Derek Mason, left, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos, right
Head coach Derek Mason, Vice chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director David Williams II, Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos
After the first look-listen test Saturday, I know whom new Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason is.
He is James Franklin without Franklin's massive ego.
While James Franklin carried the airs of a self-centered pigskin aristocrat, Derek Mason would just as soon look under the hood and come out covered in grime.
When former Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh bought his staff shirts that gas station workers wear with their names on them. Mason took to them like a wino to happy hour.
"Jim made this program blue collar, and that's what I am,'' Mason said at a Vanderbilt press conference/pep rally. "Those were blue- collar shirts, so we wore those things. Now I thought it was a little weird, but that was his message. We were going to be blue collar.''
Mason was aware that several Vanderbilt verbal commitments have already joined Franklin at Penn State. Others may follow, while others have de-committed and opened the recruiting process up with signing say just around the corner.
Franklin has been clear he thinks teen-age recruits choose a school because of the coach, not the school.
Mason will try to salvage as much of this Vandy recruiting class as he can, hopefully adding more commitments before signing day, but he won't try to persuade those who have followed Franklin to honor their original commitments.
Nor will he try to convince those who have verbally committed to Stanford to sign with Vanderbilt.
"I'm not going to chase, or get into what is happening with those players because I believe those young men decided on a process long ago, which was to go to Stanford,'' Mason said.
"I think in doing so, you have to be who you say you are. If you say you have character, then you change halfway through that process because the coach leaves, that means you were never committed to the process. So really, is it about the school or the coach? Because in the end, it's about getting a world class education and playing world class football.''
Mason emphasized he is not James Franklin or any other coach. He stands on his own agenda, comfortable in his own skin.
He wants his offense to be balanced, but explosive, whether it's running or throwing the ball. He wants to be efficient on third downs and in the red zone. He predicted he will have his staff manned at least 90 percent over the next 48 hours, max.
There's a lot of work, a lot of damage control demands facing Mason.
He is eager to get started, to tackle any and all problems that arise. He emphasized he can't do it all alone.
"This program isn't about me. It's about we,'' Mason said. "It's us, we, a team. We are primed for greatness. Our pursuit will be limitless. I only have one rule – do what's right.''
During the press conference, Derek Mason was prepared, giving clear answers.
He did seem confused by this writer's question, when I asked Mason if he had ever used a helicopter to travel to high school football games on recruiting visits.
Franklin frequently arrived at games in Middle Tennessee and the Atlanta area in a helicopter. It was his way of beating traffic snarls and making an impression at the same time.
"I don't know what that's in reference to, but I think I will get in a car and drive over and watch games and just see where the process takes me,'' Mason offered.