NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Derek Mason wants to make a few things clear: He has plenty of experience recruiting in the South, hopes to finish his career at Vanderbilt and has very high goals for the Commodores — such as playing the Southeastern Conference championship.
Vanderbilt introduced its new football coach Saturday, a week after starting a search to replace James Franklin, who left for Penn State.
"This job means everything to me," Mason said before a packed room. "This is where I want to be, this is where I plan on spending the rest of my career. We will win. Make sure of that. Make no doubts about that. I understand what college football's about. It's about winning, and you hired a winner for sure."
Mason, 44, spent the past four seasons at Stanford working first for Jim Harbaugh, then David Shaw the last two as defensive coordinator. This is Mason's first head coaching job in a career that started in 1994, and he said he wanted this job so much that he packed a black suit for his first interview in Atlanta — site of the SEC title game.
He made clear he understands Vanderbilt's priority as a top academic university is graduating players, with winning just as important on the field.
"SEC East title, here we come," Mason said. "Make no bones about it. If you can't talk about it, you can't be about it."
The Commodores, who went 4-20 combined in 2009 and 2010, were 24-16 over the past three seasons under Franklin. They are 16-4 over the past 20 games — second in the Southeastern Conference only to Alabama and tied with South Carolina in that span. Vanderbilt has played in three straight bowls, winning two, for the first time in school history.
Vanderbilt also has finished in the final Associated Press poll each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 for 2013. The last time Vanderbilt was ranked in the final AP poll before was 1948 under Red Sanders.
Defensive end Kyle Woestmann said Franklin is the reason that a coach the caliber of Mason would want the Vanderbilt job so much.
"Franklin showed how to win and win big and that all we have to do is win two more games a year and you get close to competing for SEC championships and national championships," Woestmann said. "Derek Mason saw that as an opportunity. He's here to take us to that next level."