Vanderbilt has fired Derek Mason after seven losing seasons as football coach, the university announced Sunday.
Mason had a 27-55 record, including a 0-8 mark this season against only SEC opponents. The Commodores have lost 12 straight SEC games, their longest conference losing streak since they dropped 23 straight from 2000 to 2003 under Woody Widenhofer and Bobby Johnson.
Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will serve as interim head coach until a replacement for Mason is named, according to a Vanderbilt news release. The search for a new head coach will begin immediately.
Mason did not immediately respond to comments, but he posted a message on Twitter.
“It is with gratitude that I have served as the head football coach at Vanderbilt University, a world class institution, for the past seven years,” Mason tweeted. “I am blessed to have worked alongside and built relationships with some of the finest and most dedicated coaches, staff and faculty in the nation.
“It has truly been my honor to have been given the opportunity to teach, mentor, champion and coach hundreds of Vanderbilt young men and one courageous female.”
Mason’s last game was a 41-0 loss to Missouri, where the spotlight was on Sarah Fuller becoming the first woman to play in a Power Five college football game.
“On behalf of the entire Vanderbilt community, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Coach Mason for his many years of dedication and service leading our football program,” athletics director Candice Lee said in a statement. “Derek cares deeply about the student-athletes under his charge. His tenure at Vanderbilt will be remembered for his steadfast commitment to our student-athletes, not only on the field, but in the classroom and as young people.”
Vanderbilt was Mason’s first head coaching job, following a notable tenure as Stanford’s defensive coordinator.
Mason had relative success at a program that’s experienced very little for several decades. He became only the second coach in program history to make two bowl appearances, finishing 6-7 in 2016 and 2018. And under Mason, the Commodores beat rival Tennessee three straight times for the first time since the 1920s.
But Mason never escaped the shadow of predecessor James Franklin, who had the best three-year record (24-15) at Vanderbilt in about 90 years. Dan McGugin, the program’s all-time wins leader (197-55-19) and a College Football Hall of Fame coach, went 23-6 in 1928-30.
“While this was a difficult decision, but I know this change is necessary,” Lee said. “We wish Derek and his entire family the best.”
Mason’s contract is not public because Vanderbilt is a private university. But he had at least three years left on his deal. In 2017, Mason’s contract was extended to five years. And he received another contract extension in February 2019, though the terms were not released.
According to 2018 university tax returns, Mason was credited with $3.5 million in total compensation that year. His current salary and buyout are not available to the public.