NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Derek Mason knows exactly where he will be when it's time for his Vanderbilt Commodores to run onto the field Thursday night.
Bringing up the rear, letting his captains lead their teammates through the tunnel.
"That's their football team," Mason said Tuesday. "We are Vanderbilt. Our captains will come out, they'll lead that team out the tunnel. I'll be in the backdrop. Let's go play football."
Mason will be making his head coaching debut when Vanderbilt hosts Temple after being hired in January to take over a program that has finished in the Top 25 each of the previous two seasons with consecutive 9-4 records. The former Stanford defensive coordinator said Tuesday he plans a quick glance around the stadium once inside before turning his attention to work.
"I'll soak it in," Mason said of the atmosphere for his debut. "I don't think I'll be like (LSU coach) Les Miles and pick up a blade of grass and start chewing it. I think I'll take a moment just to gaze around and see where I'm at, then the focus comes right back."
Mason said he has been going to bed nightly reviewing scenarios like clock management and has looked closely at his 2-point chart. He says there's no scenario he hasn't covered, drawing on his background as a former assistant coach. Mason has coached in the NFL with Minnesota with stints in the league's minority coaching fellowship program with the Rams, Giants and Raiders.
He worked his way up from coaching wide receivers at Mesa Community College in California in 1994 in a career that has included stops at Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell, Utah, Saint Mary's, New Mexico State and Ohio University. He worked his way from coaching defensive backs at Stanford in 2010 to defensive coordinator and associate head coach.
"I've been waiting for this for a while," Mason said.
Mason has a mix of experience and youth in this team. The depth chart released Tuesday features 13 starters that are redshirt sophomores or younger, including three of the four new starters in the secondary. Redshirt freshman Ralph Webb is listed as the starter at running back with sophomore Patton Robinette at quarterback.
"The best players need to play, so arguably you can always look at experience," Mason said. "But when you have talented guys who compete day in and day out and they show to be better in situations, that's what you go with. I promised these guys when we put this team together we'd put the best players on the field."
His Commodores already have an expectation of what they will see from Mason during the season opener. Guard Spencer Pulley said Mason is solid and intense, making it clear that winning games is up to the players with coaches supporting them from the sideline.
Senior linebacker Kyle Woestmann says he's a big fan of Mason's quiet intensity.
"And during the game, he doesn't seem to be the type of guy that loses his cool or is too out of control on the sideline," Woestmann said. "So I'm really excited to see him in his first game. He provides a quiet intensity and confidence that kind of seeps out to the rest of the team, and I think that's a good thing to have on the sideline."
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