New Oklahoma State football defensive coordinator Derek Mason will take over one of the nation’s best defenses from the previous season. Sources have confirmed to ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg that the Cowboys are set to officially announce the hiring of Mason.
Before serving in this same role at Auburn in 2021, Mason was the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2014 to 2020.
Mason will take over as the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator after Jim Knowles departed to take a lucrative deal at Ohio State.
Mason compiled a 27-55 record with the Commodores, who are the perennial doormat team of the SEC. Under the Arizona native, Vanderbilt did reach two bowl games, marking only the second time in school history that the Commodores had reached the postseason twice in a three-year period.
Mason also had a 3-3 record against in-state rival Tennessee, an impressive feat considering that the Volunteers were 29-3 against Vanderbilt in the teams’ previous annual meetings dating back to 1983.
How will Mason fit in with Mike Gundy’s football program in Stillwater?
Mason brings expertise in coaching defensive backs, which was his role with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings shortly before he took over at Vanderbilt. He built one of the nation’s best defenses at Stanford in 2012 and 2013, too, before becoming the Commodores’ head coach.
OSU’s secondary needs to replace several key contributors next fall, especially since the announced transfer of Jarrick Bernard-Converse to LSU. The senior, who led the Cowboys in pass breakups (11) and added 51 tackles in 2021, has one more year of college eligibility remaining.
Also gone is safety Tanner McAllister, who followed Knowles as a transfer to Ohio State, and Kolby Harvell-Peel, a third-team All-American who declared for the 2022 NFL Draft.
Mason has also shown a penchant for guiding players to the NFL, as he did at Vanderbilt. The Commodores are not exactly known for producing pro-level talent, yet Mason’s Vanderbilt teams saw four defensive players selected in the first three rounds of the NFL Draft during his tenure with the school.
Three of these defensive players were linebackers and one was a defensive back — cornerback Joejuan Williams of the New England Patriots (drafted No. 13 in the 2019 NFL Draft’s second round).
Mason has a strong track record from his short stint at Auburn, as in 2021 the Tigers ranked No. 27 in the country in scoring defense by allowing only 21.7 points per game while facing some of the nation’s best teams in Alabama, Georgia, and even Ole Miss and Penn State. The Tigers were also in their first year under new head coach Bryan Harsin.
Against a high-powered offense like Ole Miss, Auburn held the Rebels (who finished the year with the country’s No. 6-ranked offense at 492 yards per game) to a regular season-low 20 points. Auburn finished the year ranked fifth in scoring defense in the SEC.
Overall, Mason brings a wealth of coaching experience from the NFL and the SEC to Stillwater. While Knowles was more of a linebackers coach, the more secondary-focused Mason is a bit of a change for Gundy and OSU.
The move clearly signals that OSU is willing to shell out significant money to build a solid coaching staff under Gundy after the departure of Knowles to Ohio State.