Vanderbilt has named Clark Lea the 29th head football coach in program history, Vice Chancellor for Athletics and University Affairs and Athletics Director Candice Lee announced Monday.
Lea replaces Derrick Mason, who was let go after Vanderbilt’s loss to Missouri, making them 0-8.
Lea, a two-time Vanderbilt graduate and former student-athlete, will be officially introduced next week by Lee and Vanderbilt Chancellor Daniel Diermeier at a news conference.
“Clark Lea is the leader we trust to continue the challenging but exciting work that will elevate the Vanderbilt football program to unprecedented heights,” Lee said. “He embodies the demonstrated commitment to success, the integrity and the strategic thinking that it takes to build a winning football program and help our student athletes reach their full potential. He understands the important role that athletics plays in the life of a vibrant university, and that outstanding scholarly pursuits and top-notch athletics are integral parts of the Vanderbilt experience.
“It was clear that the college football world is aware of the tremendous value proposition Vanderbilt holds, and that was reflected by the deep pool of talent that showed an interest in this position. We are so excited to be introducing him as our head football coach because we are confident that he can build upon our successes on and off the field. Coach Lea will be an incredible asset to our university and community.
“I want to extend Vanderbilt’s deepest thanks and appreciation to Notre Dame’s President Rev. John Jenkins, Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick, and Head Coach Brian Kelly for their cooperation during this process. It is very important to all of us, and especially Clark, that he be able to fulfill his obligations with the Notre Dame program and its student athletes as they prepare to face Clemson in the ACC title game for a berth in the College Football Playoff. The dedication and loyalty demonstrated by Clark exemplify his character—and what he will be for the Vanderbilt program.”
Lea returns to Nashville having coached in eight bowl games, including one College Football Playoff appearance at Notre Dame.
“I’m excited to come back to Vanderbilt to lead a program at an institution and in a city that gave me so much and shaped who I am today,” Lea said. “Vanderbilt is a special place with a competitive drive that I believe can translate into winning. My excitement for the role grew as I spent time with Candice Lee and Chancellor Diermeier. It’s very clear they are united around a common vision for the future of the Vanderbilt Athletics program and football.”
While at Notre Dame, Lea molded a defense that led the Fighting Irish to an appearance in this season’s ACC Championship Game by finishing the regular season 10-0 and with a No. 2 national ranking. The Fighting Irish will face No. 4 Clemson in the league’s title tilt Saturday.
“We set our aspirations high to fill this critical role in our athletics program, and Coach Lea exceeded our expectations in every way,” Diermeier said. “Most importantly, Coach Lea’s values align with our own, and that will be a powerful combination going forward. I think we’ll look back and see this decision as a key moment in the evolution of our athletics program, and our efforts to create an environment where our student-athletes can compete and succeed at the highest levels.”
Lea, who prepped at Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy, has three children (Clark III, Jack and Mara) with his wife, Allison.