NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Jason Tarver, said his boss, Derek Mason, “is a smart dude.” And, like most smart dudes, Tarver left high school with a plan for his life.

That plan did not include leaving the West Coast, the only home he had ever known, and becoming the defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt. But here he was, on a cool, gray afternoon, looking out the window of the McGugin Center at students scurrying to class at one of the South’s great universities which, by the way, plays college football in the nation’s best conference.

No. This wasn’t in the plan at all.

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