DESTIN, Fla. -- New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason knows what it takes to build a program.
The former Stanford defensive coordinator was there for the Cardinal’s makeover and now has the task of making sure Vanderbilt, which enjoyed three excellent years under former coach James Franklin, stays relevant in the ravenous SEC.
What Mason doesn’t have to worry about is building from the ground up. Thanks to superb recruiting efforts by Franklin and his coaching staff, Mason’s first year in Nashville will feature not only quality but experience.
But Mason didn’t take this job to be a one-hit wonder. Franklin’s players won’t be on campus forever, so Mason has to build his own foundation in Nashville.
Mason might not have the boisterous salesmanship that made Franklin so effective on the recruiting trail, but he has plenty of experience recruiting at both a national and southern level. Mason said Stanford went head-to-head with Commodores coaches a few times in recruiting, but what he wants to do is stretch Vandy’s recruiting footprint beyond the comfort of its southern borders.
“That mindset’s gonna change. Vanderbilt’s a national brand, much like Stanford,” Mason told reporters last week during SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. “Much like the Notre Dames and the Dukes, you have to go national to fill out your roster. There are great players across the country; we just so happen to be in the SEC and sit in a hotbed of talent.”
Don’t get Mason wrong, he isn’t going to ignore what the South has to offer. The goal is to collect as much close-proximity talent as possible, but he also knows that with a program like Vanderbilt, he can’t get complacent. He has to expand.
“Let’s go where the talent is, and let’s fit our profile,” Mason said.
With the nationwide success Stanford had in recruiting when Mason was around, he shouldn’t have a problem walking into high schools around the country. But Mason plans to clean up at home, too.
Take one look at Stanford’s current roster and you’ll find more than 20 players from states that house SEC schools. Mason had a hand in landing a few of those players and isn’t afraid to push himself around with the SEC’s big boys.
“I came into the South and recruited some of the best players the South had to offer against the Alabamas and everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to go everywhere to recruit, but I cut my teeth in the South.”
Another way Mason plans to expand Vandy’s brand is to play out of its comfort zone. Mason already has the advantage of seeing some of the best competition in the sport right in his own conference, but he also wants his players to see some of the other quality teams from around the country, especially when it comes to top academic schools.
Mason said he plans to take full advantage of the SEC’s new rule about adding a mandatory nonconference Power Five opponent to the schedule starting in 2016.
“It’s healthy,” Mason said. “I’ve been in that environment. I’ve had to play in those big games, those top games. Football is football. Nowadays, strength of schedule isn’t really what it looks like. If you want to be a championship team playing in the playoff structure, you really have to look and know what your schedule looks like and you can’t be afraid to play teams.”
So does that mean trying to schedule a home-and-home with Stanford?
“Yes, absolutely,” Mason said. “Absolutely -- Stanford, Notre Dame, whoever else is out there. In order to be considered a good team, you have to play good teams, and we’re not going to shy away from that in our nonconference schedule.”