Sunday, January 19, 2014

Derek Mason plans on winning big at Vanderbilt

Derek Mason wants to make a few things clear: He has plenty of experience recruiting in the South, hopes to finish his career at Vanderbilt and has very high goals for the Commodores — such as playing the Southeastern Conference championship.

Vanderbilt introduced its new football coach Saturday, a week after starting a search to replace James Franklin, who left for Penn State.

“This job means everything to me,” Mason said before a packed room. “This is where I want to be, this is where I plan on spending the rest of my career. We will win. Make sure of that. Make no doubts about that. I understand what college football’s about. It’s about winning, and you hired a winner for sure.”

Mason, 44, spent the past four seasons at Stanford working first for Jim Harbaugh, then David Shaw the last two as defensive coordinator. This is Mason’s first head coaching job in a career that started in 1994, and he said he wanted this job so much that he packed a black suit for his first interview in Atlanta — site of the SEC title game.

He made clear he understands Vanderbilt’s priority as a top academic university is graduating players, with winning just as important on the field.

“SEC East title, here we come,” Mason said. “Make no bones about it. If you can’t talk about it, you can’t be about it.”

The Commodores, who went 4-20 combined in 2009 and 2010, were 24-16 over the past three seasons under Franklin. They are 16-4 over the past 20 games — second in the Southeastern Conference only to Alabama and tied with South Carolina in that span. Vanderbilt has played in three straight bowls, winning two, for the first time in school history.

Vanderbilt also has finished in the final Associated Press poll each of the past two seasons, including No. 24 for 2013. The last time Vanderbilt was ranked in the final AP poll before was 1948 under Red Sanders.

Defensive end Kyle Woestmann said Franklin is the reason that a coach the caliber of Mason would want the Vanderbilt job so much.

“Franklin showed how to win and win big and that all we have to do is win two more games a year and you get close to competing for SEC championships and national championships,” Woestmann said. “Derek Mason saw that as an opportunity. He’s here to take us to that next level.”

Mason is the second consecutive black football coach at Vanderbilt. Out of 125 colleges in the Football Bowl Subdivision, only 13 had black coaches in 2013. Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams, also black, said they heard from up to 70 people wanting this job, including coaches in the NFL, head coaches and assistants and even a computer analyst.

“Thank you for believing in us and trusting in us to get you a good head coach,” Williams said.

A former cornerback at Northern Arizona, Mason has been an assistant at various colleges the past 20 years, including stops at Ohio, New Mexico State, Saint Mary’s, Utah, Weber State, Idaho State, Bucknell and San Diego Mesa College. He coached in the NFL, including Minnesota between 2007 and 2009.

Mason helped Stanford slow down hurry-up offenses and read-option runs and beat Pac-12 division rival Oregon the past two years. That had about a half-dozen NFL teams sending coaches last summer for tutorials on Mason’s defensive schemes.

But Mason pointed out he has recruited throughout the south for years, making him very comfortable in SEC country.

Vanderbilt’s new coach met with his players Friday and has been busy studying tape. Mason said he expects to have most of his coaching staff filled out within 48 hours.

Salvaging a recruiting class that had been ranked in the top 25 by many services is his other priority with national signing day less than three weeks away on Feb. 5. Out of 20 commitments, Vanderbilt currently has 11 and sunk to 64 at least according to

Mason said he’ll make his vision and mission very clear.

“I think you’ll like what you see on signing day,” Mason.

Mason knows what it takes to win at a prestigious academic institution like Vanderbilt. Mason won the press conference, now it's time for him to win games.

New Orleans Pelicans reportedly shopping Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon

The New Orleans Pelicans started the NBA season with plenty of backcourt pieces. Now the word on the street is that the team might be willing to trade two of those pieces.

The Pelicans have been hit by injuries, namely to forwards Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and  point guard Jrue Holiday. The team has dropped 13 of 17 games after an 11-10 start. A report in the New York Daily News says the team might be willing to move Tyreke Evans and/or Eric Gordon.

 The Pelicans signed Tyreke Evans this past summer to a four-year, $44 million free-agent deal and then added veteran PG Jrue Holiday via a trade with the Sixers to join Eric Gordon and Anthony Davis. But all the moves haven't exactly clicked. In fact, they've backfired, with New Orleans losing 13 of its last 17 games after starting out 11-10. The front office's take? Team execs are saying at least those are assets that can be moved. Davis and Holiday are the keepers.

It's kind of surprising that Evans is on the trade block considering the Pelicans inked him to a contract that he hasn't lived up to. In fact Evans hasn't progressed since his rookie of the year season in 2009-2010. Evans might fit best on a contender where he could flourish as a sixth man supreme. Gordon pretty much begged out of New Orleans last season when he signed an offer sheet with the Phoenix Suns. He bought into what the team is doing and is now looking at being traded.  

It's only rumor, but if the Pelicans can find the right deal one or both will be gone in a heartbeat. That said, you can bet that if Evans is available, teams will come calling. Teams like the Miami Heat and also the Golden State Warriors both reportedly want to land backcourt help. But a player the caliber of Evans will command a lot in return and he would almost certainly be a little too rich for their blood. In addition, those teams almost certainly are looking more for a veteran role player with postseason experience. If a team truly wants to make a run at the guard, it will more than likely be another young, up-and-coming franchise that can give him a lot of minutes.

If any trade is made by the Pelicans, I see Gordon being shipped out of town before Evans.

Nelson Cruz is the biggest loser in free agency

When former Texas Rangers slugger Nelson Cruz rejected the Rangers' one year qualifying offer of $14.1 million, many figured he would land somewhere with a multi year deal. In 2013 Cruz batted .266 with 27 home runs and 76 RBI. That was with a 50 game suspension he had to serve because of his involvement in the Biogenesis PED scandal.

Instead it's Cruz on the outside looking in as spring training gets closer. Cruz has been linked to the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, and Baltimore Orioles, but still sits at home waiting for a contract offer to roll in. You would figure if Jhonny Peralta can land a 4 year, $53 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals it would be a no brainer that Cruz would land a similar deal, since Peralta also was involved in the same PED scandal. Instead teams see a player who hasn't played in a full 162 game season and has been hit with injuries instead of a bat they can plug into the middle of the lineup.

Cruz would be a fit for most American League teams. At age 33 he isn't finished, but is more on the downside than most would think. He's only hit for more than 30 homers once in his career in a stacked Rangers lineup. He can't run very well and he's a defensive liability. Not someone you want to throw a ton of money at. The guy has DH written all over him. Teams see a player who hasn't played in a full 162 game season and has been hit with injuries instead of a bat they can plug into the middle of the lineup. Being involved with PED's hasn't helped. They wouldn't know what kind of player they would be getting.

Here’s another thing about Nelson Cruz: nobody really wants him. It’s the middle of January and Cruz remains a free agent, and he’s a free agent without a strong market. The best fit, at this point, is probably Baltimore, but Baltimore hasn’t done anything. Seattle’s the only other fit, and they haven’t done anything. The Phillies looked obvious from the get-go, but they instead went with Marlon Byrd. Maybe, in the past, Cruz would’ve secured a major payday, but teams are smarter now, and one of the first things smart baseball people learn is that players like Cruz are overrated.

Cruz is better off seeking a one year deal and proving himself again instead of looking for a big payday. If Mark Reynolds can lock up an invite to spring training at the very least, Cruz should be able to secure a one year deal.

Cruz has definitely turned out to be the biggest loser during this free agency period.