When you are the architect of the defense that shut down three of the most explosive running backs in the country this year on a 10-0 team that looks like a lock for the College Football Playoffs, you’re going to get noticed for head coaching gigs. When your alma mater has an opening, you should be a shoo-in. It looks like that is the case with Notre Dame DC Clark Lea expected to be named the next head coach at Vanderbilt imminently.
News broke earlier this AM that Lea had emerged as the top candidate for the job and that an offer was forthcoming. Within a few hours, reports developed into Lea being on the verge of being named the next head coach at his alma mater.
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, even if Vanderbilt had publicly stated their desire to hire an offensive-minded coach. Lea is a rising star in the coaching ranks to the extent that Tony Dungy spent seemingly half of the Syracuse game broadcast giving an infomercial for Lea to be a head coach.
We all knew this day was coming – and if you didn’t, well, then you don’t know how the coaching game works. Lea was going to be a head coach sooner rather than later. Notre Dame wasn’t going to just have a Brinks truck roll up the Lea household to match whatever offer he got as a head coach.
For Notre Dame, the two most pressing issues are 1) the remainder of what can be a special season and 2) signing what looks like a special recruiting class later this week.
Pete Sampson of The Athletic reported today that Lea has already informed his players he is finishing the season out at Notre Dame, no matter what.
That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone either. If anything, it would have been a much bigger surprise if Lea would have decided to take a head coaching gig and walk away from the program before the season ended.
Notre Dame still has a huge game this weekend with the ACC Championship game, and this could be a distraction or a rallying cry. This isn’t a case of a team losing their head coach for another head coaching gig. It’s a team losing their coordinator for his first head coaching opportunity, so that could be something the team rallies around. Still, it’s a wildcard thrown into the mix that ideally would have come next week for Notre Dame after its rematch with Clemson.
The other factor here for Notre Dame and Brian Kelly is the early signing period, which opens on Wednesday. Lea’s likely departure likely won’t impact the offensive recruits, but it could on the defensive recruits – specifically the linebackers who would have been coached directly by Lea.
That includes Prince Kollie and Kahanu Kia. Kia figures to be less impacted since he plans to take a mission after his first year at Notre Dame already. How the news impacts Kollie, however, will be interesting to watch. He has been shooting up the rankings and was just named a finalist for the Prep Butkus Award earlier today. I’d be shocked if there hasn’t been a communication plan in place with the Irish staff and Kollie, but it’s worth watching over the next few days.