Vanderbilt hires former Commodore football player Clark Lea as its new head coach; knows challenges the school faces

Clark Lea
(courtesy Vanderbilt Athletics)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clark Lea has never stopped being a Commodore. Now, nearly 15 years after leaving Vanderbilt with two degrees, the former Vandy fullback will use his vast experiences to lead the black and gold as the University’s new head football coach.

VUCommodores.com reached out to those who know Clark best and who have witness his growth on a personal and professional level. From his time as a student-athlete on West End to a defensive coordinator at one of the top football program’s in the country, Lea has made impactful impressions from Los Angeles to South Bend and all places in between.

Here’s a collection of comments from an impressive list of those who are more than excited to see Lea take Vanderbilt football to new heights:

Dave Clawson, Wake Forest head football coach — “I have known Clark since 2012 and he served on my staff at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark is an extremely intelligent, thorough, and mature football coach. He is ready to take on this responsibility. Vanderbilt made an outstanding hire.”

Brandt Snedeker, former Vanderbilt golfer and Montgomery Bell Academy graduate — “I’ve known Clark for a long time and been following his career closely as a former MBA and Vandy graduate myself. I am so excited to see him come back to Vanderbilt and lead our football program. He will bring determination and a commitment to build a culture of winning in the toughest conference in the country. Welcome home Clark!”

Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame Vice President and James E. Rohr Director of Athletics — “We are incredibly happy for Clark (Lea) to be able to return to his hometown and alma mater to continue to be a positive influence on young student-athletes. Clark exemplifies the notion of an educator-coach and Notre Dame will be forever grateful for the impact he had on the student-athletes he taught. Clark’s drive, commitment to teaching and ability to connect with everyone he meets will be on full display at Vanderbilt. We wish Clark, his wife Allison, and their children, Clark III, Mara and Jack, nothing but the best as they move on to Nashville.”

Norval McKenzie, former Vanderbilt running back and Louisville running backs coach — “I’m elated that Clark Lea has been named head coach at Vanderbilt University. As a teammate, he exemplified all the characteristics of a natural born leader. Time and time again he has demonstrated success as a coach at the highest ranks of college football. This is a home run hire for my alma mater. I’m excited for him and his family!”

James Franklin, Penn State head football coach —“This is a tremendous hire by Candice Storey Lee and a great opportunity for Clark to return to his alma mater and hometown. I have so much respect for Clark, his accomplishments as a coach and how he conducts his business. He is extremely bright, thoughtful and deeply cares about Vanderbilt. We have so many wonderful memories of our time at Vanderbilt. The Nashville community is still a very special place for my family and me. I know this community will rally around Clark and the Vanderbilt football team.”

Bobby Johnson, former Vanderbilt head football coach — “A lot of these adjectives get overused, but as a player, Clark was popular and had an exceptional work ethic, doing whatever was needed every day to make himself, his teammates and the team better. His drive, energy, intelligence and leadership skills make him the perfect head coaching choice for Vanderbilt. The Vanderbilt football fans should be thrilled to welcome home this Commodore.”

Tony Dungy, former NFL head coach — “I am excited for Clark Lea and for Vanderbilt University. Clark is one of the most talented young coaches I have seen but, more importantly, he has a passion to develop his players as men as well as football players. I believe he will be very successful doing both at Vanderbilt.”

Mike Tirico, NBC Sports — “In over 25 years of covering college football Clark Lea is one of the best coordinators I have been around. His intelligence and football acumen are only surpassed by his leadership and exemplary personal skills. The way people gravitate to Clark shows in how his defenses play and how all who come in contact with him are inspired. He is a perfect fit for Vanderbilt and I’m thrilled to see him heading back home.”

Tim Corbin, Vanderbilt head baseball coach — “We, Vanderbilt, are very fortunate to have found the right window of time to hire a person who inherently complements the mission of the university. I am very happy for Candice, Chancellor Diermeier and Vanderbilt University that they were able to build a process that would produce this outcome. Furthermore, I am extremely happy for the current and future players as they will be guided by an adult who will challenge them in every facet of their collegiate life with extreme care. Clark is principled in the components of a football program that matter He is a tremendous teacher who models the behaviors of a consistent and genuine leader. He is unique because he is truly himself. He will develop a successful program because he acts with dignity, communicates with clarity, teaches with care and is mentally organized.”

Rick Neuheisel, CBS college football analyst — “I’m so excited for Clark Lea and for Vanderbilt University. Clark’s love for his alma mater will serve him well as he goes out to attract the best and brightest to Nashville. He won’t have to sell them on Vandy, he’ll get to share it with them. Clark is absolutely ready for this challenge. He possesses all the qualities necessary for success. He is a great communicator. He is a great tactician. He has great organizational skills, a tireless work ethic and, most importantly, a passion for the game that is contagious. I look forward to watching the Commodores for years to come.”

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame head football coach — “Clark Lea has been an instrumental part of our success the last three years here at Notre Dame and he will be able to bring that same energy and relationship-driven philosophy to his alma mater. I look forward to watching Clark build a successful program and wish him only the best in the future.”

COURTESY VANDERBILT ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS

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