Notre Dame DC Clark Lea Expected to be Named Vandy HC, Finish Out Season

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.

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  1. Kelly’s rolodex was pretty much empty when he hired Tommy Rees.
    But he’s got at least a couple more well-paid years to slide over to FOX Sports.

  2. It’s official Clark Lea has been named the new head coach at Vanderbilt. Question now is how focused will he be to coach the defense at Notre Dame. He now has a lot of distractions to deal with and I’m concerned that this may negatively affect the team against Clemson. The timing of this defection is poor at best. Don’t get me wrong I’m happy for him and he certainly deserves this new head coaching position. Seems like this could have been better for Notre Dame had he waited at least until after the ACC title game.

    1. Maybe better for ND, but not for the incoming recruits he’s established a relationship with.
      It’s the most honest time for the announcement as the LB recruits and some of the D’ recruits ought to know he’s not going to be there. I suspect this won’t impact any of the recruits choosing ND but if Lea was the key as to why they were choosing ND, better they know before they sign.

  3. I’m happy for Lea. Every person wants to advance in his field. Confident Kelly will find a very good replacement. The coach I have mixed feelings about is Del Alexander. I know injuries, traits and suspensions aren’t all his fault but why haven’t some of these 4 star receivers produced when they have played. Lenzy, Keys and Austin. have flashed at times and have been injured a lot but there have been many games where they have done very little. Also why is it taking so long for some of these receivers to burst through such as Claypool, Boykin, Mckinley.

  4. Congrats Coach. You hate to lose a guy of this caliber but, certainly not shocking. He certainly will have his own challenges ahead of him. I wish you the best, Coach.

  5. Congratulations to Coach Lea. It is a positive to see Notre Dame producing Division I head coaches. That is always a sign of success. It would be great to see Notre Dame keep this staff together for years to come, but this is a new era. Gone are the days where coaching staffs stayed together for many long years, like Tom Osborne’s coaching staffs at Nebraska during the 80s and 90s.

    It isn’t too early to talk about replacements. I’m not sure what direction Coach Kelly will go with hiring a new defensive coordinator. I read that they are very high on Mike Mickens. I would love to see him get the promotion, but it is probably too soon for Mickens to get the job. I just hope Lea doesn’t take him to Vanderbilt. Mike Elston is the obvious candidate for the promotion within the program.

  6. Congratulations, Coach Lea on your first HC job. Hopefully it will not be your last, although being successful ant
    Vandy is a major stepping stone challenge. But good luck! ND’s loss is Vandy’s gain. Perhaps we will see you back as the HC in a few seasons.

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