By JD McCarthy
Brian Harsin used extreme versatility to build Boise State into a program that not only competed above its weight class but enjoyed great success doing so.
With the hirings of Mike Bobo and Derek Mason as his offensive and defensive coordinators, respectively, he is building Auburn the same way.
Mason was considered one of the top defensive coordinators in football while at Stanford before he parlayed his success into becoming the head coach at Vanderbilt.
“Derek Mason is one of the best defensive minds in college football, and his track record speaks for itself,” Harsin said. “I’ve always admired his ability to prepare his defenses, and his approach with players on and off the field is outstanding. Having experience as a head coach in the Southeastern Conference is invaluable, and he will bring a lot to our program. We’re fired up to have Coach Mason join the Auburn family.”
While at Stanford, Mason ran a 3-4 defense that helped power the Cardinals to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. However, football has changed a lot in the past few seasons, and Mason made sure to change with the times. In 2019, Vanderbilt opened with a 4-3 defense before going back to a 3-4 in 2020.
This demonstrates the versatility that Mason demands from his players and himself; defensive ends will line up at tackle and inside linebackers have to be able drop back into coverage and rush the passer.
The goal of this is to be unpredictable and to prevent any weaknesses from being exploited.
The personnel may stay the same, but with each player being capable of blitzing or dropping into coverage, fewer substitutions are required, which helps disguise what the defense is planning to do.
It isn’t just the front seven that is expected to be flexible either. Mason, a former corner, consistently switches between man and zone coverages in the secondary and expects his corners to help in run support.
This is why Mason was an obvious fit for the opening under Harsin; both want to attack their opponent any way they can and prevent them from developing any sort of rhythm. This is also a trait Bobo will bring as the offensive coordinator.
“I’ve wanted to work with Mike now for quite some time as he complements the many things we want to do with our offense,” Harsin said. “We are going to be very versatile in what we do, and Mike’s offensive background speaks for itself. I’m really excited to combine forces with Mike as we create the Auburn offense, a high-powered, attacking and physical unit that will come at you in many ways.”
Much like Harsin, Bobo utilizes tight ends and running backs in the passing game, has developed quarterbacks and tries to keep the defense off balance by changing tempo, personnel and formations.
While Bobo has more questions surrounding him than Mason, South Carolina was 10th in the SEC in both points per game (23.5) and yards per play (5.6) in his lone season there. That was an improvement for the Gamecocks, and they did fire their head coach during the season.
Bobo enjoyed the most success at Georgia, where he played quarterback from 1994-97, coached quarterbacks from 2001-06 and was offensive coordinator from 2007-14.
The Bulldogs had top-five scoring offenses in the SEC every season from 2010-14, and he also coached some of the best quarterbacks in the SEC in that stretch.
Aaron Murray, the SEC’s all-time passing leader, started for the Bulldogs from 2010-2013 and threw for at least 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns every year. Matthew Stafford, who is still having success in the NFL, threw for 3,459 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2008.
While Harsin and Bobo have track records of developing quarterbacks, Bobo has something Harsin does not: extensive recruiting ties to the South.
Bobo is from Thomasville, Georgia, and he played and coached for Georgia and South Carolina.
He has used these connections to land several elite recruits, including Matthew Stafford, Sony Michel, Aaron Murray, Nick Chubb and more. He was also the primary recruiter for Gunner Stockton, the nation’s No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the 2022 class, who is currently committed to South Carolina.
While neither Mason nor Bobo has ever worked with Harsin, they all three rely on versatility and being unpredictable to get the most out of their players, and fans should expect both sides of the ball to look quite different from how they did under the previous staff.