I called my old buddy Jim Simpson at Middle Tennessee State University on Wednesday morning to confirm the Blue Raiders' hiring of former Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason as the school's 15th head football coach. Mason wasn't my first choice for the guy to replace Rick Stockstill. I was pulling for Chattanooga's own Will Healy to get the job. Healy was dismissed at UNC Charlotte more than a year ago and had hooked up with Gus Malzahn at Central Florida. I had little or no influence on hiring at my alma mater because most of the folks I once knew are either older than me or deceased.
( Don't worry about young Will. He will eventually get a good coaching position.)
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that Coach Mason could be a perfect choice for the job. He's certainly familiar with the recruiting territory in the middle part of the state. He was at Vandy for seven seasons with a record of 27-55, but he took the Commodores to a pair of bowl games in 2016 and again in 2018. He spent the first two years after leaving Vandy as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2021 and was the DC at Oklahoma State in 2022. He took a year off from coaching in 2023 and was a TV analyst for ESPN. It took MTSU Athletic Director Chris Massaro less than two weeks to announce that he had hired Mason, which means he was the top of Massaro's list all along.
When Mason was hired at Vanderbilt, he replaced James Franklin....arguably the best Vandy coach in decades. Franklin set the standard for Vandy football in this century and while Mason wasn't able to achieve Franklin's success, he did a solid job of leading the Commodores. Coach Mason spoke highly of Rick Stockstill whom he replaces at Middle Tennessee. " This is an emotional moment for me," He said. " This is the house that Rick Stockstill built and he left good bones and a strong foundation."
Stockstill was let go after coaching the Blue Raiders for 18 years, taking them to ten bowl games and 113 wins. His contract runs through 2029 so the university owes him a buyout of $5 million dollars.
As for Derek Mason....MTSU is counting on him to bring his aggressive style of defense to Murfreesboro. Prior to his stint at Vanderbilt, Mason started his resume as a good defensive coach as the defensive coordinator st Stanford for four seasons and before that he coached defensive backs in the NFL with the Vikings. At the age of 56, Mason needs Middle Tennessee as much as the Blue Raiders need him. It's a perfect fit.