Vanderbilt Team News

Derek Mason using life lessons learned from mom to lead Vanderbilt

Derek Mason
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE — These days, I find myself wondering more and more about the men roaming the sidelines in this game we love so much. Who are the men leading the men?


That’s what took me to Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason’s office.

I’m curious. Best I can tell from news conferences, he’s a man who feels deeply and believes fiercely in the message he is putting out. I also know he has great dance moves.

But what impact is he having on the field and beyond? What shaped him?

He strides over to me as I walk in his office, apologizing about his lack of dressy attire, giving me a hearty handshake.

“I’ve done my research on you, Rachel,” Mason tells me. “You’re an Auburn girl.”

RELATED: Vanderbilt now knows who it is as Derek Mason enters 4th season as coach

I affirm this fact as we sat down at the expansive table in his office. But I’m not here to talk about football or Auburn. I’m here to talk about leadership. I’m here to talk about making a difference in the lives of young men. I’m here to talk about purpose.

Mason assures me he isn’t coaching to chase money; he’s chasing responsibility.

Ethel Jean

Long before Mason was chasing responsibility, he was learning it from his mother, Ethel Jean.

Mason’s father left when Derek was young. He left behind an example of “free living,” Mason says. But “free living” wasn’t going to raise a family. Ethel Jean was.

And Ethel Jean was hard because she had to be – she was both mother and father. She didn’t shirk responsibility. When Mason’s youth-league football coach had to take a leave of absence early one season, Ethel May took over and the team reeled off five consecutive wins.

A stepfather later entered Derek’s life, bringing military values and providing a great male role model.

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