Notre Dame's Clark Lea, Vanderbilt Agree to Contract as New Head Coach

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 14, 2020

Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea steps off the team bus before an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in South Bend, Ind. (Matt Cashore/Pool Photo via AP)
Matt Cashore/Associated Press

Vanderbilt announced Monday that it has hired Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea as the 29th head coach in the program's history.

Lea expressed his excitement about the opportunity in a statement:

"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. 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 Thamel of Yahoo Sports was the first to report a deal was finalized.

Lea spent the past three years as the Fighting Irish's defensive coordinator following one season as the program's linebackers coach.

The Tennessee native played fullback at Vandy from 2002 through 2004 after starting his collegiate career playing baseball, spending one season apiece at Birmingham-Southern and Belmont.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

He started his coaching career at UCLA in 2006, and he returned to the Bruins for another three-year stint from 2009 through 2011. He's also made stops at South Dakota State, Bowling Green, Syracuse and Wake Forest in addition to his time at Notre Dame, most often serving as a linebackers coach.

This will mark Lea's first opportunity as a head coach.

In April, he told Lou Somogyi of BlueAndGold he wanted to wait for the right opportunity to arise before making the jump to leading an entire program:

"I'm not looking for a reason to leave where I am. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined being at Notre Dame as a coach, much less be in a position to be a coordinator, much less being here for four years.

"My family is happy here, I love working for coach [Brian] Kelly, so for me when those things come up and you take a look, I want to be fair to the goals I had when I set out on this career. But I'm not in a rush for that. It's about focusing on the moment right now. It's about how to best engage these guys while they're removed and we're in virtual interactions."

Lea replaces Derek Mason, who was fired in late November after the Commodores' 0-8 start to the 2020 campaign. Mason posted 27-55 record and no winning seasons across seven years at Vandy.

The program's last winning record and bowl victory both came in 2013 under James Franklin, currently the head coach at Penn State.

Lea will be tasked with making the Commodores a threat again in the highly competitive SEC.