In a San Francisco 49ers news conference in 2012, 49ers coach and former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was asked what kind of head coach Derek Mason would make.
He lit up.
“I have a lot of respect for Derek Mason," said Harbaugh, who hired Mason to coach defensive backs at Stanford in 2010. "He’s done a tremendous job this year. And quality, quality coach, quality person that would do a fine job.”
Current Miami Dolphins safety Michael Thomas, who had Mason as a position coach and defensive coordinator at Stanford, echoed that sentiment when he was asked the same question in August.
"He'll definitely make sure everyone knows their jobs and responsibilities," Thomas said. "I think it'll be a very energetic team. The team will take on the persona of its coach, so the guys will be fiery. They're going to be on the edge trying to make sure that they swing first."
Mason spurned the opportunity to interview elsewhere after last season, but it was clear that it was only a matter of time before he would have his own program somewhere.
After another year in which Stanford fielded one of the nation's top defenses, that day came Friday. Mason was named head coach at Vanderbilt.
His loss could sting at Stanford, where coach David Shaw was largely hands-off on defense, letting Mason run the show.
Stanford also lost a coordinator after the 2012 season, when offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton left for the same job with the Indianapolis Colts. But it's a different set of circumstances. Shaw is very much involved on offense, and it was clear how the dominoes would fall following Hamilton's departure -- Mike Bloomgren to offensive coordinator and Mike Sanford to quarterbacks coach. With Mason on his way to the SEC, Shaw's path is not as clear.
Shaw's track record since replacing Harbaugh shows he likes to promote from within the program -- Hamilton, Mason and Bloomgren were all in-house coordinator hires. Jason Tarver, who just re-upped with the Raiders, was the co-defensive coordinator with Mason in 2011, and he came from outside the program. But it should be noted Mason called the plays that year.
If Shaw were to go with someone on his current staff, these would be the options:
Lance Anderson, outside linebackers coach/admissions liaison: Probably the most likely option. Anderson was the co-defensive coordinator with Mason at Saint Mary's College in 2003 (the program folded after 2004), but that was his only year as a coordinator. He has coached both defensive tackles and outside linebackers on the Farm, and his role as a liaison between the football program and admissions department already stands as of one the program's most important jobs. He has been at Stanford for seven years.
David Kotulski, inside linebackers coach: Kotulski has the most experience as a defensive coordinator of anyone on staff. He's been a coordinator at Lehigh, Holy Cross, Utah State, Bucknell and Saint Mary's. He just finished his second season at Stanford.
Randy Hart, defensive line coach: If Hart had his heart set on becoming a coordinator, it probably would have happened already. He held the responsibility at Washington from 1995-98, but other than that stretch, he's been strictly a defensive line coach on the college level since 1973.
If Shaw goes outside the program, one name comes to mind immediately: Clancy Pendergast.
Steve Sarkisian chose not to retain Pendergast at USC after he significantly improved the defense in one season after arriving from Cal. Like Mason, Pendergast employs a 3-4 defense and has a history coaching defensive backs, which was the position group Mason coached. Before landing at Cal in 2010, Pendergast was a defensive coordinator in the previous six seasons in the NFL -- five with Arizona and 2009 in Kansas City.
Shaw also must replace Sanford, who left to become the offensive coordinator at Boise State immediately following the Rose Bowl, and there's also a chance some Stanford coaches might leave with Mason to Vanderbilt.