Vanderbilt athletics director David Williams said Thursday night that the interview process for finding a football coach was not completed.
He declined to acknowledge who may have interviewed amid a report by Barton Simmons of 247Sports.com that the search was down to Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason and Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
Asked when he thought the interview process would be done, Williams said: "I hope soon, but until we find a coach we still have some things we have to do and people to talk to."
Meanwhile Vanderbilt's two remaining assistant coaches and two staff members left Nashville on Thursday with the goal of stabilizing a recruiting class in dire straits as the NCAA's dead period came to an end.
Williams and members of the search committee, including Chancellor Nick Zeppos and university donor John Ingram, were expected to conduct interviews on Thursday. Bruce Feldman of CBSSports.com reported that Mason and Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton were to interview Thursday for the job.
Mason came to Stanford in 2010 as a defensive backs coach and was promoted to defensive coordinator and associate head coach under David Shaw in 2011. He was a finalist for the 2012 Broyles Award, given to college football's top assistant coach. He directed the Pac-12's top-ranked scoring defense (19 points per game) and rushing defense (89.4 yards) in 2013.
Morris is cut from the same cloth as Auburn's Gus Malzahn, enjoying tremendous success on the high school level before moving to the college ranks. Morris was Tulsa's offensive coordinator in 2010 and has served in that capacity for Clemson since 2011 while directing one of the nation's top offenses. He is the highest-paid assistant coach in college football at $1.3 million per year, according to USA TODAY.
Whoever becomes the next coach will try to salvage the 2014 recruiting class with less than three weeks until national signing day on Feb. 5. Vanderbilt has 10 commitments, down from 20 last Saturday, according to 247Sports.com. Some of those still committed are considering other schools.
"I've tried to have some perspective on it, but I'm having a hard time remembering a class that has been as decimated as this one has, and as quickly as it has," Simmons said. "They've dropped almost 40 spots in the national (recruiting) rankings, and they're going to have to add 14 to 15 commitments if they want a full class. That's pretty daunting."
With college coaches able to resume face-to-face contact with recruits on Thursday, offensive line coach Herb Hand traveled to California, special teams/tight ends coach Charles Bankins went to Georgia, offensive quality control coach Rod Chance went to Tampa, Fla., and defensive quality control coach Charles Walker went to Illinois.
"Now that the dead period is over, these coaches that are going out there really don't have an answer," Rivals.com national recruiting director Mike Farrell said. "The recruits are asking, 'Who's going to be the next coach? Are you going to be there?' And it's a difficult situation for the coaches that are left.
"The absence of a head coach, obviously a guy like James Franklin who was so involved in recruiting as a head coach, hurts. I think they're trying to remind these kids that when you choose Vanderbilt, more so than I think any other school in the SEC, you're choosing it for more than just football."
Four of the recruits to decommit have pledged elsewhere, with Montgomery Bell Academy lineman Jashon Robertson tweeting Wednesday night that he was committing to Tennessee. The other three have committed to Franklin at Penn State.
Austyn Carta-Samuels, who just finished his senior season at Vanderbilt, tweeted that it was good to see that Hand was with his brother, former Vanderbilt commitment K.J. Carta-Samuels, having dinner in California.
Chance tweeted: "Tampa STILL has love for the black & gold!" Cornerback commitment Kyle Gibson and safety Amani Oruwariye, who decommitted on Wednesday, are in the Tampa area. "Great talk with @Coach_ChanceVU really opened up my eyes," Oruwariye tweeted Thursday afternoon.
Farrell said the focus of Vanderbilt's damage control needs to be on the line.
"The first two things I look for (in a recruiting class) other than quarterback are the offensive line and the defensive line," Farrell said. "You always need defensive linemen in the SEC, and right now they don't have any.
"The big thing the new coach has to do is keep the guys who are currently committed and try to find some talent in the southeast or wherever he comes from — some guys that he had on his B-list when he was coaching wherever he was, and call those guys in to try to fill out this class. But don't reach. If you reach to fill out a class, then you're going to end up with guys who are just on scout team."
Six Vanderbilt assistants who were still on the payroll resigned Thursday morning, according to a source. They are all now at Penn State with Franklin — defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, offensive coordinator John Donovan, receivers coach Josh Gattis, quarterbacks coach Ricky Rahne, linebackers coach Brent Pry and defensive line coach Sean Spencer.
N.C. State confirmed the hiring of George Barlow as its cornerbacks coach. Barlow was Vanderbilt's defensive backs coach and defensive recruiting coordinator the past two seasons.
There was a half-page advertisement in Thursday's edition of The Tennessean with a picture of Franklin in Vanderbilt attire next to the following message: "Thank you, Vanderbilt. It was a wonderful experience. I am forever grateful. Anchor Down." Franklin's signature was printed beneath the message.
John Ward, vice president of sales for The Tennessean, said Penn State paid for the ad.
Jeff Nelson, assistant AD for communications at Penn State, wrote in an email Thursday night that Franklin intends to pay for the ad.
Reach Jeff Lockridge at 615-259-8023 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Contributing: Nick Cole.