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VOL. 40 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 16, 2016

Longtime fan Wyatt judges Mason’s progress as coach

By Tom Wood

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Nashville Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt, a lifelong Vanderbilt fan, celebrates with sons Vince and Jim after the Commodores defeated in-state rival Tennessee 45-34 to assure Vandy a bowl berth.

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You might not know this, but Vanderbilt football coach Derek Mason has a lot in common with Nashville Criminal Court Judge Randall Wyatt.

Both believe in Commodore football.

And like the well-respected judge, Mason has a background in law. The Phoenix native earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Northern Arizona in 1993.

Of course, the two men practice their specialties on very different fields – Wyatt upholds the law in a Nashville courtroom while Mason lays down the law on a 100-yard gridiron – but each has an appreciation of the other’s job.

Wyatt is a 1966 Vanderbilt Law School graduate who has been attending Commodores games since 1945 – starting with the second Henry Russell Sanders era.

He’s sweated and fretted over the teams, the highs and lows, the ups and downs, over the records posted by the likes of Art Guepe, Fred Pancoast, Steve Sloan, George MacIntyre, Watson Brown, Bobby Johnson, James Franklin and now Derek Mason.

That’s 18 head coaches.

“I’ve been a fan since I was a very young little guy. That’s a lot of years,” says Wyatt, who earned his undergraduate degree from Middle Tennessee State.

“I remember going to Vanderbilt games in the late 1940s. Red Sanders was the coach. My dad used to take me to the games. So that goes way back to the late 40s and since then. I went to law school at Vanderbilt, but I was a Vanderbilt fan before I ever heard of going to law school.

“I just always supported Vanderbilt’s football team.”

After attending this year’s 45-34 victory over in-state rival Tennessee with family members, Wyatt was asked to render judgment on the coaching job Mason has done this season. The judge came back with a thumbs-up verdict of approval.

“I think he’s made a lot of progress at Vanderbilt, I really do. I was particularly pleased with how this season went. I think he’s a good man, from everything I’ve heard about him,” Wyatt points out, noting that he has not yet met the Vandy coach in person, though they have talked.

“He came here, as you know, as a great defensive coach at Stanford. Those defenses at Stanford were always great and that’s what he was known for, but I think he’s developed into a fine head coach.

“The players respect him, I can tell from some of the players that I’ve talked to. They have a high regard for him and play hard for him. So I was real pleased with the way this season went. I was really glad to see him have some success this year and get the bowl bid.”

Mason, who looks forward to meeting Wyatt at some point in the off-season, says his criminal justice degree helps him even today with his philosophies as a football coach. He deals with young men who sometimes struggle on and off the field, who see him as a parental role model.

“Getting a degree in criminal justice and being able to do internships in that environment and working with at-risk kids and at-risk students taught me patience, taught me how to understand the environment they’re in and to make sure that you meet them where they’re at,” Mason adds.

“Every young person craves discipline and structure. But what that structure and discipline looks like is very different from place to place, from program to program, from athlete to athlete. … You can coach the group, but you have to affect the individuals. And that means you’ve got to dig a little deeper than just the surface.

“Sometimes, if you look at the criminal justice system, not every young person is in the same system for the same reason. So with that, you’re trying to address individual problems. Okay? And you maybe get a group result.”

Mason, who started out teaching high school history and government, says the criminal justice training “served me well.

“It really helped me understand that I need to be patient … but by the same token, “I needed to be demanding. And if you love on kids, they tend to love and respect what you do, and they’re more willing to accept the structure and the discipline that you give them.”

Those are the kinds of things that really please a fan like Wyatt.

“I think he’s a hard worker and a great defensive mind as well as a good head coach who is going to do well, given the time to do it. So I’m positive about Coach Mason, I really am,” Wyatt explains.

“I’m optimistic. I always try to be positive, but in this case, he just really seems to be a good man and a good leader for the young men who are playing for him out there.”

The judge and the coach have something else in common – Commodore junior wide receiver C.J. Duncan, a political science major, interned last summer in Wyatt’s office.

“(The internship) was really a great experience. I do a lot of kind of just picking (Wyatt’s) brain. He’s a very smart guy, has a lot of wisdom,” Duncan says. “And he’s a Vandy fanatic, especially in football.

“We sat down a lot and talked and I just expressed to him, ‘Just give us a little time. We were young for a little while here, and I think everybody’s starting to grow up.’ There’s a different maturity and competitiveness on this team.”

“I knew the hard work would pay off sooner or later. I’ve seen the potential for a while and I’m just happy that we were finally able to put it out there on the table.’’

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