College Football

Derek Mason steps down at Auburn: What’s next for Tigers as defensive coordinator leaves after one season


Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason has stepped down from his position with the Tigers, the school announced on Saturday. Mason, 52, spent one year as a member of Bryan Harsin’s staff after serving as the head coach at Vanderbilt from 2014-20. In his place, assistant head coach and linebackers coach Jeff Schmedding has been elevated to defensive coordinator. 

“First and foremost, I want to thank Coach Mason for his leadership as our defensive coordinator this past season and wish nothing but the best for him on his next steps,” Harsin said in a statement. “The decision to leave Auburn was not an easy one for him, and he will always be a part of the Auburn family.

“Coach Schmedding was at Coach Mason’s side day after day getting our defense prepared and ready. He is a tremendous defensive coach, who has coordinated championship defenses and is a proven winner. I know our defense will take the next steps forward under Coach Schmedding’s leadership.”

Auburn’s defense was wildly inconsistent in 2021, with performances ranging from seven sacks in the four-overtime loss to Alabama in the regular-season finale to giving up 487 yards and blowing a 28-3 lead against Mississippi State on Nov. 13. The Tigers finished ninth in the SEC in total defense at 372.7 yards per game, fifth in scoring defense at 21.8 points per game and fourth in yards per play allowed at 5.27.

Let’s quickly break down the impact of Mason’s decision on the Tiger’s end.

What this means for Auburn

There’s simply no other way to slice it: this is a big blow. Harsin brought in Mason and former offensive coordinator Mike Bobo last year in part because of their extensive experience in the SEC. That was the right call for an outsider who, aside from some time as an assistant at Texas and one year as the head coach at Arkansas State, was essentially a West Coast coach. 

It’s one thing to replace Bobo; the offense was a disaster last season and the defense shouldered way too much of the load. In reality, it’s a minor miracle that Mason’s defense was even competent considering what it was asked to do. 

Now, Harsin has ex-Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks coach Austin Davis running the offense and Schmedding taking on the defensive coordinator role. Neither had SEC coaching experience prior to Schmedding’s time last year with the Tigers. 

Harsin is taking full ownership of the program and doing it his way. That’s a dangerous prospect at a place like Auburn that is accustomed to staying within the SEC footprint and recruiting at a high level. What’s more, its two biggest rivals — Alabama and Georgia — have separated from the rest of the conference as two of the top programs in the country. 

If this staffing reshuffle doesn’t work, Harsin’s time on the Plains might not last too long.


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