Stanford suffered its most significant loss of the offseason Friday when defensive coordinator Derek Mason left to become Vanderbilt's head coach.
Mason, the architect of Stanford's first-class defense the past two years, will become the fifth African-American head coach in the history of the Southeastern Conference.
"I am very excited for Derek; this is a great opportunity for he and his wife, Leighanne," Stanford head coach David Shaw said in a statement released by the school. "Derek is a great teacher and motivator, but more importantly he is a man of high character. We wish him success."
The hire was reported by The Tennessean, which received confirmation from a member of the school's search committee. Stanford confirmed Mason's departure Friday afternoon.
"Who's not going to say yes?" Mason told the paper before the move became official. "I think it's a great opportunity to be in a place that does it right."
Mason's departure adds to the Cardinal's winter exodus.
The two-time defending Pac-12 champion is losing nine senior starters, including tailback Tyler Gaffney and star linebackers Trent Murphy and Shayne Skov.
It's losing three early-entry candidates (all starters) to the NFL Draft, including All-American guard David Yankey and all-conference safety Ed Reynolds.
And it's losing quarterbacks/receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Sanford, who became the offensive coordinator at Boise State, his alma mater.
But Mason's departure is arguably the most impactful since quarterback Andrew Luck turned pro two years ago.
Intense but approachable, Mason is extremely popular with the players and a highly effective recruiter. He's also a well-regarded tactician: Mason decoded Oregon's spread offense and has repeatedly tweaked Stanford's schemes to suit its personnel, producing top-rated defenses each of the past two seasons.
"He's just got tremendous drive, and he's really passionate," Skov said of Mason prior to the Rose Bowl. "That's an infectious kind of attitude. And he knows what he's doing.
"With our team defensively past two, three years, people have come and gone, things have changed. We've got new guys, different skill sets, and he's done a tremendous job kind of changing and planning what we do to fit to the guys we have."
Vanderbilt, which lost coach James Franklin to Penn State, also considered former Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, currently in the same post with the Indianapolis Colts.
Athletic David Williams has mentioned the Cardinal's success as a potential model for Vanderbilt, according to The Tennessean. Both are private schools with high admissions standards competing against huge universities with richer football traditions.
If anything, winning conference titles at Vanderbilt, which was 9-4 last season, is a greater challenge than Stanford. The Pac-12 doesn't have a triumvirate of powerhouse programs that can match Alabama, LSU and Florida.
Mason will undoubtedly recruit against Stanford for prospects in the southeast, and perhaps nationally.
Mason, who grew up in Phoenix and attended Northern Arizona, joined Stanford's staff in 2010 as the secondary coach. He was elevated to the role of coordinator by Shaw a year later, when Vic Fangio followed Jim Harbaugh to the 49ers.
Mason was a finalist for the 2012 Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.