Mason running short on time to build Vandy recruiting class
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It’s only been a week since Derek Mason became Vanderbilt’s new football coach. But he hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped since.
First order of business: Assemble a coaching staff. Connections made during two decades of coaching on the college and NFL levels, as an assistant, afforded options from a variety of sources.
On Friday, Mason officially announced seven of the eventual nine hirings for his staff.
Former UCLA head coach Karl Dorrell was named offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Stanford linebackers coach David Kotulski was hired as defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach.
Other staff hirings include Charles Bankins (running backs and special teams), Gerry Gdowski (wide receivers), Keven Lightner (offensive line), Kenwick Thompson (outside linebackers) and Vavae Tata (defensive line).
Bankins is the only holdover from the staff of former Commodores coach James Franklin, who took the Penn State job after three seasons at Vanderbilt. Bankins originally coached tight ends and special teams.
"I am very excited to announce our first seven Vanderbilt coaches," said Mason, who spent the last three years as Stanford defensive coordinator. "We are assembling an outstanding group of coaches to guide the Commodore program. These coaches bring decades of experience and proven success to Vanderbilt."
Kotulski, Tata and Hughan were on the same staff at Stanford with Mason. Gdowski, Lightner and Grooms were fellow assistants at Ohio University, where Mason worked as an assistant from 2005-06 under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich.
While putting together the staff, Mason also had to go about the business of trying to salvage an incoming recruiting class that once had 20 commitments and ranked around 30th in the country by most recruiting services, including Scout.com.
At this point, Scout.com lists Vanderbilt with 11 commitments that collectively rank 81st nationally. That includes Mason’s first Commodores commitment, wide receiver Rashad Canty out of Riverdale (Ga.) High School.
Another recruiting service had Vanderbilt’s commitments list dwindling to as few as eight players.
"I think most young men wanted to know who their head coach was going to be," Mason said during last week’s introductory press conference about maintaining the current crop of commitments.
"What we’ve found is that young men can be nervous about the process when they don’t know," he added, "but once they know, the resolve comes back."
The next two weekends are the last two key recruiting segments for prospects to make official and unofficial campus visits. National Signing Day is Wednesday, Feb. 5.
San Jose (Calif.) Bellarmine Prep quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels, whose older brother Austyn Carta-Samuels quarterbacked the Commodores this past season, withdrew his commitment to Vanderbilt earlier this week. He then committed to Washington.
Five previous Vanderbilt commitments — quarterback Trace McSorley, Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods; offensive tackle Brendan Bosnan, Park Ridge (Ill.) Maine South; cornerback Grant Hayley, Atlanta Lovett School; defensive end Lloyd Tubman, Louisville (Ky.) Seneca; and offensive tackle Chance Sorrell, Middletown (Ohio) High — all changed their minds and plan to follow Franklin to Penn State.
Another previous local Vanderbilt commitment — defensive tackle Jashon Robertson out of Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy — committed to Tennessee. Defensive tackle Mike Sawyers, a prospect from Ensworth School just down the road from the university, has de-committed from the Commodores and re-opened his recruiting.
According to Scout.com, Vandy’s only four-star current commitment is cornerback Emmanuel Smith, out of nearby Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Oakland. He plans to take an official visit to Vanderbilt this weekend.
"In terms of recruiting, I’ve been to Georgia, Florida and Louisiana," Mason said of recruiting the Southeast. "I’ve been in the South recruiting for at least eight years. When you look at my career, it speaks to what we like to do and the kind of men we like to have on our team."
Here is a glance at Mason’s new Vanderbilt staff:
Karl Dorell: The Bruins made bowl appearances in every one of Dorrell’s five years as UCLA’s head coach (2003-07). He was Pac-10 co-coach of the year in 2005. He most recently coached in the NFL with the Houston Texans (QBs coach — 2012-13) and Miami Dolphins (QBs/WRs coach — 2008-11).
David Kotulski: Before working with Mason at Stanford, Kotulski was defensive coordinator at Lehigh (2006-11), Holy Cross (2005), Utah State (2003-04), Bucknell (1995-2002) and Saint Mary’s (1990-94).
Gerry Gdowski: At Ohio the past four seasons under Solich, the former Nebraska skipper for whom he played at quarterback, Gdowski was assistant head coach, co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Keven Lightner: A former Nebraska offensive tackle standout, Lightner was offensive line coach at Ohio from 2006-13. Before that, he was offensive line coach at New Mexico State (2003-05) and co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Western Kentucky (2001-02).
Charles Bankins: Before coaching tight ends and special teams at Vanderbilt the past three seasons, Bankins was running backs coach at Richmond (2007-08) and Hampton (2000-04, 2006).
Kenwick Thompson: He was defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at San Jose State last season. Before that, Thompson was linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at California from 2007-12, along with serving as associate head coach in 2012.