AUBURN, Ala. – Former Vanderbilt head coach and Stanford defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, has been named Auburn’s defensive coordinator, head coach Bryan Harsin announced Thursday.
“Derek Mason is one of the best defensive minds in college football and his track record speaks for itself,” Harsin said. “I’ve always admired his ability to prepare his defenses and his approach with players on and off the field is outstanding. Having experience as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference is invaluable and he will bring a lot to our program. We’re fired up to have Coach Mason join the Auburn family.”
Mason spent seven seasons at Vanderbilt (2014-20) where he became just the second coach in program history to lead a team to multiple bowl appearances. His 2018 team won six games and capped the regular season with a third straight victory over rival Tennessee and fifth in seven years. It also marked Vanderbilt’s second bowl appearance in three years under Mason.
Mason guided Vanderbilt to its eighth postseason appearance in 2016 and finished the regular season 6-6, including four wins over the final six games. The season featured marquee SEC victories over Georgia, Ole Miss and No. 24 Tennessee. Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham became Vanderbilt’s first consensus All-American in more than three decades, sweeping first-team honors.
“Auburn University is a special place with special people, and I’ve witnessed this in my time in the SEC,” Mason said. “I admire the school, the facilities, the traditions and the uniqueness of the community. Auburn has everything! Auburn embraces all that I believe in and I’m very appreciative of Coach Harsin, Director of Athletics Allen Greene, and the University Administration for this opportunity. I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Harsin and I’m excited to hit the ground running.”
The architect of Stanford’s vaunted 3-4 defense, Mason spent four seasons with the Cardinal and was elevated to defensive coordinator in 2011 after leading the program to a pair of Rose Bowl appearances and consecutive Pac-12 titles. Mason’s elite defensive units at Stanford ranked among the NCAA’s best in defensive efficiency for three consecutive seasons.
While facing seven ranked opponents in 2013, Stanford ranked third nationally in rushing defense (89.4 ypg), 10th in scoring defense (19.0 ppg) and 16th in total offense (343.1 ypg). The Cardinal was also one of only five teams to allow less than 100 rushing yards per game in 2013 and ranked fifth nationally with 44 sacks and seventh with 109 tackles for loss.
In 2012, Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award, given annually to the nation’s top assistant coach, after directing a Stanford defense widely considered the program’s finest unit ever.
Mason’s leadership paved the way to a historic defensive output, breaking Stanford’s single-season record with 57 sacks and pacing the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense, and helped the Cardinal to an 11-2 season capped off with a Rose Bowl title. In 11 of 14 games, Stanford held its opponent to 20 or fewer points, including a 14-point effort in an overtime win at top-ranked Oregon, who led the FBS with a 54.8 scoring average. The 2012 Stanford defense held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing.
In 2011, Mason’s first year as co-defensive coordinator, his unit ranked either first or second in the Pac-12 in six defensive categories, including rushing defense, third-down conversion defense, scoring defense, total defense, sacks and opponent first downs.
Mason also helped develop an array of Stanford defensive standouts, including All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, All-America defensive end Trent Murphy, All-America linebacker Shayne Skov and All-Pac-12 safety Ed Reynolds.
Prior to his arrival in Palo Alto, Mason served as an assistant defensive back coach for the Minnesota Vikings from 2007-09. He played a vital role in the team ranking sixth in total defense in 2008 and 2009 as the Vikings won NFC North titles each season. Mason was introduced to the NFL coaching circles through the Minority Fellowship program.
Before joining the Vikings, Mason tutored wide receivers at Ohio under Frank Solich, helping the Bobcats improve from 4-7 in 2005 to a 9-5 campaign and GMAC Bowl appearance the following year. Mason spent the 2004 season as wide receivers coach at New Mexico State, where the Aggies led the conference in passing.
During the 2002 campaign, Mason mentored receivers and assisted with special teams at Utah. The Utes featured the NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick in quarterback Alex Smith and wide receiver Paris Warren, an eventual seventh-round pick.
Mason’s move to Utah came after a three-year stint at Bucknell (1999-2001) in which he gained his first experience as a defensive assistant coach. At Bucknell, Mason served as defensive backs mentor for three straight winning Bison squads.
Mason’s first three collegiate positions came as an offensive assistant at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College in 1994, Weber State in 1995-96 and Idaho State in 1997-98.
As a player, Mason was a two-year starter and four-year letter winner at Northern Arizona. Mason earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northern Arizona in 1993. A native of Phoenix, Mason was a standout football player at Camelback High School.
Derek and his wife, LeighAnne, have two daughters, Makenzie and Sydney.