The biggest question mark facing any first-time head coach is his ability to bring a staff together. For Vanderbilt's Derek Mason, it appears that little piece of punctuation may be straightening into an exclamation point.
Let's start with defense. Everything starts on defense with Mason. Mason will bring Stanford inside linebackers coach David Kotulski (who Mason hired at Stanford) with him to Nashville. Together with Mason, Kotulski helped Stanford collect 101 sacks over the last two seasons, a figure that led college football by a full 10 sacks, and aided Shayne Skov become a consensus All-American. Prior to Stanford, Kotulski directed a Lehigh defense for six seasons, a unit that ranked among FCS's top 20 nationally in rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, total defense, and sacks while claiming the Patriot League championship in 2011. Mason hired Kotulski at Stanford, and clearly believes in his teaching ability.
Joining Kotulski will be San Jose State defensive coordinator Kenwick Thompson, who will coach the outside linebackers in a to-be-defined role. Thompson spent five seasons on the defensive staff at California where he held the associate head coach title and served as the recruiting coordinator for years - where he garnered interest from Stanford according to Jeff Tedford - before running San Jose State's defense in 2013.
In Mason, Kotulski and Thompson, Vanderbilt will have three coaches with Division I coordinator experience to combat the point-a-minute league the SEC became in 2013. Defensive assistant Vavae Tata will follow Mason and Kotulski from Stanford and coach the Commodores' defensive line.
On offense, Karl Dorrell's hiring as offensive coordinator should become official on Thursday. Dorrell led UCLA to a 35-27 record from 2003-07, then spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins and the last two with the Houston Texans as quarterbacks coach. Dorrell helped Houston win the AFC South in 2012 and earned respect in NFL circles for his work with back-up quarterback Case Keenum following an injury to Matt Schaub. An assistant who worked on Dorrell's staff told FootballScoop, "He's a young 50. Has the legs and the desire to recruit and has the brains and experience to score all the points they will need."
Dorrell will be assisted by Gerry Gdowski as wide receivers coach, Kevin Lightner as offensive line coach and Charles Bankins as running backs coach. Gdowski and Lightner, along with Mason, both came to Ohio in 2005 as original members of Frank Solich's staff; Gdowski served as quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator, and Lightner was the Bobcats' offensive line coach. Both helped the Bobcats rewrite the Ohio offensive record book. Bankins is a holdover from James Franklin's staff, and will move over from special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.
Former Stanford and Florida director of player personnel Jon Haskins will serve the same role at Vanderbilt, and 2013 FootballScoop Director of Football Operations of the Year winner Jason Grooms will join Gdowski and Lightner in migrating from Ohio to Vanderbilt. Finally, Bill Hughan will join the caravan from Palo Alto to Nashville to take over Vanderbilt's strength and conditioning program. A personnel director with SEC experience, an award-winning DFO and a strength coach hailing from Stanford's all-world strength program. Check, check and check.
With two position coaches left to add to the staff, D Mase is building quite a staff at Vanderbilt.