Vanderbilt fires football coach Derek Mason after 0-8 start to seventh season

AP file photo by Wade Payne / Vanderbilt fired Derek Mason on Sunday, a day after the Commodores lost 41-0 to Missouri to fall to 0-8 in his seventh season as head coach of the SEC program in Nashville.

NASHVILLE - Vanderbilt fired Derek Mason on Sunday, a day after the Commodores lost 41-0 at Missouri to fall to 0-8 in his seventh season as the school's football coach.

"This was a difficult decision, but I know this change is necessary," athletic director Candice Lee said in Vanderbilt's release announcing the move. "We wish Derek and his entire family the best."

Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will serve as the interim head coach for the Commodores, who play at Georgia (6-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Southeastern Conference is playing only league games this season. Vanderbilt also is working to reschedule its final home game against Tennessee, which the SEC postponed to help Missouri catch up on games played.

Mason posted a statement on Twitter thanking Nashville and Vanderbilt for embracing his family and expressing gratitude for his time as coach of the Commodores.

"I am confident that our current student-athletes and their families are in good hands with Chancellor (Daniel) Diermeier and Director of Athletics Candice Lee and will continue to rise to today's challenges with integrity and character," Mason wrote.

At 27-55, Mason leaves at No. 6 on the wins list for Commodores football coaches. Vanderbilt said the search for a new coach will begin immediately.

Mason became the 28th head coach in program history when he was hired in 2014 after James Franklin left for Penn State. Mason, who came to Vanderbilt after being associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Stanford, became the first Vanderbilt coach since the 1920s to beat in-state rival Tennessee three straight seasons.

He guided the Commodores to a bowl twice in three seasons, with the second postseason trip clinched with a 38-13 rout of Tennessee in November 2018. Athletic director Malcolm Turner, who was on the job for barely a year, gave Mason a contract extension within his first month on the job in February 2019.

Turner gave Mason his support again late in the 2019 season, but Turner resigned in February. Lee was named the interim AD before Vanderbilt removed the interim title in May.

Vanderbilt came into the season having lost four consecutive SEC games, a skid now at 12 with the Commodores on the verge of the first winless season in school history.

"I take full responsibility," Mason said after the loss to Missouri, Vanderbilt's fifth by double digits this season.

Mason hired Fitch and a new defensive coordinator after last season. Then he had at least seven players opt out amid the pandemic, with eight others transferring this year. Linebacker Dmitri Moore opted out, then changed his mind before deciding to transfer after playing in a loss to sixth-ranked Florida.

Vanderbilt became the first SEC team to have a game postponed due to not having at least 53 scholarship players available; that happened before a road trip to Missouri initially scheduled for October. The Commodores also played two other games with the number of scholarship players in the 50s.

The most notable moment this season for Vanderbilt happened Saturday, when Sarah Fuller, a goalkeeper for the school's soccer team, became the first woman to play in a Power Five conference football game, kicking off to start the second half.

Wrote Mason on Twitter: "I am blessed to have worked alongside and built relationships with some of the finest and most dedicated coaches, staff and faculty in the nation. It has truly been my honor to have been given the opportunity to teach, mentor and coach hundreds of Vanderbilt young men and one courageous female."