Middle Tennessee hired former Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason to replace longtime coach Rick Stockstill, the school announced Wednesday. Mason led the Commodores from 2014-20 and was the defensive coordinator for Auburn and Oklahoma State before serving as a TV analyst this season. He agreed to a five-year contract.
"We are ecstatic to welcome Coach Derek Mason to Middle Tennessee and the Blue Raider football program," Middle Tennessee athletic director Chris Massaro said. "With his experience as a head coach, his reputation for coaching fast, aggressive defenses, his strong reputation as a recruiter, and deep connections in college football to formulate an outstanding staff, Coach Mason's vision for MTSU football fits exactly what we were looking for during our interview process. Coach Mason is no stranger to the mid-state community and we expect his connections to allow him and his staff to hit the ground running as our 15th head football coach."
Mason will be charged with breathing new life into the Blue Raiders, who made 10 bowl games in 18 seasons under Stockstill but reached 10 wins only once back in 2009. MTSU finished 4-8 (3-5 Conference USA) this season. Athletic director Chris Massaro referred to parting with Stockstill as "one of the most difficult days in my tenure, but one I feel is necessary in our aspiration to compete and win championships." Mason praised Stockstill's work in the university's announcement of the hire.
"I am excited to be the 15th head coach at MTSU," Mason said. "This is an emotional moment for me. This is the house that Rick Stockstill built and he left good bones and a strong foundation. He did a lot to raise and encourage these young men and help them take the journey. Now, that responsibility has been passed down to me. It's about winning and making sure we can do everything we can to resource our student athletes in a way to make them successful both on and off the field."
Mason announced ain January following his lone season as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, saying, "I look forward to spending time with my family to rest and reflect on opportunities within the game I love." He subsequently spent the 2023 season as a color analyst on ESPN broadcasts.
The 54-year-old Mason is familiar with the local landscape at Middle Tennessee since it's just 38 miles from the Vanderbilt campus. Though Mason's recent experience is at the Power Five level and in the NFL, he has some Group of Five experience from his days as an assistant for Ohio and New Mexico State, among others.
Though his time at Vanderbilt ended with a 27-55 record, Mason led the Commodores to bowl appearances in 2016 and 2018. While that fell short of the standard set by predecessor James Franklin, it marked a good tenure by the standard of almost any other coach in program history. Mason's replacement at Vanderbilt, Clark Lea, is 9-27 through three seasons.