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January 18, 2014

Mason: It's not about me, it's about we

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - If there's a such thing as winning the press conference, new Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason would be undefeated after Saturday morning's introduction to the Commodore community.

The new face of the program, university Chancellor Nick Zeppos and Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director David Williams addressed the media and the Vanderbilt fan base inside the linebackers meeting room within the McGugin Athletics Center.

"Last week, we all met and at that point and time we told you we were going on a process. A week later, we are at the conclusion of that process," David Williams said on Saturday. "We have spent all week evaluating, putting together lists, looking at different things and using the process that we set out to find a head coach for Vanderbilt football.

"We had over 65-70 interests from a lot of different places, a lot of different varieties, NFL, college, head coaches and assistant coaches. We went through the evaluation and collected a list of people to spend the time and interview."

"All in continues and we're going to continue with the trajectory of Vanderbilt football," said Zeppos. "I want to thank the Commodore Nation, they are patient and a brave group that stuck with us. They were supportive and positive and hopeful.

"This football team are a group of great young men. They are a 9-4 team and faced adversity, adversity at I might add at the start of a semester at one of the most academically challenging universities in the country. They were waiting for their next leader and we were inspired and challenged by those young men and we're very pleased with our choice.

"When we looked at Derek, we said this is our leader," Zeppos added. "We want a leader who's a coach, not a coach who's a leader. I can't wait to see what this great leader, this young man does with these fine young men."

Mason, the former Director of Defense for the Stanford Cardinal, made several points throughout the day, including his overall message to the Commodore players and community.

"Thank you for opening up your arms to me and my family. I've had a chance to walk around this place exudes greatness," said Mason. "I think that's important for me to see and that's important my wife and my children. This place is one of two places and at one point and time Coach Shaw talked about his dream job. For me, I made a statement about what that is for us, and when you have children and you look about what is important in your life, it's about raising them in an environment that embodies academic excellence, where they can be around student athletes that give to the community and find lasting friendships that mean something. There was only one place and when this job came available at Vanderbilt University, I wanted that job."

"This job means everything to me, this is where I want to be," added Mason. "This is where I plan to spend the rest of my career. We will win, make sure of that, there's no doubts about that. I understand what college football's about, it's about winning and you hired a winner, that's for sure."

Mason led the Cardinal defense for three years, spearheading a unit that was among the nation's very best in total defense, scoring defense, generating quarterback pressure and producing turnovers. The Cardinal went 34-7 during his time as defensive coordinator, capturing back-to-back Pac 12 championships in 2012 and 2013 while becoming a regular Top 10 level program.

Mason feels the model of success at the Cardinal can be carried over to Vanderbilt as the Commodores are coming off its own success story of back-to-back 9-4 seasons and two bowl wins during 2012 and 2013.

"We will graduate and educate players, that's what we are about," said Mason. "When it comes to the football side of things, SEC East title, he were we come. Make no bones about it, if you can't talk about it, you can't be about it. That's what we have to do, we've got to talk about it. We've got to talk about that first step, and then everything that and whatever comes with it, that's what we'll take."

Mason spoke the Commodore team on Friday night after being named the head coach by the university shortly after 5 p.m. He said he was impressed by the players that are within the program, a program that's enjoyed success and he plans to build towards even bigger and better things in the future.

"This program is not about me, it's about we," Mason said. "It's about us, it's about what we do, it's about how we carry the torch. We are primed for greatness, this team has done great things. We're 9-4 and if you ask the players what the process is, after meeting with them yesterday, it's about getting the best players we can in this program, making sure what our clear vision and goal is, and let's attain it.

"I presented them with something that I'll leave to you. It's an acronym that's called R-E-S-P-E-C-T," said Mason. "Respond Every Snap, play with Passion, Extreme effort, be Committed and do it Today. That's what we'll do. We'll fight every day. Every day will be about the process of making sure that we ensure ourselves of the opportunity to be champions. And we will be champions, just so you know."

Mason addressed several questions through the press conference, most notably when he expects to complete his first coaching staff at Vanderbilt and what will be his approach on the recruiting trail as National Signing Day is just two and a half weeks away.

"I hope to have 90-percent of my staff done by sometime within the next 24-48 hours," said Mason. "I know who they are, they've been identified and I think you'll like the product and I think you'll like who they are. They bring a vast amount of experience from top to bottom. Some candidates within this program, in-house, I think that's important to the process and we'll make sure that all of those avenues are exhausted. We'll be close to getting this thing done immediately if not sooner. You have to respect and admire what's been done here. I think those coaches [existing Vanderbilt staff] deserve respect and the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation about what their future holds here at Vanderbilt University."

Mason said he spent the better part of Friday night looking over Vanderbilt's current roster and the Commodores current 2014 recruiting effort and plans to get the ball rolling with contact and recruitment shortly.

"In terms of evaluating, I spent the last 12 hours looking at the class and we're going to add more talent to the roster and fill in some of the recruiting holes we have. I think you'll like what you see on signing day," Mason added.

"Just so you know, I've recruited the Southeast for at least 8 years. When you look at my career, it speaks to what we look to do and the type of young men we want to have in our program. We're going to continue to open doors in the South, but we're going to make sure we take the Vanderbilt brand nationwide - that's what it is. We're worldwide, here. Vanderbilt is known across the continent, so we need to know and understand that our mission is global, so let's make sure we push that way."

Though Mason's notoriety is on the defensive side of the ball, he is verse with experience as an offensive coach from earlier in his coaching career. Mason stated that he's hoping to establish an offensive identity that will be competitive and exciting on Saturdays.

"For us, I'm looking for some balance to what you do," Mason said. "That there's not just one guy. When you line up and put the product on the field, you're able to take advantage of matchups. When I look at our offensive personnel, I got a chance to watch the bowl game. There's guys that weren't available last year that will be available this year, and I believe there's some versatility. You have to adapt your offense to what's in your arsenal, that's what's important.

"We want to be explosive, but we want to understand that situational football wins games. When you look at what you want to be, you want to make sure that your 3rd down efficiency is high, you want to make sure you can score points in the red zone and that's by balance. We want to be exciting here, we want to see the ball go up and down the field, run or pass, we don't care, we just want to see explosive touchdowns. The balance of being able to spread teams out as well as knock them off the ball. That's what we'll be about."

Mason has reportedly offered a few jobs to several assistants he has previous ties with including Ohio University quarterbacks coach Gerry Gdowski and Bobcats line coach Keven Lightner. FootballScoop.com also confirmed the hiring of 2013 Director of Football Operations of the Year award winner, Jason Grooms, also from Ohio U.

Stay tuned to VandySports.com for more coverage on the Mason hire including his assembly of a staff and initial recruiting effort.

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