Derek Mason packed two suits for a business trip in January. This had nothing to do with diversifying his fabric game and everything to do with symbolism.

The blue suit was for a job interview with Vanderbilt on a Thursday in northern Atlanta, the other was this black suit he wore from a Vandy campus podium two days later as the Commodores introduced their new head coach Jan. 18.

Mason didn't know which day the press conference would be, but he knew there'd be one -- there'd be black and gold balloons, his name would be called, and there was no way around it.

"Only interview for the job you intend to take," the former Stanford defensive coordinator told at last week's SEC spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

Mason exudes the same confidence wearing a casual beach shirt in late May as he did less than five months earlier in that black coat. Either way, he's selling the program.

Mason felt so prepared for the Vandy interview, he got offered the job about 30 minutes after the session with Parker Executive, which conducted the search for the school. The result made Mason's decision to turn down previous chances to talk with other schools well worth the patience.

Chatting with the media in Destin is far from a job-interview grilling, but it offers a glimpse into why and how he made it here, as the only rookie coach in the SEC.

Thanks to James Franklin's back-to-back 9-win seasons, Vanderbilt is considered a top 50 program nationally.

But Mason didn't take the job to coach a top 50 program, he says. He plans to coach a top 25 program that will "inch our way to the top 10."

"If I don't look at doing that, then why am I here," Mason said. "My expectation is no different than coach [Nick] Saban's. I want to win every game and I want to play for a national title."

Yes, we know the convenient narratives, the ones that go something like this:

*Vanderbilt is Vanderbilt and Florida and Florida and Alabama is Alabama and everyone should know their place.

*Vandy's recent success is a cute story, but not a legitimate threat to the Dobermans that get first crack at the food bowl.