NCF On The Trail: Derek Mason

SEC signing day roundtable: Coach under pressure

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
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There is only one new face among SEC head coaches this year -- Florida’s Jim McElwain -- but a number of the league’s head honchos face increased pressure to perform in 2015.

Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.

Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.

David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.

Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best Insider that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.

Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.

Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.

Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."

Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday’s offerings: After a few weeks to recover from the holiday that was signing day, it’s always interesting to analyze the data to get a better understanding of what really happened. This past Friday, I took a look at the teams that saw the biggest gains from 2013 to 2014. But what were some of the teams that were on the other end of the spectrum?

Now that the 2014 class is in the books it’s time to take a look at which teams need to make a big splash in recruiting for the 2015 class. Below are five teams we feel have to perform well in recruiting to move forward and re-establish their programs among the college football elite. There are always peaks and valleys in recruiting, but there’s also an expectation level that some programs no matter what will always perform to a high standard and that’s not always realistic.

For these programs, it won’t just be about how good the players are that they sign in 2015; it will also be about what type of person that player is to represent the program and establish a new chemistry. These programs are laying down a new foundation, and it will be this class that will be looked back upon as one that got the ball rolling. These programs need to make the Tennessee-type splash of 2014. Just ask Ole Miss about its 2013 class and what one recruiting cycle can do to reenergize a program. We’ve closed the door on the 2014 class now, here’s to opening the door for the 2015 class. Let’s get off to a fast start shall we?


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SEC coaches who need to close well

February, 4, 2014
2/04/14
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National signing day is a huge day for future college football stars. It's a crazy day for fans. And it's a very important day for college coaches.

Signing days can make or break programs, as those noisy fax machines provide an early glimpse into the future.

Some coaches make a killing on signing day, some kick back because their classes are already pretty much taken care of, and others sweat and grind down those nails. On Wednesday, the SEC should yet again bathe in the glory that is a successful signing day, but there are still some coaches who need to have big days as they guide their programs forward.

Who are some of those SEC coaches this year? Let's take a look:

Bret Bielema, Arkansas: It's no secret that Bielema's first season in Fayetteville wasn't much of a success, but a strong closing on signing day could provide this program with some much-needed momentum. What Bielema needed in this class was depth up front on both sides of that ball and help at receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. Getting eight total linemen helps, and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado) could make an immediate impact.

Still, the Razorbacks are looking to secure letters of intent from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), who visited Fayetteville on Jan. 24. He'd be a major snag, as would be four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central) and Florida State athlete commit JoJo Robinson (Miami/Miami Northwestern). Finding another receiver and getting any of these targets would certainly bolster a class that currently ranks No. 32 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and would provide Bielema with the quality players he needs to help get things going at Arkansas.

Will Muschamp, Florida: The Gators have been hot on the recruiting trail since the 2013 season ended. It's almost as if last year's 4-8 record didn't even happen. But Muschamp is still holding out hope on a handful of talented prospects who could help make an immediate impact for a Florida team looking to get back to national relevancy. Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) would be a major get for the Gators, who need depth at the linebacker/defensive end hybrid Buck position. Florida is also looking for another playmaker on offense, and five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) could be that guy. Florida would let him play either side of the ball, and the Gators' track and field program is very attractive to Jackson.

Florida also needs another receiver and is looking to add depth at quarterback and on the offensive line. Former Florida State wide receiver commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade) could join this class, while current FSU quarterback commit Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) is seriously considering the Gators. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) is fresh off a visit to Florida and would be a big addition at a position that needs help going forward. Muschamp did really well in January, but there are still guys at positions of need that Florida needs to close with.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He was way behind the 8 ball before he even stepped on Vanderbilt's campus, but Mason grabbed some major momentum over the weekend with six commitments. After dipping into single digits after Mason arrived, Vanderbilt is back up to 17 verbals in this class. Mason has already done a good job of filling this class back out, but he'd like to add some more quality bodies on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian), who is fresh off of a visit to Vandy. He's someone who could provide early help up front. The Commodores are also still in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy). Grabbing another wide receiver and running back would also be a nice way to close as Mason looks to provide Vandy's fan base with a little more excitement on signing day.
New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason made it very clear when he was hired that he wasn't going to try to be former Commodores coach James Franklin. While that might hold true in the months to come, Mason mimicked Franklin pretty well in the realm of recruiting over the weekend, as he helped secure six verbal commitments.

For a school that watched the bottom fall out of its recruiting class after Franklin left for Penn State last month, Vandy received a healthy amount of good news just days before national signing day, rejuvenating a program that hit a bit of a wall in the last few weeks.

Not only did the Commodores gain six more commitments, they actually got five of them to flip prior verbals to other schools: three-star safety Tre Tarpley (Pittsburgh/Pittsburgh Central Catholic) flipped from Boston College, defensive end Hawkins Mann (Burbank, Calif./John Burroughs) switched from Nevada, quarterback Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons) switched from East Carolina, three-star offensive tackle Bruno Reagan switched from South Florida, and defensive end Charles Wright (Irvine, Calif./Beckman) switched from San Jose State.

The sixth commitment came from long snapper Davis Winkie (Cumming, Ga./South Forsyth).

After losing 11 verbals following Franklin's departure, the Commodores' commitment number dropped all the way to eight. Now, they have some good momentum going into signing day, which just happens to be Wednesday. This class certainly doesn't look as glamorous as it once did, but Mason had a very big weekend at the right time.

It's normal for new coaches to struggle with their first recruiting class, and Mason came in having to feel the blowback from the loss of Franklin, who completely changed the culture at Vandy and recruited like no other Vandy coach before him. Mason still has a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) and could close with a few more commitments before signing day is over.

Transition is always tough for coaches, but Mason helped soften the blow of the recent mass exodus in this class with a huge final recruiting weekend in Nashville.

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