mason’s leadership paved the way to a historic defensive output, breaking Stanford’s single-season record with 57 sacks and pacing the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense, and helped the Cardinal to an 11-2 season capped off with a Rose Bowl title. In 11 of 14 games in 2012, Stanford held its opponent to 20 or fewer points, including a 14-point effort in 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, and in a string of three consecutive games, the Cardinal recorded three of its top-10 single-game rushing defense performances in team history.
In 2011, Mason’s first year as co-defensive coordinator, he teamed with former Vanderbilt defensive coordinator Jason Tarver to mold Stanford into one of the Pac-12’s top defensive units. The unit ranked either first or second in the Pac-12 in six defensive categories, including rushing defense, third-down conversion defense, scoring defense, total defense, sacks and opponent first downs.
Mason also helped develop an array of Stanford defensive standouts, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, All-America defensive end Trent Murphy, All-America linebacker Shayne Skov and All-Pac-12 safety Ed Reynolds.
Prior to his arrival in Palo Alto, Mason served as an assistant defensive back coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2007 to 2009. He played 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. 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 under Frank Solich, helping the Bobcats improve from 4-7 in 2005 to a 9-5 campaign and GMAC Bowl appearance the following year. Mason spent the 2004 season as wide receivers coach at New Mexico State, where the Aggies led the conference in passing.
During the 2002 campaign, Mason mentored receivers and assisted with special teams at Utah. The Utes featured the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Paris Warren, an eventual seventh-round pick.
Mason’s move to Utah came after a three-year stint at Bucknell (1999-2001) in which he gained his first experience as a defensive assistant coach. At Bucknell, Mason served as defensive backs mentor for three straight winning Bison squads.
Mason’s first three collegiate positions came as an offensive assistant at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in 1994, Weber State in 1995-96 and Idaho State in 1997-98.
As a player, Mason was a two-year starter and four-year letter winner at Northern Arizona. During his undergraduate career, Mason was influenced by several outstanding coaches, including Andy Reid, head coach of the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Other mentors from Mason’s Northern Arizona days former NFL head coaches Brad Childress and Marty Mornhinweg.
Mason earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northern Arizona in 1993. A native of Phoenix, Mason was a standout football player at Camelback High School.
Derek and his wife, LeighAnne, have two daughters, Makenzie and Sydney.
Vanderbilt – 2014-present (Head Coach) • Just second coach in Vanderbilt history to lead two teams to postseason bowls … First Commodore coach to register three consecutive wins over Tennessee since Dan McGugin (1923, 25-26) … First Vanderbilt coach to top Tennessee in three straight years since McGugin accomplished feat between 1921-23) … Introduced as the 28th head coach in team history on Jan. 17, 2014 … Notched first career victory as head coach in dramatic style, guiding team to 34-31 win over UMass on Sept. 13, 2014 … After 2014 season, took over defensive coordinator responsibilities … Earned first SEC victory Oct. 24, 2015, with a 10-3 win over Missouri … Mason’s 2016 team improved win total for second straight year, winning the final two games of the regular season against Ole Miss and Tennessee to get to six wins and earn an invitation to the Camping World Independence Bowl … Also earned first win over ranked foe on the road vs. Georgia … Offense improved in nearly every category in 2016, finishing sixth nationally in red zone efficiency … The 2016 defense was led by consensus All-American Zach Cunningham, who became just the third Commodore to ever earn first-team All-American status from the Walter Camp Foundation.
Stanford – 2013 (Willie Shaw Director of Defense) • Promoted to position of Willie Shaw Director of Defense, Mason guides one of the nation’s top defenses as the Cardinal goes 10-3 overall, wins Pac-12 crown and plays in second straight Rose Bowl … Stanford finishes year ranked No. 10 on strength of four victories over ranked opponents … The defense ranks third in NCAA in rushing defense, 10th in scoring defense and 16th in total defense … Unit again ranks among Pac-12’s best in numerous defensive categories … For second straight year, Mason’s defense limits powerful Oregon spread offense, holding Ducks scoreless for first three quarters in eventual 26-20 Stanford victory … Three of Mason’s standouts – LB Trent Murphy, LB Shayne Skov and DB Ed Reynolds – garner All-America recognition.
Stanford – 2011-12 (Associate Head Coach • Defensive Coordinator) • Finalist for 2012 Broyles Award as nation’s most outstanding assistant coach … Stanford goes 23-4 overall in Mason’s first two years as coordinator, wins 2012 Pac-12 title, captures 2012 Rose Bowl over Wisconsin, and plays in the 2011 BCS Fiesta Bowl … Mason’s 3-4 attacking defense ranked among the NCAA leaders in both seasons … In 2012, the Cardinal defense topped the nation with 57 quarterback sacks, ranked second in tackles for loss, fifth in rushing defense and 11th in scoring defense … Stanford also paced the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and sacks … The 2012 defense also held eight opponents under 100 rushing yards and limited high-powered Oregon to just 14 points in an overtime win … In 2011 the Cardinal was third in the NCAA in rushing defense, sixth in 3rd-down efficiency and 11th in quarterback sacks, and finished among the Pac-12 leaders in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and opponent first downs.
Stanford – 2010 (Defensive Backs) • Hired by Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh … Helped change Stanford into a tough-minded, attacking defense … Unit was key to arguably Stanford’s best year of modern era – a 12-1 overall record capped by 40-12 victory over Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl … The 2010 Cardinal secondary was one of the great turnaround stories in college football as Stanford ranked high nationally in interceptions and pass defense … That unit included three eventual NFL players, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman from the Super Bowl champion Seahawks.
Minnesota Vikings – 2007-09 (Assistant Defensive Backs Coach) • 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.
Ohio – 2005-06 (Wide Receivers) • Hired by former Nebraska head coach Frank Solich, Mason coached Ohio receivers for two years, helping the Bobcats improve from 4-7 in 2005 to a 9-5 campaign in 2006 that ended with a GMAC Bowl appearance.
New Mexico State – 2004 (Wide Receivers) • In lone season at New Mexico State, the Aggie offense with Mason mentoring wide receivers corps topped the Sun Belt Conference in numerous passing categories.
Saint Mary’s – 2003 (Co-Defensive Coordinator • Assistant Head Coach) • First coordinator responsibilities came in only season at St. Mary’s, member of NCAA I-AA Independent League.
Utah – 2002 (Wide Receivers • Special Teams Assistant Coach) • Tutored WR Paris Warren, an eventual seventh-round draft pick, in his only year at Utah … The 2002 Utes offense featured young QB Alex Smith, the eventual 2005 No. 1 NFL draft pick.
Bucknell – 1999-2001 (Defensive Backs) • Secondary coach for three straight winning Bison squads … Coached two Bucknell defensive backs to All-Patriot League recognition.
Idaho State – 1997-98 (Running Backs) • Mason coached Idaho State running backs for two years under head coach Tom Walsh.
Weber State – 1995-96 (Wide Receivers) • Mason worked with Weber State receivers, including Pokey Eckford, who earned All-America honors in 1995 after catching 77 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns.
Mesa (Ariz.) Community College – 1994 (Wide Receivers) • Mason entered collegiate coaching as a wide receivers coach with community college.
NFL Minority Coaching Fellowship Program • Mason spent time with the St. Louis Rams, New York Giants and Oakland Raiders through the Minority Coaching Fellowship Program.