By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Vanderbilt fired coach Derek Mason on Sunday after losing the first eight games of his seventh season, and offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will serve as the interim coach.
“While this was a difficult decision, but I know this change is necessary,” athletic director Candice Lee said in a statement. “We wish Derek and his entire family the best.”
Mason posted a statement on Twitter thanking Nashville and Vanderbilt for embracing his family. He said he was grateful to be Vanderbilt’s coach the past seven years.
“I am confident that our current student-athletes and their families are in good hands with Chancellor (Daniel) Diermeier and Director of Athletics Candice Lee and will continue to rise to today’s challenges with integrity and character,” Mason wrote.
Hired in 2014 as Vanderbilt’s 28th coach, Mason replaced James Franklin when he left for Penn State. Mason came to Vanderbilt after being associate head coach and defensive coordinator at Stanford. He became the first Vanderbilt coach since the 1920s to beat in-state rival Tennessee three straight seasons.
He guided the Commodores to a bowl twice in three seasons, the last clinched with a 38-13 rout of Tennessee in November 2018. Athletic director Malcolm Turner, who was on the job for barely a year, gave Mason a contract extension within his first month on the job in February 2019.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Southeastern Conference is playing only league games this season. Vanderbilt came into the season having lost four consecutive SEC games, a skid now at 12 with the Commodores at 0-8 and on the verge of the first winless season in school history after a 41-0 loss to Missouri.
“I take full responsibility,” Mason said following the loss to Missouri, Vanderbilt’s fifth by double digits this season.
Mason hired Fitch and a new defensive coordinator after last season. Then he had at least seven players opt out, with eight others transferring this year. Linebacker Dmitri Moore opted out, then changed his mind before deciding to transfer after playing in a loss to then-No. 6 Florida.
Vanderbilt became the first SEC school to have a game postponed due to not having at least 53 scholarship players available; that happened before a road trip to Missouri initially scheduled for October. The Commodores also played two other games with the number of scholarship players in the 50s.
The most notable thing to happen this season for Vanderbilt came Saturday, when soccer goalkeeper Sarah Fuller became the first woman to play in a Power Five conference football game.
“It has truly been my honor to have been given the opportunity to teach, mentor and coach hundreds of Vanderbilt young men and one courageous female,” Mason wrote.
At 27-55, Mason leaves as the sixth-winningest coach in program history. Vanderbilt said the search for a new coach will begin immediately.
The Commodores visit No. 11 Georgia (6-2) on Saturday. Vanderbilt also is working to reschedule its final home game against Tennessee, which was postponed by the SEC to help Missouri catch up on games played.