Examining who could replace Derek Mason at Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was fired on Sunday, marking the end of a seven-year tenure with the Commodores. Offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will work as the program’s interim coach for the final two games of 2020 against Georgia and Tennessee. Mason went 27-55 during his seven seasons with the Commodores and guided the program to two bowl trips during that span. Vanderbilt never posted a winning overall or SEC record under Mason.
Who could replace Mason at Vanderbilt? Here are 12 names to watch in the coaching search:
12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Derek Mason at Vanderbilt
Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, Air Force
Calhoun played at Air Force and has worked at his alma mater as the head coach since 2007. Needless to say, it will take a lot for him to leave this job. Calhoun has guided the Falcons to 100 wins since taking over and has led the program to 10 bowl trips. Air Force also played in the Mountain West title game in 2015 and have three 10 or more win seasons under Calhoun’s direction. He also has stops in his coaching career at Ohio, Wake Forest and with the Broncos and Texans in the NFL.
Jamey Chadwell, Head Coach, Coastal Carolina
Chadwell's stock is on the rise in 2020 after leading Coastal Carolina to a Sun Belt East Division title. The Chanticleers are also in the top 25 for the first time since joining the FBS ranks after a 9-0 start this season. The Chanticleers are 17-16 since Chadwell took over but have increased their win total in each of the last two years after posting three in '17. Previously, Chadwell went 22-14 as North Greenville's coach (2009-11), 3-7 at Delta State (2012), and 35-14 at Charleston Southern (2013-16).
Tony Elliott, Co-Offensive Coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Elliott gets an opportunity to run his own program. He’s worked at Clemson as an assistant since 2011 and assumed play-calling duties in ’15. Elliott is regarded as an excellent recruiter and his play-calling ability is a big reason why the Tigers have claimed two national titles over the last three years.
Jeff Fisher, Former NFL Coach
Fisher's name has popped up in the early rumor mill, but it seems like a longshot hire for Vanderbilt. He hasn't coached since his dismissal with the Rams in 2016 and has no collegiate coaching experience. Fisher went 173-165-1 as a NFL head coach and led the Titans to a Super Bowl appearance in 1999.
Willie Fritz, Head Coach, Tulane
Fritz has won at every stop during his coaching career and has brought significant improvement to Tulane – one of the AAC’s most difficult jobs – since arriving in 2016. The Green Wave are 28-32 over the last five years and earned a bowl trip in 2018 and ‘19. Fritz went 17-7 in two years at Georgia Southern (2014-15), 40-15 at Sam Houston State (2010-13) and 97-47 at Central Missouri (1997-09). He’s 182-101 as a head coach.
Will Healy, Head Coach, Charlotte
Healy is a name familiar to many in Nashville after a three-year stint at Austin Peay. The Governors went 0-11 in Healy’s first year but showed big-time improvement over the next two seasons, finishing 13-10 from 2017-18. Healy left Austin Peay for Charlotte in 2019 and is 9-9 since taking over. The 49ers made their first bowl trip in program history with a 7-6 record last fall. Healy is young (35) but would bring some much-needed enthusiasm to the program.
Clark Lea, Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame
Lea doesn’t have experience as a head coach, but he’s a rising star in the assistant ranks. The Nashville native played at Vanderbilt from 2002-04 and started his coaching career in ’06 as a graduate assistant at UCLA. Lea tutored the linebackers in Los Angeles from 2009-11 and also had stops as an assistant at South Dakota State (2007-08), Bowling Green (2012), Syracuse (2013-15) and Wake Forest (2016). He joined Notre Dame’s staff in 2017 and was promoted to defensive coordinator in ’18. The Fighting Irish allowed only 18.2 points a game in 2018, and despite a handful of new starters for 2019, this unit held teams to 17.9 a contest. Notre Dame ranks first in the ACC in scoring defense this year and is holding offenses to just 4.9 yards a snap.
Lance Leipold, Head Coach, Buffalo
Leipold took over as Buffalo’s head coach in 2015 after going 109-6 with six Division III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007-14. The Bulls are 35-32 under Leipold’s watch but have showed steady improvement after winning seven games from 2015-16. Buffalo finished 6-6 in ’17, went 10-4 with a MAC East title in ’18 and recorded an 8-5 mark last fall. The Bulls are off to a 4-0 start in 2020 and look to be the MAC’s top team.
Sean Lewis, Head Coach, Kent State
Lewis is another rising star to watch in this search. Kent State is a tough job, but the former Syracuse assistant has guided the program to a 12-17 mark over the last three years. The Golden Flashes finished 7-6 with the program’s first bowl win in school history in 2019. Kent State is off to a 3-1 start in ’20, which features one of the MAC’s top offenses behind quarterback Dustin Crum. Lewis also spent time as an assistant at Bowling Green and Eastern Illinois prior to Syracuse. He’s young (34) but an exciting name to watch for a program in need of a spark.
Jeff Monken, Head Coach, Army
It’s no secret Vanderbilt is a tough job. Could a switch to the option help this program on a year-to-year basis in the SEC? If so, Monken would be a good fit in Nashville. He went 38-16 at Georgia Southern and has brought drastic improvement to Army since taking over in 2014. The Black Knights are 47-38 since then and have earned three bowl trips from 2016-18.
Ken Niumatalolo, Head Coach, Navy
Niumatalolo is a longshot here, but Vanderbilt would be wise to see if he has any interest in the job. The Hawaii native was promoted to head coach at Navy after Paul Johnson left for Georgia Tech at the end of the 2007 season. Navy is 101-65, has played in 11 bowl games and won the 2015 AAC West Division title under his watch.
Jay Norvell, Head Coach, Nevada
Norvell was a long-time assistant prior to getting the top spot at Nevada, spending time at Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State prior to 2017. The Wisconsin native has worked in Reno since '17, recording a 23-21 mark as the Wolf Pack's head coach. After a 3-9 record in 2017, Nevada went 8-5 in '18 and 7-6 in '19.