Editor's note: Bryant. Vaught. Jordan. Dooley. Neyland. These are just a handful of the coaches (among many others) who have come to define the Southeastern Conference due to their dynamic personalities and remarkable success on the field. But who are the top coaches roaming the sidelines of SEC schools today? Ryan Black gives his take, counting down from 14-1. The series begins with the coach at the bottom of the list.
14. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
Record: 0-0 (Spent past three seasons as Stanford's defensive coordinator; this marks his first head coaching job)
National championships: N/A
SEC championships: N/A
SEC division titles: N/A
Is it fair to start the only first-year coach in the league at the bottom? Sure, he may not be a proven commodity as a head coach yet, but his credentials prior to arriving in Nashville are sterling.
He's spent the last three years as Stanford's defensive coordinator, which saw the Cardinal finish in the top 15 every season in defensive efficiency. Every bit as important in an increasingly up-tempo SEC, no team seemed to do a better job of slowing down lightning quick, explosive offenses (most notably, Oregon) in the Pac-12 than Stanford.
Each of the past two seasons, the Cardinal handed a then-undefeated Ducks squad its first defeat. In 2012, Oregon was 10-0 and the top-ranked team in the country. Stanford went into Eugene and emerged with a 17-14 victory in overtime. Last year, the Ducks were No. 2 and 8-0. Then the Cardinal promptly handed them a 26-20 defeat.
His tenure as the Cardinal's defensive coordinator came after a long career as an assistant coach at both the college and NFL levels.
As good as it sounds on paper, Mason's resume is eerily similar to a man given his first head coaching job last season at another perennial SEC cellar-dweller: Kentucky's Mark Stoops. He took over in Lexington after leading Florida State's defense to consecutive stingy campaigns; the Seminoles finished second nationally in total defense in 2012, following a fourth-place showing in that category the season before. So of course, the Wildcats ended up finishing near the bottom of the SEC in every major defensive category last season: 12th in rush defense (197.3 yards per game) and 13th in both total defense (427.2) and scoring defense (31.2).
With Stoops' less-than-stellar 2013 effort in mind, here's the bad news for Mason: He's coming in without a proven starter at quarterback (and exited the spring with a competition on his hands) and the Commodores will also have to find a way to replace Jordan Matthews, who departed as the SEC's all-time leader in receiving yards (3,759) and receptions (262). When it comes to defense, Mason is having to change everything, as he's installing his favored 3-4 scheme and doing away with the 4-3 base run under previous coach James Franklin.
But who knows? Mason might come in and surprise everyone. More likely, however, he'll come in and take his lumps in his first go-round in the nation's toughest conference.
If he's somehow able to match Franklin's debut season — which saw Vandy finish 6-6 in the regular season before losing to Cincinnati 31-24 in the Liberty Bowl — Mason (as well as the fan base and others affiliated with the program) should consider Year 1 a success.