Vanderbilt has been looking for a replacement for Derek Mason for several weeks, and it has officially landed on one of its own. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea, a former Commodores fullback, has been named the new coach of his alma mater. Lea will be introduced formally next week at a press conference.
“Clark Lea is the leader we trust to continue the challenging but exciting work that will elevate the Vanderbilt football program to unprecedented heights,” athletic director Candice Lee said in a statement Monday evening. “He embodies the demonstrated commitment to success, the integrity and the strategic thinking that it takes to build a winning football program, and help our student-athletes reach their full potential. He understands the important role that athletics plays in the life of a vibrant university, and that outstanding scholarly pursuits and top-notch athletics are integral parts of the Vanderbilt experience.”
“I’m excited to come back to Vanderbilt to lead a program, at an institution and in a city, that gave me so much and shaped who I am today,” Lea said. “Vanderbilt is a special place with a competitive drive that I believe can translate into winning. My excitement for the role grew as I spent time with Candice Lee and Chancellor Diermeier – it’s very clear they are united around a common vision for the future of the Vanderbilt Athletics program and football.”
Pete Sampson of The Athletic reports that Lea will finish out the season with the Fighting Irish before moving on to his new job on a full-time basis.
Lea has been at Notre Dame since 2017, first as a linebackers coach and then as coach Brian Kelly’s defensive coordinator from 2018 onward. The Fighting Irish are ranked No. 14 in the nation in total defense (314.5 YPG), 12th in scoring defense (17.1 PPG) and third in third-down defense (26.36%) this season. That success is a big reason why Notre Dame finds itself entering this weekend’s ACC Championship Game vs. Clemson.
His defense during Notre Dame’s College Football Playoff run of 2018 allowed just 18.2 points per game (13th nationally).
Lea, 38, played fullback for Vanderbilt from 2002-04 under Bobby Johnson after playing baseball for two years to start his college career.
He has made stops at UCLA (2006, 2009-11), South Dakota State (2007-08), Bowling Green (2012), Syracuse (2013-15) and Wake Forest (2016) before landing at Notre Dame.