Vanderbilt Football and the Conundrum of 2020

Greg Arias

College football fans are a passionate bunch, regardless of team affiliation. Perhaps nowhere else more so than across the Southeastern Conference where that passion runs deep and where the conference adopted the slogan "It Just Means More," because it does. 

However, in a year that is best described as crazy, weird, unpredictable, confusing, distorted, and miserable, the train of normalcy in 2020 jumped the tracks in March and has us all on a blind ride down the embankment into the unknown. 

To that end, when an article appeared in the Tennessean on Tuesday concerning the possibility of Vanderbilt head football coach Derek Mason retaining his job regardless of how bad this coming season might be, got me to thinking. Could the university decide to keep a football coach if his team finished a season winless, following a 3-9 season and with an overall record of 27-47 with not a single winning season in his six as the head coach?   

Yes, and I agree with almost every word written by Gentry Estes in The Tennessean, as mentioned above.  

That's the conundrum that 2020 has put not only Vanderbilt but every other college or university athletic program that has struggling teams where a coaching change might be warranted.  

While the final record is all that matters, and all that fans will cling to in the end, it could be possible for the Commodores to be a better football team in 2020, but finish with a far worse record. 

Yes, I've hit my head, but bear with the thought process here. Last season's 3-9 mark came with an embarrassing loss to UNLV at home. That alone was enough to get most coaches fired, but not Mason. He survived, then his team almost inexplicably managed an upset home win over a then-ranked Missouri team to capture a conference win. 

While that victory wasn't enough to erase the bitter taste of the Vegas debacle, it was something.  It was, however, followed with a string of blowout losses to end conference play and the Dores season.  

So how could this season be better but produce a worse record? 

That's easy. This season's schedule is an all-SEC slate. There's no Mercers for an almost assured win. There's no UNLV's for disappointing losses. 

Most people already expect every single loss. So what's left then for Mason and his team to improve? 

Great question, and here's the answer. 


Let's start with the offense, where scoring points would be an improvement. Completing forward passes and having an offensive line that shouldn't be on a wanted poster for getting their quarterbacks killed would be an improvement.

On defense, a team with this level of returning experience should be improved just by showing up, but with a new defensive coordinator in  Ted Roof, the expectations are quite a bit higher. Perhaps actually stopping teams from rushing for 400 yards or passing for 600 in a single game. Either of those would be positive. 

In the end, and in the craziness that has been 2020, being competitive, staying in games late, and showing that the players have become better football players could well keep a winless coach in place for another season. 

Other factors could play here, but don't be surprised if you see a worse record but a better team this season. 

At this point, should we expect anything else from this year? 

Follow Greg on Twitter @GregAriasSports and @SIVanderbilt or Facebook at Vanderbilt Commodores-Maven.

Comments (2)

I absolutely love Coach Mason. But I don't see how anyone can ever hope to evaluate him or expect any other coach who might replace him do well when the University is absolutely failing to adequately support its student athletes. In 2018-2019, other SEC schools spent between a high of $185.3M (Alabama) and a low of $98.8M (Mississippi State) on athletics (per Vanderbilt, by comparison, spent approximately $55.8M (per How can Vanderbilt spend roughly half what the LOWEST other SEC school spends and ever expect to compete? I have great hopes for the new Chancellor, Daniel Diermeier. From a recent interview, he seems to genuinely understand the importance of excelling at everything, including athletics. But, Vanderbilt needs a fundamental change in its sports culture and a radical increase in its sincerity about, and support of, athletics. It is incredibly unfair to all of these young men and women to bring them here to compete against the very best here in the SEC and then fail to adequately support them. We (and I'm including myself as a Vanderbilt Alumnus) should all be ashamed. Fight hard or quit. But for the love of God, stop embarrassing us all.