Jan. 20—Mike Gundy may be getting closer to finding his replacement for the beloved Jim Knowles.
According to a tweet late Wednesday by Bruce Feldman, a college football insider for FOX Sports, Auburn defensive coordinator Derek Mason has "emerged as a strong candidate" to replace Knowles as the new defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.
Mason's defense at Auburn ranked fourth in the SEC this past season in fewest yards per play allowed. The Tigers ranked 27th in the country in points per game, giving up 21.77 per game in a SEC that has become known more for offense than defense in recent years.
According to reports when Mason signed with Auburn prior to this past season, he was due to make $1.5 million annually on a two-year contract.
Mason does not appear to have any direct ties to Oklahoma State, but he does have a connection to one of the program's most historic seasons. Mason was the co-defensive coordinator at Stanford when Brandon Weeden led the Cowboys' offense to a 41-38 overtime victory over the Cardinal in the Fiesta Bowl.
Gundy and Mason have crossed paths before, though.
The pair were part of ESPN's "Coaches Film Room" for the 2020 national championship game between LSU and Clemson (when Mason was the head coach for Vandy) — joined by former TCU coach Gary Patterson and Boston College coach Jeff Hafley. Ironically, the previous time Gundy was on the same broadcast for the 2017 national championship it was alongside Duke's head coach — a few weeks before hiring Knowles away from the Blue Devils.
Mason was a finalist for the Broyles Award — the same award Knowles was a finalist for this past season — with Stanford in 2012. That season, his defense broke Stanford's single-season record with 57 sacks and led the Pac-12 in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense.
Mason also has some head coaching experience, serving as the head figure of the Vanderbilt program from 2014-2020.
Mason got his coaching career started in the mid-'90s as a receivers coach at Mesa Community College, before taking the same position at Weber State the following season. After over 10 years in lower-level college programs, Mason joined the Minnesota Vikings from 2007-09 as the assistant defensive backs coach.
While they were at the same position, Mason was on the Vikings staff the same time former Cowboy defensive lineman Kevin Williams, a 2003 first-round pick, was in Minnesota.
Mason's first venture into a Power 5 Conference was when he become the defensive back coach for Stanford in 2010. He was with Stanford through 2013 before taking over at Vanderbilt.
Prior to starting his coaching career, he was a two-year starter and four-year letter winner at Northern Arizona.