Vanderbilt fired coach Derek Mason on Sunday after seven seasons at the school. Mason went 27-55 during his time in Nashville and 10-46 in the SEC. He never once finished with a winning record, though he did take the Commodores to bowl games in 2016 and 2018. Still, in this day and age of coaches being fired within a couple of years of being hired, and sometimes a few years after winning a national title, Mason was an outlier. You just don't see schools -- particularly SEC schools -- give coaches so much runway to work.
When the news first broke on Sunday, I felt a tinge of excitement. Not because I was happy to see Mason lose his job, but because I've been waiting for the Vanderbilt job to come open for one specific reason. It is the perfect job for a theory of mine that I've written about repeatedly, and I'm about to write about again.
You see, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd came up with a shortlist of options to replace Mason in Nashville, and while they're all fine options, none of them meet specific criteria that I believe Vanderbilt should be looking for.
None of them run the option.
I have long argued that more Power Five programs need to run the option. It's seen as antiquated, and many athletic directors fear its unattractive football. Well, for some programs, I'm not sure what's so attractive about going 4-8 every season while hoping to win one or two games in conference play. While the option might not be what you need to land the four and five-star prospects, losing constantly doesn't help much in that department, either.
What the option does do is make you different. It makes you more difficult to prepare for. It's a style of play that isn't often seen, and there's always an argument to be made for zigging while others are zagging. I view Vanderbilt as the perfect school to try it.
Vanderbilt is the smallest school in the SEC, and it's the only private school within the conference. It's also one of two SEC schools within its state and, even with recent success against Tennessee, will always be the state's "other" SEC school. It's a school that has never won a national title and last won a conference title when it was the Southern Conference's co-champion in 1923, nine years before it was a founding member of the SEC. It's a program with 117 seasons of history but very little success. In those 117 years, Vanderbilt has had 21 coaches, including Mason. Only six of them stayed longer than one season and finished with a winning record. One of those six was Steve Sloan, who managed to go 12-9-2 over two seasons before bouncing for Texas Tech. Of the other five coaches, only James Franklin managed to leave Nashville with a winning record since 1955.
Maybe the coach hired to replace Mason will be the one to turn things around. Maybe he'll be another Franklin, who went 24-15 in three seasons and led Vandy to three consecutive bowl games for the only time in the program's history. But that would likely lead to the same outcome the Franklin era had. A bigger school would look at the situation and think, "hey, if they can win at Vanderbilt, think what they could do here!"
But if Vanderbilt hires a coach who will run the option, and that coach has success, the Penn States of the world won't come knocking on their door to take them away. Running the option would not only increase Vanderbilt's chances of keeping their coach if successful, but it'll also increase their odds of being successful.
No conference recruits like the SEC and given Vanderbilt's history, it's unable to keep up. Since the conference expanded to 14 schools, Vanderbilt has managed to avoid finishing last in the conference's recruiting rankings (according to the 247Sports Composite) just once. In 2018, it finished 12th. This is also where it ranks in the current 2021 class, but there's a long way to go, and that ranking is helped by four-star DT Marcus Bradley committing last week. Who knows if he plans to stick around now that the coach he committed to was fired just a couple days later.
While acquiring the best talent is the goal of any coach, no matter the system they run, the option does not need four- and five-star talent to compete. It's an equalizer. That's why the service academies all run their version of it. It's why Paul Johnson was able to go 82-61 over 11 seasons at Georgia Tech, with four division titles and a conference title despite typically finishing in the bottom third of the conference in recruiting. Eventually, Georgia Tech grew tired of what it saw as a ceiling for its program while running the option, and I understand why. Georgia Tech is located in Atlanta and has a massive collection of high school talent within driving distance. It wanted to make its program more attractive to that talent base.
Vanderbilt is in a different situation. There's talent in the state, but it's not Georgia. Nor is there a history of success like at Georgia Tech (it won a national title as recently as 1990). The best way for the Vanderbilt program to compete with Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and the rest of its division isn't in the recruiting rankings. It's by being different than them and forcing its opponents to adapt to them. Trust me, no coach or player enjoys having to prepare for an option offense with only a week's time. It's a certified pain in the butt for all involved.
When was the last time anybody in the SEC considered preparing for Vanderbilt to be a pain in the butt?
Moment of the Week
While on the topic of Vanderbilt, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention what the big story had been in Nashville before Derek Mason's firing. It was the debut of Sarah Fuller, who became the first woman to play football in the SEC or any Power Five program. Fuller's debut came at the start of the second half when the Commodores kicked off to Missouri.
The squib kick was the only time Fuller would see the field as the Vanderbilt offense never even managed to cross the Missouri 30-yard line, let alone score points in a 41-0 loss. Still, even if all Fuller did was squib a kick, it was a nice moment. Hopefully, Fuller serves as an inspiration to young female athletes everywhere.
Story of the Week
Friday night's game between Oregon and Oregon State was great for a lot of reasons. First of all, the uniform matchup as seen above was top notch. Then there was the heavy fog hovering over the stadium for most of the game that added to the atmosphere. Finally, there is the fact that this is a heated rivalry. And heated rivalries have great stories behind them, like the one ESPN reporter Shelley Smith shared from the sideline.
Yep, just your standard story of a person being assaulted with a block of ice.
While we're on the subject, this game is no longer referred to as The Civil War and needs a new nickname. The two schools play for a platypus trophy. There have been calls to change the game's name to The Battle for the Platypus, which is a fun name, but you know what's better?
Battylpus. It's no longer a Civil War; it's a Battylpus. It rolls off the tongue! Let's make it happen!
Levitating Defensive Back of the Week
As has been so often the case this season when it comes to marveling at incredible interceptions, the award goes to Clemson's Andrew Booth.
Cowardly Coaching Decisions of the Week
We're splitting the award between two coaches this week. We'll start with Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. Now, Narduzzi's team was in the wrong place at the wrong time on Saturday. They just happened to be the first team Clemson saw after the Tigers spent all of last week being mad at Florida State. They were also the first team Trevor Lawrence saw in a month after missing time due to COVID-19, so the Panthers were dead before the game started.
That did not stop Clemson from kicking Pitt's lifeless corpse repeatedly. The Tigers jumped out to a 31-0 lead in the first quarter, which led to an incredible moment in the second quarter.
With Pitt trailing 31-0 at just under the 10-minute mark of the quarter, the Panthers faced a fourth-and-3 from the Clemson 5-yard line. Narduzzi opted to kick the field goal. I guess maybe he thought his defense, which allowed 31 points and 264 yards in the first quarter, could get enough stops to buy his offense time to make up the four touchdowns it still trailed by.
Sharing the award with Narduzzi is Auburn's Gus Malzahn. In the third quarter of Auburn's 42-13 loss to Alabama, the Tigers trailed their rival 28-6. Auburn faced a fourth-and-15 at the Alabama 39. Instead of going for it, Malzahn opted for a 56-yard field goal attempt. It was no good. Now, if asked, Malzahn would likely argue that he felt his team had a better chance of making the 56-yard kick than converting the fourth-and-15, and he's likely correct.
The problem is, how much would making the field goal have improved Auburn's odds of winning the game? You're still down three scores. If you manage to convert the fourth-down attempt, you're increasing your odds of winning the game more than making the field goal would have.
I mean, if trailing your rival by 22 points in the third quarter isn't the time to start taking chances, when is?
Juke of the Week
Any time you can make the defender disappear from the screen, you've done well, and that's what Baylor's R.J. Sneed did here.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
Until the next Monday After!