After going winless in Southeastern Conference play during his first season as Vanderbilt's football coach, Derek Mason guided the Commodores to victories this year over Missouri and Kentucky.
Vanderbilt improved from 3-9 to 4-8 overall, with two-point losses to Western Kentucky and Florida preventing the Commodores from reaching their fourth bowl in five years. Mason was a guest Friday on "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM.
Q: Do you come away from this season pleased with the improvement or longing for more?
A: "I thought we showed improvement defensively in a couple of different areas, but for me it's about working towards being relevant. We're never satisfied when there are things out there to be had like opportunities for postseason play. We left some things out there, so I'm still hungry and this team is still hungry."
Q: Ralph Webb rushed for 1,152 yards and Trent Sherfield had a solid year at receiver, but how would you assess your quarterback play?
A: "The quarterback play was subpar. We started the season that way and were inconsistent throughout, but I thought we saw some bright spots with Kyle Shurmur with the Missouri game and the Kentucky game and how he played against Tennessee. Quarterback play here definitely has to be better, and there is an opportunity for us to take strides during this offseason. That's exactly what we have to do."
Q: You held many opponents to season lows in points or close to it, but Tennessee was an obvious exception. How good can Tennessee be in 2016?
A: "I think Tennessee is a really good football team and has done a great job of not only stockpiling talent but developing talent. That's what every program seeks to do year in and year out, and with their quarterback and with their young guys growing up — they're just doing an extremely good job. That's for us to try and contend with and chase, and that's part of what you do in this process.
"Our guys are growing up, too, and as our quarterback grows this football team is going to get better. Defensively is where we made the most strides from year one to year two, and offensively is where we're going to make the biggest strides this offseason. Our special teams will have a new look, so I look forward to what 2016 will hold for us."
Q: Two Chattanooga-area players, Baylor lineman Barrett Gouger and East Hamilton cornerback Tre Herndon, became starters. How did they do?
A: "I thought Barrett did a great job of stepping in and fighting extremely hard to help Ralph Webb push himself to that 1,000-yard threshold. Barrett is a guy who has grown up in this program and is very bright and talented. He's going to be challenged this spring, because everyone is going to be challenged to be relevant, but I like what he is and how strong he has become.
"Tre has grown up after playing two strong years of football in the SEC, and he made a lot of progress from his freshman to sophomore year. As a junior we need more. He needs to be a little more demonstrative in terms of his dominance, but I think he can go from being a good corner to an upper-echelon corner."
Q: You recently landed a four-star defensive back from Hendersonville that a lot of schools wanted. How is recruiting going?
A: "We're on track, and hopefully we'll be looking at anywhere from 16 to 21 athletes in this class. I'm excited about how we've been able to identify guys. Everybody cares about stars, but I care about players who fit what we do.
"Our young guys are starting to grow up, so we feel good about where we're going to be, but we've got to add key pieces to the puzzle to be the type of team we want to be."
Q: As you start your third season at Vanderbilt, what is the biggest need you must address?
A: "We have to address special teams and our production at the receiver position. We're doing that through recruiting and managing the roster, because we want to be fast, physical, aggressive and smart on special teams. We're addressing staff and scheme, and we've got to be systematic about this.
"Get me through these holidays, because I'm ready to get to work on being relevant."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.