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January 17, 2014

Reaction: Mason takes Vanderbilt job

After spending four years at Stanford, three as the Cardinal's defensive coordinator, Derek Mason is leaving The Farm. Mason, the architect of one of the best defenses in college football, will be the next head coach at Vanderbilt University, replacing James Franklin.

The loss is a significant one for Stanford. While the Cardinal's offense struggled at times after Andrew Luck moved on to the NFL in 2011, the defense has been brilliant. Stanford has held opponents to below 30 points in its last 23 games played; that stretch includes a pair of masterpiece performances against Oregon's potent offense. Stanford had numerous future NFL players on its defense in those years, but Mason brought the best out of his unit.

Word of Mason's departure was met with well wishes from several of his former players.

Mason's replacement: A logical choice to replace Mason as Stanford's defensive coordinator is current outside linebackers coach Lance Anderson. Anderson, Stanford's longest-tenured assistant coach, has coached both the defensive line and outside linebackers at Stanford. He's worked under Vic Fangio and Derek Mason and has plenty of familiarity with the 3-4 scheme that Stanford has embraced in its BCS bowl run.

Last offseason, Anderson was offered and turned down the defensive coordinator position at the University of South Florida. He's very close with Mason (the two have coached together at several schools), and could join Mason at Vanderbilt if he isn't promoted at Stanford.

Anderson's work in Stanford's recruiting efforts has been critical to the program's success. As the program's admissions liaison, he interacts and assists essentially all of Stanford's prospects with navigating the school's rigorous admissions process. Anderson is also one of the program's top recruiters, and spends a lot of time on the recruiting trail covering his expansive recruiting territory, which stretches from Hawaii to Georgia.

In light of the unit's recent success, maintaining continuity on the defensive side of the ball makes sense, and Anderson is a skilled coach who is ready to make the jump to coordinator.

If Shaw chooses to hire from outside the program, former USC and Cal defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergrast could be a good fit. Pendergrast coordinated USC's massively improved defense in 2013 and also runs a 3-4 scheme. Moreover, Pendergrast specializes in coaching defensive backs; since that was also Mason's area of expertise, he'd fit in nicely with Stanford's current defensive staff. He has extensive experience at both the college and professional levels and is widely regarded as a skilled tactician. The downside of hiring Pendergrast is that he's not considered an especially effective recruiter, and while he does run a 3-4 defense, the scheme is different than the one Stanford has run for the last four years. Still, he has a proven track record and is someone David Shaw has spoke very highly of in the past.

San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach Ed Donatell is another potential fit. Donatell has worked under Vic Fangio for three years with the 49ers and has helped develop one of the NFL's best defenses. Hiring Donatell would ensure scheme continuity and fill the defensive backs coaching void left by Mason's departure. Whether Donatell, who could be a target of NFL teams looking for defensive coordinators, has any interest in returning to the college level (he was the defensive coordinator at Washington under Tyrone Willingham in 2008) is unclear.

Recruiting fallout: Stanford hasn't suffered significant damage on the recruiting trail when its assistant coaches have left for other positions in the recent past, and it shouldn't be much different in this case, though it's impossible to rule out the possibility that certain commits and prospects, especially those who don't reside on the West Coast, could be given pause. (It's not yet known if Mason will try to recruit current Stanford commits to Vanderbilt.)

All of the commits reached by Cardinal Sports Report and Rivals.com since news of Mason's departure leaked reaffirmed their commitments to Stanford.

Jordan Perez reacts ($)

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Brandon Simmons

Additionally, Mason could have an impact on Jesse Burkett. Though Burkett is still technically a Vanderbilt commit, he officially visited Stanford last weekend and the Cardinal made a strong impression. Burkett's familiarity with Mason could keep Vanderbilt in the mix and ultimately give the Commodores a better chance at keeping his commitment, though Stanford probably still has the edge, at least for now.

Vanderbilt also now becomes a logical landing spot for recent Stanford decommit Kirk Tucker. Tucker was denied by Stanford's admissions office.

Stay tuned to Cardinal Sports Report and Farm Report as recruit reaction to Mason's move continues to roll in.

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