The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Ten candidates to fill Vanderbilt’s head coaching vacancy

With Derek Mason’s seven-year tenure coming to a close, The Hustler provides ten candidates for the Vanderbilt head coaching job.

Vanderbilt on Sunday announced the firing of head football coach Derek Mason with two games remaining in the 2020 season. While first-year offensive coordinator Todd Fitch will take over as interim head coach, athletics director Candice Storey Lee is tasked with finding the 29th head coach in program history. 

Before Lee makes her biggest decision since being named athletics director, The Hustler provides a list of ten potential candidates for the job (listed in alphabetical order).

Jamey Chadwell (Head Coach, Coastal Carolina)

Age: 43

Salary: $375,000

Jamey Chadwell of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers reacts during the game against the Kansas Jayhawks on Sept. 12, 2020. (Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

Jamey Chadwell is a hot name in coaching searches across the country, as he’s led the 18th-ranked Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to a 9-0 record in 2020 and has reportedly already interviewed for the South Carolina head coaching vacancy. The Chanticleers’ nine-win season paces the country, and Chadwell—a former East Tennessee State quarterback—has propelled the program into a spotlight big enough for College GameDay to make its first appearance on Coastal’s campus.

It’s quite possible that Chadwell finds a new gig this offseason, but given his past, it seems unlikely that’ll happen on West End. Chadwell served as the head coach of Charleston Southern from 2013 to 2016, and in 2020, the university was forced to vacate 18 wins—including his 2015 Big South championship—due to various NCAA violations. Surely, Vanderbilt would want nothing to do with an infraction-ridden past.

Tony Elliott (Offensive Coordinator, Clemson)

Age: 41

Salary: $1,600,000

Tony Elliott in a Clemson football practice. (Clemson Athletics/Carl Ackerman)

If Lee really wants an offensive-minded head coach, look no further than Tony Elliott, the play-caller who played a significant role in Clemson’s two national championships the past three years. Elliott has worked at Clemson as an assistant since 2011 and stepped into a coordinator role in 2015. He may not have the head coaching experience that Lee could target, but he did earn the 2017 Frank Broyles Award as college football’s top assistant coach. 

This is a candidate who has long been expected to receive a head coaching role at some Power Five school. If it’s Vanderbilt, though, will Elliot want to take it? He could remain at Clemson, his own alma mater, and continue building a college football powerhouse. Plus, his current salary seems more than enough to stay.

Jeff Fisher (Former Head Coach, Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams)

Age: 62

Salary: N/A, unemployed

Jeff Fisher as head coach of the Tennessee Titans. (John Rivera/Icon SMI)

This is a longshot, if at all possible, but Jeff Fisher’s name has been a mainstay in the rumor mill for over a year. Fisher was named head coach of the Houston Oilers in 1995, and when the franchise relocated to become the Tennessee Titans, so too did Fisher. He remained at the helm of Tennessee’s sole NFL team until 2010, then had a shorter, four-year tenure as head coach of the St. Louis-turned-Los Angeles Rams. He was fired by the Rams in 2012 and amassed a 178–171–1 record as an NFL head coach.

In October of 2019, before then-athletic director Malcolm Turner delivered a press conference in support of head football coach Derek Mason, Fisher-Vanderbilt rumors began circulating. Turner then told The Hustler that the Fisher news is a “completely false narrative,” but with the head coaching job now officially open—and with Fisher still living in Nashville—there’s a fleeting chance the Commodores give him a look.

Todd Fitch (Offensive Coordinator, Vanderbilt)

Age: 56

Salary: Undisclosed

Todd Fitch in his first press conference as interim head coach on Dec. 1, 2020. (Vanderbilt Athletics)

Vanderbilt fans must understand that Fitch, the interim head coach, has not yet been ruled out of the conversation. It may seem unlikely that Lee gives Fitch the reins of the program, but she did express confidence in naming him interim head coach; furthermore, when asked whether he’s a candidate in the search, Lee did not provide a clear-cut answer. Obviously, she’s not going to comment on an ongoing search. But if Vanderbilt finds its bearings and pulls off two upset wins in the final two games of the season, this may seem a lot less crazy.

Fitch was most recently the offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech, where he helped string together a 34-19 record and four straight bowl victories. He was hired in Jan. 2020 to replace Gerry Gdowski as Vanderbilt’s offensive coordinator and has an impressive track record in offensive development. Remember: Lee is looking for an “offensive-minded” head coach. And also worth noting: Fitch has been close friends with Tim Corbin since college, the very coach who Lee tabbed “the prototype” of program-building leaders.

Herb Hand (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line, Texas)

Age: 52

Salary: $700,000

Herb Hand coaching the Texas Longhorns. (Associated Press/Trask Smith)

Herb Hand has produced elite offensive lines at practically every stop in his career—including Vanderbilt, where he coached from 2010-2013. He helped the Commodore offensive line pave the way for a lethal rushing attack that tallied 34 rushing touchdowns in 2013 alone before he was brought to Penn State along with head coach James Franklin. Hand was successful with the Nittany Lions, too, helping form the nucleus of a Saquon Barkley-led rushing attack. 

Routinely a candidate for Offensive Line Coach of the Year, Hand would likely bring a run-heavy offensive attack to Vanderbilt. He may not be the most likely candidate, but as head coach Tom Herman’s seat continues to heat, Hand might begin looking for next stops.

Will Healy (Head Coach, Charlotte)

Age: 35

Salary: $755,000

Will Healy as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers. (The Free Press)

Like Chadwell, Will Healy is another hot name in the college football head coaching carousel. The current head coach at Charlotte said on Dec. 2 that the rumors linking him to Vanderbilt are “flattering,” but the school has not yet reached out; however, this comment should hold little-to-no weight, seeing as no head coach in the country would comment on an ongoing interview process—especially if they already have a job.

At just 35 years old, Healy is the youngest candidate on this list and likely the youngest legitimate candidate for any Power Five head coaching job in the country. He has only amassed a 9-9 record since taking over the Charlotte program in 2019, but what stands out about Healy is his past: at just 30 years old, the Chattanooga native was named head coach of a bottom-dwelling Austin Peay football program—one with the longest active losing streak in the nation—which he subsequently resurrected to the tune of a near-Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff team. If Lee is truly looking for an “offensive-minded” head coach, and one with a proven track record of changing the fate of a program in no time, Healy fits the build.

Charles Huff (Associate Head Coach/Running Backs, Alabama)

Age: 37

Salary: $550,000

Charles Huff coaching the Alabama Crimson Tide. (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images/Rich von Biberstein)

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more qualified 37-year-old than Charles Huff. Vanderbilt fans might even recognize the name from the James Franklin era—Huff served as the Commodores’ offensive quality coach in 2011 before he was courted away by the Buffalo Bills as an assistant running backs coach in 2012. After a one-year tenure in Buffalo and at Western Michigan, Huff was brought to Penn State (again, by head coach James Franklin) as the running backs coach and special teams coordinator. He proceeded to recruit and develop Saquon Barkley, arguably the best running back in program history, and helped claim a 2016 Big Ten Championship. Since then, Huff coached a few seasons at Mississippi State before he was brought to Tuscaloosa in 2018.

Huff, the associate head coach and running backs coach of the No. 1 Crimson Tide, is clearly an “offensive-minded” coach. And Alabama’s Najee Harris-led backfield may reveal why head coach Nick Saban has entrusted Huff with such immense responsibility. He could be a target for the Commodores, should they choose to pursue SEC assistant coaches.

Clark Lea (Defensive Coordinator, Notre Dame)

Age: 38

Salary: Undisclosed

Clark Lea coaching the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. (Notre Dame Athletics)

Another young candidate, Clark Lea boasts something that Healy—or any candidate, for that matter—does not: he’s a Vanderbilt alumnus. Better yet, the former Vanderbilt fullback is a Nashville native and graduated from Montgomery Bell Academy in 2000. Lea is largely responsible for a Notre Dame defensive unit that has finished in the nation’s top 15 the past few seasons, and he even helped lead the Fighting Irish to the College Football Playoff in his first season as coordinator. But with Brian Kelly, the Fighting Irish head football coach of the last decade, just 59 years old, it seems unlikely that Lea finds himself in the driver’s seat at Notre Dame anytime soon.

Maybe it makes sense for Lea. But does it make sense for Vanderbilt? In theory, maybe. Judging from Lee’s comments on Monday, though, maybe not. Lee said she prefers an “offensive-minded” head coach; while that may not be a dealbreaker (she said if the candidate is not offensive-minded, she prefers they have a strong offensive support staff), she also alluded to a preference for candidates with a demonstrated history of program building. Lea, formerly a linebackers coach at Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Bowling Green and UCLA among other roles, did not receive his first coordinator role until his current one in 2018. So, he’s not offensive-minded, and he doesn’t have a background in building a program from scratch, sure. Still, it’s hard to overlook this young candidate who could turn an opportunity at his alma mater into a long-term, career-defining move. 

Lance Leipold (Head Coach, Buffalo)

Age: 56

Salary: $465,000

Lance Leipold coaching the Buffalo Bulls (Buffalo Athletics)

If Lance Leipold jumped from Buffalo to Vanderbilt, it would be his first time coaching in the SEC. While Leopold has coached since 1987, his only Power Five experience lies in three seasons as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin and three seasons as a recruiting coordinator at Nebraska. That’s not to say he’s not qualified, though. Now in his sixth season at Buffalo, Leipold has proven quite the opposite.

After winning six Division-III national titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Leipold has resurrected a Buffalo program with little-to-no history of success. It took a cumulative 7-17 record in his first two seasons to figure it out, but since then he’s coached the Bulls to a 28-15 record and a 4-0 record to-date in 2020. He has turned the Bulls into a MAC powerhouse and led the program to its first-ever bowl win in 2019 in the Makers Wanted Bahama Bowl over a Charlotte team led by none other than Will Healy. Leipold is an offensive-minded guy, too, if that wasn’t abundantly clear by running back Jaret Patterson’s 409-yard, eight touchdown performance on Nov. 28 in a 70-41 win over Kent State. 

Jay Norvell (Head Coach, Nevada)

Age: 57

Salary: $625,000

Jay Norvell coaching the Nevada Wolfpack. (Nevada Athletics)

Surprisingly, 57-year-old Jay Norvell is only three seasons into his first head coaching gig. One glance at his resume and you’ll see 30 years of valuable experience; he’s coached a myriad of offensive position groups at every level, from schools like Iowa State, Wisconsin, Arizona State, UCLA, Oklahoma and Texas to NFL franchises like the Indianapolis Colts and Oakland Raiders. All that—and a seven-year tenure as co-offensive coordinator to Oklahoma’s legendary head coach Bob Stoops—has landed him one head coaching gig. And it’s in the Mountain West Conference.

Well, maybe Vanderbilt is Norvell’s big break. An offensive specialist, Norvell has led the Wolf Pack to their best start in 11 years (5-1). He took over a program that struggled in his rookie campaign, finishing just 3-9, but parlayed the first season into a 20-12 record since. Norvell has the offensive prowess that Vanderbilt so desperately needs, and if he’s turned Carson Strong, Nevada’s quarterback, into a major force, who knows what Norvell could do with not one, but two talented, unique, young quarterbacks in Ken Seals and Mike Wright.

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About the Contributor
Simon Gibbs
Simon Gibbs, Former Sports Editor
Simon Gibbs (‘21) is the former Sports Editor for The Vanderbilt Hustler. He has been on staff since the first semester of his freshman year, previously serving as a Staff Writer, Senior Writer and Deputy Sports Editor. Simon is also the host of VU Sports Wired on Vanderbilt Video Productions and The Hustler Sports 30 on VandyRadio. Simon has attended several events as credentialed media, including the 2019 NFL Draft, 2019 College Baseball World Series and the 2019 SEC Tournament. Outside of his Commodore coverage, Simon has had bylines published on and When he's not writing, you can find Simon watching his hometown New York Mets, waiting for that next ring. For tips, comments or concerns, please reach out to: [email protected]    
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Zeppos CivPro
3 years ago

Was surprised that neither sarah fuller nor ESPN’s Beth Mowins did not make the top 10.

Bad list
3 years ago

Terrible list, no Patricia?