Notre Dame's Lea says Vandy is job he's wanted for years
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Clark Lea wanted to be a football coach at Vanderbilt for most of his life. He's now in the job big enough to keep him from being defense coordinator at Notre Dame.
Lea said his career arc had to match that opening and the fact that it confirms that he should be Vanderbilt's manager.
"This was a place that I should take on, a challenge that I was built for, and I'm obviously excited about it," said Lea on Sunday. “I didn't know I would get the chance, certainly the chance so early. But you know, by God, I'm not going to screw it up, I can assure you. "
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Vanderbilt held Lea's introductory press briefing on Zoom before Notre Dame was announced as the fourth team in the College Football Playoffs. The Fighting Irish will play Alabama No. 1 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on January 1st, and Lea will work with Notre Dame before moving on to rebuilding his alma mater.
Lea, 34, is from Nashville and grew up playing games at Vanderbilt Stadium with college graduates. He even gave up a baseball career after playing at Birmingham-Southern and then Belmont to join the Commodores football team.
Lea recalls that in his three seasons between 2002 and 2004 he only won six games with then coach Bobby Johnson. Lea, who graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in political science, said he knew he would have to work elsewhere if one day he was to become the head coach of the Commodores.
He went to UCLA and then took his first full-time job in the state of South Dakota before moving to Bowling Green, Syracuse and Wake Forest.
Lea has been Notre Dame's defensive coordinator for the past three seasons and has trained in eight bowl games. The Fighting Irish made the 2018 college football playoff behind a defense that ranked eighth in the nation in yards per game (4.53).
He also remembers not being allowed to practice in the training room for a year because a team that played at the Music City Bowl reserved the area. He said he was upset with the circumstances of the Commodores and was desperately interested in improving the program.
"Every decision I've made in my career has been to hopefully have a chance at this job at some point," said Lea.
Vanderbilt has a new Chancellor in Daniel Diermeier, who started on July 1, and a new Sports Director in Candice Lee, a former basketball player with the Commodores. Diermeier made it clear that Vanderbilt needs to spend money to improve his athletics.
The Chancellor said Lea stood out among the candidates for understanding Vanderbilt, along with a track record and commitment to building a successful culture.
"Today is the first day in the proud future of Vanderbilt's football program," said Diermeier. "We're going to turn the page into a new chapter and look forward to doing it together."
Vanderbilt has just ended his first winless season in program history, and Derek Mason was sacked after losing the seventh of nine in his seventh season. Mason was 27-55, the sixth winning coach in program history.
Lea wouldn't say exactly what new facilities might be needed but she knows investment is coming. The football stadium was completely renovated for the last time in 1981 - eight years before Lea was born.
"The facilities, when they come, will come," said Lea. “We're going to celebrate them all. You will be great. "
Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker
More AP College Football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
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