James Franklin is gone, and along with him the best three seasons the Vanderbilt Commodores have ever had. The amount of milestones reached under Franklin was a pleasant site for fans who had followed the Southeastern Conference bottom feeder loyally.
Back in 2008, Bobby Johnson was the head man in Nashville; he guided Vandy to their first bowl game since 1982. Prior to their trip to the Hall of Fame Bowl in ’82, the Commodores had achieved bowl status once in the 70’s and once in the 50’s. The fact coach Franklin was able to help the back and gold to three straight bowl appearances is remarkable.
While it was a fun ride with Franklin, there is a new era, featuring a new head coach ready to continue the recent success. Derek Mason certainly has a difficult task. Following the previous regime, which produced back-to-back nine win seasons, what will a successful season look like?
If Mason is unsuccessful, the narrative could turn into fans and pundits criticizing Mason for not accomplishing the success former coach Franklin was able to create. If Franklin could make Vandy a threat, Mason should be able to continue on the winning road, right? Mason is the perfect replacement for Franklin.
Coach Mason definitely has a strong amount of confidence in his team. There has been a standard set in Nashville, and he has made it very clear his goal is to not only win, but compete for SEC championships. This sounds a bit far-fetched from a brand new head coach at a school that doesn’t have a rich history playing competitive football, but attitude and belief in a system is huge for player moral. Sure, it’s a bit abstract, but still a factor.
Mason has been in charge of the Stanford Cardinal defense the past two seasons, ranking 16th in 2013, and 20th in 2012 in total defense nationally. The Cardinal have been the only team to slow down the Oregon Ducks in each of the last two seasons. In fact, not many teams have been able to put up many points on Mason’s defenses.
During the past two seasons, the Stanford defense has held opponents on average under 20 points. The unit also lead the nation in sacks in 2013. A defensive-minded head coach is exactly what Vandy will need to remain competitive in games.
Moving into a 3-4 will help utilize the speed and create more sack opportunities. There’s certainly a concern having to replace four starters in the secondary, but the group of players stepping in to the fill the void have some experience. Mason will have some talent to work with in the leading pass rusher last season, Kyle Woestmann, who because of the scheme change, will move into outside linebacker.
On the defensive front, Nifae Leaklao, the highest rated prospect to ever sign with Vanderbilt, and a Mason recruit, should do some damage in the middle of the defense.
Franklin was great for the university, but Mason also has the potential to keep the Commodores at a competitive level. It won’t be easy, but the defensive mind and absolute confidence in his team will help keep Vandy a threat in the east.