By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — A very hard year for the Vanderbilt Commodores’ football team got even tougher this week with the Sunday announcement that head coach Derek Mason had been fired. With an 0-8 record and facing the distinct possibility of having the first winless season in the 117-year history of the program, the move was expected after the season. But few anticipated it would come just as the team heads to Athens this week for a game against the ninth-ranked Bulldogs.
After seven years, the string ran out for Mason, someone universally respected around the nation as a man of great integrity and character. However ultimately the fact he’d never had a winning season, and the Commodores being 3-17 the last two years and currently on a 12-game SEC losing streak, outweighed him being the first Vanderbilt coach to beat Tennessee three straight seasons. Mason’s teams played in the 2016 Independence Bowl and 2018 Texas Bowl.
A host of names are being floated in various publications as potential replacements. Vanderbilt athletic director Candace Storey Lee praised Mason in a statement, acknowledging that “Derek cares deeply about the student-athletes under his charge. His tenure at Vanderbilt will be remembered for his steadfast commitment to our student-athletes, not only on the field, but in the classroom and as young people.”
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will serve as interim coach while the Commodores prepare to meet Georgia, and also whenever/if the game with Tennessee is rescheduled. It could be played either Dec. 12 or 19. The last highlight of the Vandy program under Mason was Sarah Fuller’s successful execution of a squib kick against Missouri Saturday. That made her the first woman to appear in a Power Five Conference game.
The Bulldogs hopes’ for another shot at the SEC title took a big hit when they lost 44-28 to Florida. They have had season-long problems at quarterback as neither starter Stetson Bennett or backup D’Wan Mathis have given them the type of consistent production they need in big games. The two combined for three interceptions against Florida. Explosive running back Zamir White is the latest Bulldog to continue their long pattern of excellence in the rushing game.
Realistically, no one expects a Commodore team already shaken by the decision to can its head coach to do much against Georgia on the road. The offense didn’t even generate 200 yards total against a Missouri team whose defense is nowhere near as tough as the Bulldogs. Vandy’s best hopes for preventing a winless season lie in the home finale against Tennessee, assuming this game even gets played.