HOOVER, Ala. — The style atop the Vanderbilt football program appears to be very different from what it's been the past three years.
The Commodores roundly believe the results aren't going to change, though.
Gone is James Franklin, the occasionally controversial coach who led Vandy, long the SEC's doormat program, to lofty new heights in his three-year tenure before taking the Penn State job in January. In comes Derek Mason, the league's lone new coach who earned his reputation by building Stanford's stingy, hard-nosed defense.
Based on his quiet first months in Nashville, Mason appears to be a change of pace from Franklin.
"I've heard a lot of times that Coach Franklin is what's considered a walking headline," sophomore defensive lineman Adam Butler said Monday as SEC media days began. "He loves the camera; he loves the media; he loves to be in the center of attention. That's not the case with Coach Mason.
"He's about his players; he's about his vision and our vision together, and that's winning the SEC title. You can't take any credit away from Coach Franklin because he did turn the program around. You could say that much, but I love Coach Mason's style. He knows how to win as well."
As David Shaw's defensive coordinator, Mason had a big hand in Stanford going 34-7 with back-to-back Pac-12 Conference titles and Rose Bowl appearances in the past three seasons.
The Cardinal's signature moments came in slowing Oregon's seemingly unstoppable up-tempo offense in each of the past two seasons, but Mason was an unknown to most of Vandy's players when he was hired.
"Of course you heard about Stanford just because of how successful they were," safety Andrew Williamson said.
"I'm glad they're bringing that defense over here, because of the success that they had."
The only thing more daring than the black bowtie that Mason, a first-time head coach, decided to sport for his media days debut is the goal he was putting out there for the Commodores, who are coming off three straight bowl games and consecutive 9-4 seasons.
"James did the legwork, and Bobby Johnson did the legwork before him," Mason said. "But my expectation is to push the envelope a little bit.
"We have to move past playing for nine wins. Nine wins, it's really exceptional. Why have nine when you can have 10? Why settle for 10 when you can have 11? That's the way I think. That's the way I wake up. That's the way I want my team to be."
Franklin took the Commodores to new heights, and for Mason to continue the momentum he'll have to replace receiver Jordan Matthews, by far Vandy's most valuable offensive player, and an entire secondary.
Though two of the top three rushers from last season and four offensive line starters return, Mason and offensive coordinator Karl Dorrell will have to sort out a six-man quarterback competition. Sophomore Patton Robinette and LSU transfer Stephen Rivers, the younger brother of San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, look like the early favorites.
But Mason's style has instilled confidence in a group that's already experienced success.
"We'll definitely stay where we are just because of Coach Mason's mindset," Williamson said. "There will be no dropoff. Coach Mason, he's a winner, he's had a formula of success at Stanford and he's bringing that over here. There's no doubt that we will win games.
"He's really keeping guys hungry and putting that vision into our minds that we can win and will win."
Contact Patrick Brown at email@example.com.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...