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View Count: 114 |  Publish Date: December 30, 2013
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Stanford coordinator Mason shows passion for perfection

Los Angeles --
During a meeting of Stanfords defensive linemen, defensive coordinator Derek Mason dressed down each player.
He went man to man and told every guy - and hes yelling - exactly whats wrong with the way theyve been playing and what they need to improve, said Ben Gardner, a starter who was sidelined for the season in late October with a pectoral injury.
That outburst didnt come early in the season or after the loss to Utah or the loss to USC. It came two weeks ago.
Stanford had just won the Pac-12 championship game against Arizona State. The D-line had helped the Cardinal post the countrys third-toughest defense against the run. Over the last seven games, the defense had allowed only 64 yards rushing per game. Stanford was leading the nation in sacks with 40.
It wasnt enough for Mason.
You see how passionate he is and how if certain things arent going well at practice, it really irks him, Gardner said.
Mason, 43, brought to coaching the same type of energy and fire with which he played as a 5-foot-8 cornerback at Northern Arizona. I played angry, he said. I played with a big chip on my shoulder. I was mad at the wide receivers, mad at the tight ends.
He hasnt mellowed with age. I coach with a chip on my shoulder, he said. I want to be the best. I want these guys to be the best.
That intensity has helped carry the No. 5 Cardinal (11-2) into what very well might be a defensive duel with No. 4 Michigan State (12-1) in Stanfords second straight Rose Bowl.
In his fourth season at Stanford, and only his second with complete control of the defense, Mason has become one of the hottest assistants in the country. Connecticut and Army sent feelers to him, but he says, Ive got the best job in college football.
Its going to take an exceptional head-coaching opportunity to lure him from the Farm, he indicated.
Among the achievements on which he can hang his hat are back-to-back victories over mighty Oregon and its lightning-quick attack.
In previous games against the Ducks, he said, the Cardinal had played well in spurts but couldnt sustain it. His approach, he said, was: If you dont beat yourselves, you can get these guys in deep water, get them into the fourth quarter.
Nobody had done that. A shark takes its prey into the deep water. We wanted to drag Oregon to the fourth quarter and get them into a tight game.
Mason was assistant secondary coach of the Minnesota Vikings when then-Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh persuaded him to join his staff in 2010 as secondary coach. Anybody whos been around Jim Harbaugh knows he can sell, Mason said.
When he visited the campus, Mason asked players a lot of questions, like, How can I help you? and What does winning football look like to you? He liked the answers he received. What he liked even more was that players like Richard Sherman and Mike Thomas asked him plenty of questions, too.
How can you make me better? they asked. What does the skill set of a good defensive back look like? He said they were so engaged that it blew me out of the water.
Mason has helped recruit more such players. Another attribute has been his ability to make adjustments during games. In at least nine games this season, opposing offenses moved far away from their tendencies, he said. It helps, he said, that our guys dont panic. They deal with stress well.
Even when that stress is coming from the defensive coordinator.
Tom FitzGerald is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: tfitzgerald@sfchronicle.com. Twitter: @tomgfitzgerald

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Time: 3:38  |  News Code: 359789  |  Site: San Francisco Chronicle
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