Oklahoma State has officially hired Derek Mason as its new defensive coordinator after weeks of reports that this was about to happen.
In between those stories and Oklahoma State’s confirmation on Friday, Auburn announced just last Friday that Mason was no longer its defensive coordinator. It is likely that Mason was leaving Auburn before Auburn said he was leaving, or that Auburn coach Bryan Harsin decided to let Mason go before Mason’s new job officially started.
Either way, Mason is the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator under coach Mike Gundy after a solid season at Auburn following his firing as Vanderbilt’s head coach in 2020.
“After meaningful discussions with Coach Gundy these past few weeks about his vision for the program, it became apparent that leading the defense for the Cowboys was the right fit for me,” Mason said.
Key words: “these past few weeks.” Mason has been in discussions with Oklahoma State for approximately a month or more.
“I look forward to working with the student-athletes, coaches and staff as they continue to build a winning culture of success, inclusion and integrity on and off the field,” Mason said.
“Derek is a great addition to Oklahoma State football and to our culture,” said Gundy, who has never previously coached with Mason. “I’m looking forward to getting him over here and getting started as soon as possible.”
Mason replaces Jim Knowles, who left to be defensive coordinator at Ohio State in early December. Harsin promoted Auburn assistant head coach and linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding to defensive coordinator last Friday, apparently after realizing Mason was considering an exit to Oklahoma State or had already accepted the job.
Mason was defensive coordinator at Stanford from 2011-13 before getting the Vanderbilt head coaching job.
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 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. 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 since 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 November.
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 when a touchdown tied the game, 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.