Apr 09, 2021
Clark Lea, Vanderbilt Head Football Coach

The 2021 season is the first for head coach Clark Lea, who became Vanderbilt’s 29th head coach in December of 2020. A Vanderbilt alum, Lea arrived in Nashville after serving as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator from 2018-2020. Lea returns to Music City having coached in nine bowl games, including two College Football Playoff appearances since 2018. While at Notre Dame, Lea molded a defense that led the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the 2020 ACC Championship Game by finishing the regular season 10-0 and with a No. 2 national ranking. Lea’s defense finished 2020 ranked eighth nationally in fumbles recovered (10), 12th in third-down conversions (31.4), 14th in scoring defense (19.7), 17th in rushing defense (113.0), 17th in tackles for loss/game (7.5) and 25th in total defense (343.6). In their final game of 2020, the Fighting Irish held Alabama to 31 points in the Rose Bowl, marking the Crimson Tide’s lowest point total on the season and more than two touchdowns below its 11-game average of 49.7 points/game. It was also Alabama’s lowest point total since the national title game on Jan. 7, 2019, when it lost 44-16 to Clemson. The No. 2 regular season ranking for the Fighting Irish was their highest since 2012 while Notre Dame claimed a 47-40 regular season victory against No. 1 Clemson. Lea was named one of 15 semifinalists for the Broyles Award, presented annually to the best assistant coach in college football. Lea’s work with linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah in 2020 resulted in him being the Butkus Award recipient, presented to the top linebacker in college football.

 Lea worked at Bowling Green in 2012, helping assemble a Falcon unit that ranked sixth nationally in total defense (296.6) and 10th in scoring defense (16.7). That year, Lea was a finalist for Linebackers Coach of the Year by FootballScoop.com. He began his career as a graduate assistant at UCLA in 2006 before moving to South Dakota State for two seasons (2007-08). Lea returned to UCLA as linebackers coach in 2010-11. A Nashville native, Lea began his college career playing baseball at Birmingham-Southern, leading the club to an NAIA championship his freshman year. Lea then transferred to Belmont to play baseball in 2002 before finishing his career at Vanderbilt, playing fullback during his last two years of eligibility. Lea began as a walk-on before earning a scholarship with the Commodores. He earned both his undergraduate (2004) and graduate (2007) degrees from Vanderbilt in political science.  Lea and his wife Allison have two sons, Clark III and Jack, and a daughter, Mara.