Mason: This Vandy team different

Derek Mason stepped into the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala., on Monday afternoon brimming with confidence and delivered a stirring speech to an abundance of media in attendance. The second-year Vanderbilt head coach spoke about the culture change that's occurring in Nashville that he hopes will pay big dividends in the upcoming season.

"Our team has done a great job on (Nashville's) West End, of reinventing ourselves," said Derek Mason. "Our identity is a much different on this team than it was a year ago. We weren't a very competitive football team (last year), that's on me. I take full responsibility for that.""

Mason, who expected the Commodores to win at least nine games last season also admitted his expectations may have been too high in coming in.

"As a head coach, I made some assumptions a year ago about this football team,” he explained . “I assumed that, just because we were in the SEC, that we play like an SEC team, and we didn't.”

After a first season that only produced three wins Mason made some significant changes on his staff. There's a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig (Wisconsin), a new strength and conditioning coach in James Dobson (Nebraska), Cortez Hankton (Dartmouth) and Mason himself has taken on the duties of defensive play-caller. He expounded on his new role as well as the new coaches he brought in to help change the mind-set.

“Things were just happening fast (last season)," Mason disclosed. "I had more on my plate and more to deal with at that point in time. In retrospect, having some experience behind me, I had a chance to look at who we are and what we are, and I thought (coordinating) was maybe taboo because you don't see too many defensive coaches doing it, but I think what I just said is really a misnomer. If you're a defensive mind, you do what you know. I know defensive football.

"During the last eight moths, I was able to make four tremendous acquisitions on the staff. Coach (Andy) Ludwig is one of the brightest and most unique offensive coordinators in the country. Cortez Hankton played in the (NFL) and is going to be a tremendous college coach."

He also added that Dobson's presence has already paid off. "We look like an SEC team."

Although the changes appear to be positive, Mason admitted he thinks about game one versus Western Kentucky every day and knows a tough SEC schedule will soon follow with no assurances.

“I've been coaching for 22 years," Mason said proudly. "I have an understanding that every year I coach is with a one-year mentality. That's what you do. You understand exactly what this game is and what you have to do, it's about production. We're going to be a better football team (this season). I can't predict wins. I do know about doing the right things and creating men that will thrive in the SEC. I can do that.”

Mason alluded to off-the-field success in the classroom saying the team, collectively, boasted the highest GPA in Vanderbilt's history. Ultimately, Mason knows that he'll be judged for his team's performance on Saturdays, but urges Commodores fans to be patient as the coaching develops the talent.

"The season we had a year ago, that’s a comma,” he said. “It’s a comma, and not a period.”

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