As of Friday afternoon, Derek Mason said he was still recruiting for Auburn, where he was defensive coordinator during the 2021 season.
“I don’t know where I’m headed, but I am still at Auburn,” he said on his cell phone. “There have been a lot of things out there, I know. I am going in to see coach right now.”
That would be head coach Bryan Harsin, who either let Mason go or fired him on Friday – just days after Mason was linked to the Oklahoma State defensive coordinator position, according to Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports and The Athletic.
Mason and Harsin were reportedly not always on the same page last season, which was Harsin’s first at Auburn.
“Derek Mason is stepping down from his position as defensive coordinator,” an Auburn released stated late Saturday morning just before Auburn’s No. 2-ranked basketball team and No. 12 Kentucky tipped off at a sold-out Auburn Arena on CBS.
Auburn assistant head coach and linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding has been promoted to defensive coordinator, the release said. Harsin has also hired Jimmy Brumbaugh, a former Auburn defensive lineman, to be his defensive line coach. Brumbaugh was a defensive analyst at Oregon in 2021 and a co-coordinator ad defensive line coach at Tennessee in 2020.
And Harsin has hired Florida linebackers coach Christian Robinson to be his linebackers coach and defensive run game coordinator.
Harsin fired his first coach from his first staff at Auburn – wide receivers coach Cornelius Williams – back in September following a 34-24 win over 28-point underdog Georgia State. The offense struggled mightily in that game as quarterback Bo Nix was benched. A touchdown after a blocked punt and a pick six weighed heavily in Auburn winning.
“First and foremost, I want to thank coach Mason for his leadership as our defensive coordinator this past season and wish him nothing but the best for him on his next steps,” Harsin said.
Mason is considered a top candidate to replace Jim Knowles as Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator. Knowles recently left for the same position at Ohio State. Mason has never coached with Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, but the two did work together on a coaches film room show for the national championship game between LSU and Clemson in the 2019 season.
“The decision to leave Auburn was not an easy one for him,” Harsin said. “And he will always be a part of the Auburn family.”
Mason did not immediately return a call to Outkick.
Mason became defensive coordinator at Auburn following his firing after the 2020 season as Vanderbilt’s head coach, a position he held for seven seasons. Before going to Auburn, Mason spoke to then-LSU coach Ed Orgeron about replacing Bo Pelini as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.
Mason’s Auburn defense finished 27th in the nation and fifth in the SEC in points allowed with 21.8 a game in 2021 and was 29th and fifth in rushing defense with 128.1 yards a allowed a game. In total defense, Auburn was No. 61 nationally and No. 9 in the SEC (373.8 yards), and it was No. 96 nationally and No. 12 in the league against the pass (245.8 yards).
But Auburn’s defense improved during the 2021 season as the offense was significantly more to blame for an 0-5 finish that ended the Tigers’ year at 6-7 – Auburn’s first losing season 2012.
The defense held off high scoring offenses Arkansas (31 a game) and Ole Miss (34 a game) for 38-23 and 31-20 victories in October and kept the Tigers in 20-3 and 21-17 losses at Texas A&M and South Carolina in Novermber.
Alabama finished sixth in the nation in scoring with 39.9 points a game, but Auburn had the Tide beat, 10-3, until the final seconds of the fourth quarter before a game-tying touchdown, then Alabama won 24-22 in overtime. Had Auburn running back Tank Bigsby stayed inbounds on a late possession, Auburn could have run the clock out and won in regulation.
Auburn then lost the Birmingham Bowl, 17-13 to Houston, which averaged 36 points a game.
Coaching movement has continued throughout the SEC as Texas A&M just hired defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin away from Ole Miss.